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Impact of Capitalism on Environmental Sustainability Goals

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Biology
Wordcount: 3031 words Published: 8th Jun 2018

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Assignment title: How Significant Is Capitalism Towards Impeding Environmental Sustainability Goals?


There seems to be a universal agreement across nations, social economics and cultural classes that human beings face numerous and unprecedented challenges at the economical and environmental levels. Due to the scarcity of natural resources, there’s a severe degradation of the planet, poverty, food shortage, and demographic shift due to urbanisation, globalisation as well as the global economy that is today increasingly becoming complex, fragile and interconnected thus presenting some of the significant challenges to environmental goals.

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The aim of this paper is to explore how significant is capitalism towards impeding environmental sustainability goals. To achieve this goal, this paper will examine some of the basics of capitalism with regard to the exploitation of resources and people for profit. The paper will also utilise political theory such as Realism and Constructivism in order to understand why countries are opposed to agreements for environmental sustainability.

Further, this paper will attempt to discuss some of the issues that have impeded the realisation of sustainable capitalism through the use several empirical studies that illustrate the compelling economic concern for environmental goals. Most of the studies show that it is a good business practice to undertake a more conscious, mindful and sustainable approach, but that is not always the case as many states do not want to reduce environmental populations with the fear of losing their competitive advantage in the global market.  This paper has found that capitalism impedes environmental sustainability goals through global competition of limited resources. In fact, countries such as China and the United States have no limit on the emission level of greenhouse gases in order to remain competitive and industrialised, and thus degrading the environment.

Capitalism and Environmental Sustainability

It is first important to understand what is capitalism and environmental sustainability goals and how both relate to each other within the perspective of global economical development. According to Mariana and Barkley Jr (2003) capitalism involves an economical system that is based on private ownership as one of the factors of production as well as their operations for profit making. In a capitalist economy, investments and decision making are largely determined by owners of the private businesses in capital and financial markets, while distribution and prices of different goods are determined by competition within the local and global market. Environmental goals or sustainable objectives are generally a multitude of internationally agreed objectives and goals regarding environmental, which are part of the essential documents of United Nations summits and conferences resolutions of the General Assembly (UNEP, 2016). Environmental goals are decisions made through global intergovernmental conferences as well as multilateral environmental agreements of their governing bodies. In fact, the compendium of environmental goals is referred as the Global Environmental Goals (GEGs) (UNEP, 2016). Having described capitalism and environmental goals, there are some correction that hold between the two terms that is today under global debate. Having said that, in the current conditions that is characterised by immerse globalisation, gaps between states as well as different social categories, the environmental goals becomes a essentials for all nations across the globe.

The Significance of Capitalism towards impeding Environmental Sustainability goals

Beginning with 1972 UN Stockholm conference about global development, sustainable and eco-development development become the major topic of the year. However, in the same year, the UN published its first report titled “Limit to Growth” that presented several economic issues, environmental pollution, increased depletion of natural resources, accelerated population growth and their significant relationships. In the following year, the UN established the International Commission for Environment and Development and established the term sustainable development in their report titled “Our Common Future”. in this view, the term sustainable development represents the kind of global development within the capitalist market which has the ability to achieve the requirements of current generations without compromising the capacity of future generations in order to satisfy their own personal needs.  In this regard, it’s clear that the goals of the UN from the start are to help capital market to be responsible in protecting the environment. It is also clear that many business and business owners in the past and presently are impending environmental sustainability goals.

For instance, we have experienced several oil spills in different parts of the world. On May of 2016, over 2,100 barrels of oil spilled into the U.S Gulf of Mexico (Wade, Cohen and Varghese, 2016). Even though the cause of oil leak is still not established, the oil leaked from an undersea pipeline system that is operated by Shell Company leading to death of many aquatic animals. The U.S Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) stated that the spill has been observed as a 2 mile-by-13 mile sheen on the water surface as it can be observed in image 1 below.   

