Climate change and associated environmental destruction may be the ultimate failure of capitalism. The nature of capitalism – whether state-run, state assisted or “pure” – is at its core unsustainable. Big profits do not come to those who wait, practice restraint or act responsibly while the competition does everything it can to make a buck.

When those companies control the political policy of a major country regarding the regulation of those companies’ own industries, they end up with the fate of the world in their hands. This happens regardless of the will of the people in that country and certainly without regard for the rest of the world, who have to live or die with the consequences of the policies of a foreign nation.

Take Noam Chomsky’s example of the United States:

[…] the United States, the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets. It’s not because the population doesn’t want it. Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming. It’s institutional structures that block change. Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.

US and associated multinational companies, which have contributed the most by far to climate change, are still effectively unaccountable to the rest of the world, notably those most at risk.

2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Pic: Green Fire Productions (Flickr CC)

2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Pic: Green Fire Productions (Flickr CC)

Let’s forget climate change for the moment. Remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Everyone hated BP for about five minutes, but guess how BP did after they destroyed eco-systems and livelihoods even inside the United States and under heavy media coverage. BP’s profits since the spill have more than tripled.

If someone had told you it was a shrewd move to invest in BP in the wake of the worst environmental disaster in US history, what would you have said?

It has become startlingly clear that large corporations cannot be trusted to act with environmental responsibility. Oil companies should not even have a say in how they are regulated. Even in cases of eco-tourism, in which it is apparently in the interests of the industry to preserve the very attractions they are marketing, the increasingly short lifespans of companies mean sustainability is generally not in the interest of the individual businesses that make up the industry. We are left to depend on their altruism instead.

I recently wrote for Asian Correspondent

According to data on US firms, companies exist for an average of 15 years, down from 67 in the 1920s. This means that corporations are more fly-by-night than ever. In short, despite all the talk of sustainable industry, it is generally not in the interest of individual corporations to do anything but make as much money as they can in the shortest amount of time – and they know it.

According to Chomsky, the only communities fighting the imminent destruction of humanity from environmental factors are the traditional indigenous groups who still depend on their local environments to survive – the same local environments that continue to be systematically destroyed by international corporate interests. Chomsky equates the involvement of indigenous communities in government with how sustainable the policies of that government are, providing the examples of Bolivia and Ecuador.

Read his entire piece in the Guardian and watch this relevant excerpt from one of his recent lectures.