The environmental repercussions of investment activities at the global level continue to worsen with the development of production technology, reaching limits that threaten humanity as a whole, especially in light of global economic liberalization in the post-collapse period of the two world powers which dominated the world during the last century. Neither these great powers nor international organizations, in general, seek to search for mechanisms that limit the phenomenon of environmental degradation associated with economic development, which seeks to maximize profits in various ways. This phenomenon has turned into a complex global issue, with many contradictions that cannot be addressed.
The aggravation of the crisis and the first global initiative
Signs of global concern for the environment emerged from international institutions in 1972, after the aggravation of the crisis which led to the deterioration of the environment due to rapid economic developments after the industrial revolution in the 17th century. At this time, most environmental studies focused on the direct causes of pollution and mechanisms to address them without taking into account the nature of the political systems under which these disasters occur under the influence of growing production forces and their orientation towards monopoly.
Addressing the environmental issue from the perspective of achieving a balance among the factors that lead to pollution and the factors controlling it has led to complications of the economic issue, which many economists acknowledge stands in contradiction to the environmental issue. This vision forces all interested parties to weigh the importance of each side of the conflicting economic-ecological relationship, which is often skewed towards the economic side which generates profits for the dominant actors in society.
The previous vision in dealing with the economic-ecological leads us to approach the complex issue in different ways, the basis of which is the examines the historical depth of technical development, which appears to be not the product of the economic policies of the last two centuries, but instead the rapid development of tools of production, whose negative environmental impacts have emerged as a result of the contributing factors that helped their emergence, especially in the second half of the 20th century.
Though interest in the environmental issue has only come to the attention of relevant organizations in the 1970s, the damage caused by the issue itself far predates this, extending to several centuries before Christ. Specifically, it dates back to the beginning of civilization and the problematic atmosphere in which the Sumerian cities were formed, where both the phenomenon of slavery and knowledge of a bartering system emerged. The bloody events which took place in the European continent after the industrial revolution confirm that it worked hard to suppress rural life by eliminating the artisanal and agricultural life in favor of the growth of the European cities, which led to the birth of the environmental disasters through the consumption of the rural society.
“We can assert that the ecological issue is a social one when we realize the fact that it came as a result of long conflicts both between the cities themselves and between cities and rural areas. The ruling classes launched these anti-ecological, unnatural and anti-societal ideological and military wars for exploitation and profit.” (Abdullah Ocalan, Manifesto of Democratic Civilization, p. 65).
Compatibility and antagonism between the economy and the environment
The capitalist system confirmed the contradictory nature between the economy and the environment, but intellectual schools that emphasized the complementary nature between the two concepts emerged from the system itself. The first axis focuses on economic profit, as data related to environmental destruction confirms the close link between the ecological issue and the economic one. The environment did not witness a decline until the development of exploitative economic systems, like the slave system in the Sumerian cities which paved the way for the degradation of the lands because of their permanent use for profit, or the industrial revolution which led to urban air pollution caused by exhaust from production facilities.
The second axis focuses on the economic and environmental integration, and the economic activities included in this axis focus on developing the economic sectors that have a positive impact on the environment or sectors that do not pose a threat to the environment, and the distinctive feature of the economy, in this case, is its affiliation to the societal activities to provide the human needs without seeking to maximize the profits and thus achieving an organic correlation between society and the environment.
Given the difficulty of achieving the organic integration between society and the environment entirely through economic policies, this axis is closer to the theoretical situation, because the economic activities mostly leave negative effects on the environment. This leads us to the role of society in changing economic behaviors to reduce their negative effects on the environment by developing environmentally-friendly industries, preventing monopolies, and addressing societal needs as an economic goal instead of simply maximizing profits.
The context of the development of the environmental issue and its relationship with economic development necessitates a question which helps us deal with the contradictory relationship between material and social profit:
Is it necessary to sacrifice material profit to maximize social profit? What is the ability of the society to go on sacrificing the material profit to continue achieving the social one?
The theory of democratic modernity has a different view of the relationship between the two profits, as it looks at it from the point of view of maximizing the social benefit through the mechanisms of maximizing their utility in a manner that meets societal needs, and the vacuum resulting from the inability of the growing utility to meet societal needs can be filled through partial dependence on the exchange value. Therefore, the economic system that the theory of democratic modernity seeks to implement, does not prevent production within the framework of achieving a balance between the social needs and the resources which meet those needs. This status abolishes the need to sacrifice one of the two sides of the equation (material profit vs. social profit) because the material profit is not a standalone goal in itself. Thus, this theory abolishes the equation that pits material profit against social profit, and social profit comes as a primary economic and ecological goal, while the material profit comes as a complement to it.
The environment is the victim of the economic liberalization
Some economists confuse the capitalist system, which is a political system that appeared in Europe five centuries ago, with the market, which is thousands of years older than capitalism, where the existence of the market is linked to the emergence of the exchange process. Due to this confusion, these economists acquit the capitalist system of the catastrophic environmental consequences of production. These economists believe that the emergence of the ecological issue is the result of "market failure,” and an application of economic policy, and not the result of systematic policies adopted by the capitalist system in order to maximize profit in open competition between manufacturers.
The ecological issue is exacerbated under the liberal economy, which opens the horizon for multinational companies' investments across the globe in search of minimum cost and maximum profit. There are many examples of catastrophic consequences of international companies' economic behavior under the liberal system, and environmental destruction has become a hallmark of the chemical, cement, timber, and other industries. The massive shrinkage of the Amazon rainforest can only be explained by the dominance of timber companies in protecting the legal systems laid down by the liberal capitalist system.
___________________________________________________________ * Dr. Ahmed Youssef holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Aleppo, a lecturer in the faculty of Al-Mamoun Private University, and the president of Afrin University.