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Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Environmental disasters

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, 58,000 gallons of oil into the Bay; on virtually the same day, 560,000 gallons were spilled into the Black Sea. Tens of thousands of birds are already dead, and the extent of the environmental damage is of course even more extensive than just that.

But here's the thing to remember - all of that oil was due to be burned up and sent into the atmosphere anyway! That's not to say that the contribution that much consumed oil would have made to other environmental problems (air quality, global warming) would have been worse than those generated by the spill. But it is to say that fundamentally, the problem isn't oil spills, it's oil use. And, in the case of the San Francisco Bay spill, at least, it's a direct consequence of the fact of non-local production (or non-local consumption, depending on your point of view) of goods. This has nothing to do with xenophobia, or thinking that American workers are more deserving of jobs than Chinese workers. But when Chinese workers (just as an example) produce goods for American consumers, it's not just a question of outsourcing, it's also a question of depleting a nonrenewable resource, with consequences whether there are accidents in the process (like oil spills) or not.

To the capitalists who own the companies, none of this matters. They're insured against oil spills (to an extent, anyway, although it's doubtful the crab fisherman who have now had their livelihood severely impacted, or others who will suffer financially will be appropriately recompensed), and the excess profits they make off the backs of poorly-paid Chinese workers more than make up for what they spend on transportation costs. But to the rest of us, the inhabitants of the planet, it matters very much. Local production/consumption isn't possible for all food or all other products. But to the extent that it is, it is an essential part of where the economic system of this planet has to go. And it's a direction which will never be possible under capitalism.

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