This is the text of the talk I gave at the Left Forum last weekend in NYC:
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Environmental destruction is the most urgent and immediate problem we face. If we don’t solve it, nothing else will matter. I would argue that it’s the principle contradiction of the current period. Through it, the common ruin of contending classes is becoming increasingly likely, but as the economic and ecological crises converge, the possibility of liberation and social transformation also opens up. But only if we organize to make that happen.
The problem is accelerating because of capital’s constant need to expand into new areas. They have entered a period of extreme extraction, on a scale never before seen: fracking, oil from tar sands and deep sea drilling, mountaintop removal. Because of the falling rate of profit, capitalism can never economically catch up with itself and must constantly break through its limits in a vain attempt to resolve its own inherent internal contradiction.
Feudalism and all forms of class society have had internal contradictions that drove them to expand. But capitalism has taken this to a new level, because instead of just requiring more resources to continue existing (to feed an expanding agrarian population, for example), it requires constant growth of production to expand for its own sake. The needs of the population aren’t the point, and commodities aren’t even the point — accumulating surplus-value to expand capital itself is the entire point. This is what pushes it to exceed limits on a scale previously unimaginable.
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