1.8 Environmental and social effects of capitalism

In sum, capitalism is characterized by increasing proportions of the wealth created by labor and nature passing into the private ownership of the capitalists at the top of the capitalist food chain. This wealth comes at the expense of labor and at the expense of nature. The latter equates to the transfer to future generations of the unpaid costs associated with the destruction of nature. Ultimately, these costs, unchecked in time, could include human life itself.

Perhaps our best indication of the direction we are heading in, if we do not soon and emphatically move away from fossil fuels as our principal source of energy, is the greatest mass extinction that has occurred on Earth since the one 250 million years ago at the boundary in time between the Permian and Triassic geologic periods. Associated with high concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, comparable to those we are now heading towards, with consequent temperature increases of 6⁰C at the equator and more at higher latitudes, 96% of all marine species, and 70% of all land vertebrates went extinct. Ocean surface temperatures reached 40 ⁰C, too hot for most life. For more detail, see the article on the Permian-Triassic extinction at www.wikipedia.org.

The motive force of capitalism, its fundamental law, is the continuing accumulation of capital. Accumulating more capital is the only thing that maintains the individual capitalist enterprise over the longer haul. Cumulatively it characterizes the system as a whole. A consequence of this fundamental law of capitalism acting across economic cycles is exponential economic growth, measured as the busy-ness of the economy and not necessarily as the production of goods and services actually needed to achieve maximum human happiness and well-being.

Parenthetically, goods and services that are actually needed by people are referred to by economists as "use values" to distinguish them from their prices, which represent their exchange values. This is a backdoor way that economists have of acknowledging that capitalists are quite happy to produce useless goods and services so long as they can arrange for someone to pay for them. The most egregious example is the forced purchase of weapons, whereby working people surrender income in the form of taxes to capitalists to produce goods and services whose frequent justification is a contrived "need" to kill or threaten to kill other working people.

As irrational as this may be, destruction and waste are actually included in the aggregate of capitalist market economic activity and growth. The greater the expenditure of natural and human resources on destroying both nature and humans, the greater the measure of economic growth. The cost of rebuilding a city devastated by the storms enhanced by human caused climate change adds to gross domestic product, the standard measure of economic growth. Likewise, the standard measure of growth increases as a result of the reconstruction of structures destroyed by war or replaced after their decay in a period of economic stagnation and disuse. The greater the destructive activity of a capitalist economy, the greater can be the measure of its economic growth. Human activity cannot get more irrational.

The greater the degradation of nature, the greater the expenditure on attempting to replace functions otherwise provided by nature, such as the restoration of soil fertility and the purification of polluted water. Short of collective action by the people to control, limit and ultimately outlaw normal capitalist behavior, the greater the share of total income and wealth going to the surviving capitalists, the greater the unpaid costs of the destruction of nature.


This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New


Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them


Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement


Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.


William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class


George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP


Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018



1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism


1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems


2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.