A New Capitalism—or a New World?

author: 
David Schweickart
Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake.

        -Walter Benjamin

The subtitle of Joel Kovel's The Enemy of Nature (2007) states his thesis bluntly: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? Kovel thinks we need a revolution-although he is fully cognizant as to how remote that prospect seems:

Growing numbers of people are beginning to realize that capitalism is the uncontrollable force driving our ecological crisis, only to become frozen in their tracks by the awesome implications of this insight.

Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins also think we need a revolution, but of a different sort than the one envisaged by Kovel. Their book, Natural Capitalism (1999), is subtitled Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Then-President Clinton is reported to have called it one of the five most important books in the world today.

Hawken and the Lovinses agree with Kovel that the current model of capitalism is problematic. "Capitalism, as practiced, is a financially profitable, non-sustainable aberration in human development," they argue. But they do not see the problem as residing in capitalism itself. They distinguish among four kinds of capital, all necessary for production: human capital, financial capital, manufactured capital, and natural capital. The problem with the current form of capitalism, they say, is its radical mispricing of these factors. Current market prices woefully undervalue-and often do not value at all-the fourth factor: the natural resources and ecological systems "that make life possible and worth living on this planet."