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The British oil company, Shell was also involved in another yet oil spill, this time in Nigeria, Niger Delta region. The oil company has been sued in the U.K Courts for decades of oil leak in the Niger Delta. In fact, the environmental issues in the Niger Delta have been related to the oil industry. A report by Vidal (2010) posted in The Guardian indicated the extent of the oil spill in Niger Delta was over 1.89 million barrels of oil were spilt between 1976 and 1996 affecting approximately 220 thousand cubic metres. In addition, the UNDP (2006) report indicated that a total of 6,617 spills between 1976 and 2001, which is as a result of over 3 million barrels of oil, where 69 percent of these spills happened off-shore, a quarter occurred in swamps and approximately 6 percent on land. As a result, farmland and forest are now covered in sheen of greasy oil (Vidal, 2010).

Moreover, the 40,000-people belonging to the Ogale Community in River State in Nigeria who are mainly farmers and fishermen are largely affected (Mustoe, 2016). Since the 1989 oil spill, they don’t have clean drinking water, farm land as well as the river they once claimed.

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The findings by Amnesty through the 2011 report by the UN Environmental Programme found water in the Delta region of Nigeria to be contaminated with oil by-products including benzene that is thought to be a carcinogen. The report suggested a clean-up by the Shell Company “a sustainable recovery” that could take up to approximately 30 years (Mustoe, 2016). The major cause of the leak is as a result of oil theft by local people for illegal refineries. However, Shell Company lacks adequate facilities and technology to stop the spill in case of any leak in the pipeline. Thus, the company has failed to invest the right technology that could eventually prevent environmental damage.

In the above case of oil spills in the environment, environmental ethics plays a crucial role. According to the Stanford Encyclopaedia on ethics (2015), environmental ethics is the scope in philosophy that shows the moral relationship of individuals as well as the value of moral status of surrounding environment and its non-human contents.

The significance of capitalism toward impeding environmental sustainable goals can also be explained through theories of international relations. Theories of such as Realism and constructivism help to explain how global system works. These theories are based on the idea that countries often act in regard to their national interests. A country interests always include self-preservation, economic prosperity, military and influence over other nations. However, many countries aim at fostering peace and economical trade. Therefore, in pursuit of economical prosperity, states might engage in different activities that might influence environmental goals. For instance, according to realism, countries operate only in order to increase their power relative to other nations and environment. A realist nation claims that the world is competitive, dangerous and a harsh place and therefore, the only way to be successful are to gain as much power as possible (Carr, 2001). This indicates that a powerful nation will often be in a capacity to outdo weaker competitors. Therefore, in regard to environmental ethics, such countries fail to protect environment as their exploit any available resource in order to remain in power both military and economically.

For example, China has become the number one air polluter as a result of industrialisation. The country suffers more air pollution than any other country across the globe. Approximately two third of China’s 360 million urban people suffer from unhealthy air pollution. China also leads with greenhouse gases emission that leads to climate change (Vandenbergh, 2007). According to Le Quéré, et al., (2009) China’s carbon dioxide emission tripled between 1990 and 2008. Thus, environment in China is expected to get worse as the country is increasingly constructing unbelievable amount of coal electric power plants. In addition, the number of vehicles in China is drastically increasing. Gregg, Andres, and Marland (2008) notes with the increases number of industries in China, the country is expected to increase the release of harmful gases five times in the next 25 years that what is estimated by the Kyoto Protocol to be saved.

Failure of control of pollution and gases emission by china are leading other western nation to produce environmental problem. China gas emission has become a common debate in America in regard to climate change. Congress often makes two arguments in regard to China on the issue of opposing federal climate change legislation as well as international climate change treaties. In this view, the first argument that the U.S. makes is that it will lose jobs specifically to China if they regulate the cost of emitting greenhouse gases, which China will not. The second argument is that it is unfair for China to be allowed to continue emitting greenhouse gases when the U.S. is restricted its emissions.

In addition, many politicians in America claim that the environment will suffer in case the U.S. limits its emission and counties such as China do not. Such an approach led the Senate to vote 97-0 in 1997 supporting the U.S will not be a signatory to any environmental protocol that aims at reducing greenhouse emission unless such protocol or agreement is scheduled to commitment of limiting greenhouse emission to other counties with the same compliance period. Therefore, the United States refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol due to similar concerns that China continue to pollute the environment through their vast industries.

As a result of global warming that is largely contributed by capitalism, a report few months ago noted that the North Pole ice cap is melting in a much faster manner than previously believed. In addition, the greenhouse gas impact has increase by 20% since 1990 (In defence of Marxism, 2016).

Moreover, NASA scientists reported that glaciers are melting at a rate of 6 feet per year in 2000, but today it is melting at a rate of 75 feet per year (In defence of Marxism, 2016). In addition, it is evident that deserts have been expanding across the plant, from 624 sq miles per annum in the 70s to 1374 sq miles in the 1990s. Indeed, many of these changes have been brought by the acts of human being of degrading natural resource in pursuit of profit.

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In conclusion, it is true that capitalism has impeded sustainability. From a global perspective, organisations are competing with each other to manufacture and distribute goods to every corner of the world. In addition, countries are competing to establishing as many industries are possible to in order to remain competitive and powerful. Countries are using fossil fuels such as petrol, gas and natural gas to cause carbon dioxide that contribute largely to global warming.

This paper has established that companies such as Shell Petroleum have been involved with destruction of environment through oil spill.  It is with no doubt that oil spill that has happened has occurred in pursuit of profit. The company is being accused of failing to invest in the latest technologies that would stop spill in case of any oil leak within the pipeline. As a result, environment has been damaged and everything that depends on it from animals both in the land and water to human being suffers.

Secondly, this paper has established that capitalism has impeded sustainability through the failure of different states to limit their emission of greenhouse gases.  There has not been an agreed protocol or an agreement on the level of greenhouse emission internationally. China has one of the highest greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the environment. In this case, other Western countries like the U.S fear that they would lose jobs to China if they agree to limit the level of emission greenhouse gases.

Consequently, these trends can be reversed especially is the U.S and China governments, which are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases agree on the maximum amount of emission. Indeed, this would affect the amount of fossil fuel such as coal, gas and natural gas consumed, which are the core causes of carbon dioxide emission and thus, global warming.

As vehicles account for large amount of carbon dioxide production in many countries, the governments need to mandate the conversion of gas-propelled cars to electricity. Today we have the technology for producing electricity cars, thus such program would pose no environmental issues. In addition, countries need to adopt the construction of environmentally-friendly building in order to reduce the use of greenhouse gases.

It is the hope of many environmentalists across the globe that many capital owners and businesses take into the consideration the current evidence of global warming in support of achieving the environmental goals and as well begin to think on how they can holistically achieve the ability to create value for environmental, society and shareholders simultaneously. Finally, a decisive action need to be taken in order to save planet Earth from forces posed by global warming, otherwise it will be irreversible.


Carr, E. (2001). The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations. Edited by M. Cox. Hampshire; NY: Palgrave.

Gregg, J. S., Andres, R. J., & Marland, G. (2008). China: Emissions pattern of the world leader in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption and cement production. Geophysical Research Letters, 35(8).

In defence of Marxism, (2016). Capitalism and the environment, Available at: http://www.marxist.com/capitalism-environment-ecology-marxism210806.htm Accessed: 12/1/2017.

Le Quéré, C., Raupach, M. R., Canadell, J. G., Marland, G., Bopp, L., Ciais, P., & Friedlingstein, P. (2009). Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geoscience, 2(12), 831-836.

Mearsheimer, J. (2001). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: Norton.

Mariana. R. and Barkley Jr. J. (2003).Comparative Economics in a Transforming World Economy. MIT Press.

Stanford Encyclopaedia on ethics, (2015). Environmental Ethics, Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-environmental/ Accessed: 13/12/2016.

UNEP, (2016). Welcome to the Global Environmental Goals (GEGs) Live Tracker. [Online] Available from: http://geodata.grid.unep.ch/gegslive/ Accessed on 12th Jan 2017.

Vandenbergh, M. P. (2007). Climate Change: The China Problem. S. Cal. L. Rev., 81, 905.

Vidal, J. (2010). Nigeria’s agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it. [Online] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/may/30/oil-spills-nigeria-niger-delta-shell. Accessed on 12th Jan 2017.

Wade, T., Cohen. L. and Varghese, A. (2016). Shell Oil Spill Dumps Thousands Of Barrels Of Crude Into Gulf Of Mexico. [Online] Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/shell-oil-spill-gulf-mexico_us_57353058e4b060aa7819ee00. Accessed on 12th Jan 2017.


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