Capitalism or Environmentalism?

Contents of this page

This is a work
in progress

Both Capitalism and Environmentalism arose in the industrial revolution. Capitalism from the money-making opportunities that came with mechanisation and environmentalism with the air pollution resulting from all that burning of coal to power the machinery.

This page was originally going to be titled: Capitalism, Communism and Environmentalism because communism was once seen as an alternative to capitalism. Communism has failed for reasons that I will not go into. It is irrelevant to the main subject of this page.

Put simplistically, capitalism places profits and money above all, communism is about the rights and welfare of those at the bottom of the heap, the workers and peasants, environmentalism places our shared environment first.

By the late twentieth century the dominance of capitalism, with its short-sighted pursuit of wealth, was destroying the world. Environmentalism was struggling to even remain in view.

This page was started 2024/01/27
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

If we destroy our environment we have nothing
Vegetation adjacent the lagoon, Len Howard Conservation Park
To avoid greatly damaging our beautiful shared planet we must give the natural world top priority


Some would say that the two consepts, capitalism and environmentalism, are such totally different things that I shouldn't be throwing them together as I am doing here.

The point I want to make with this page is that capitalism runs the world, and has done so over the past few hundred years. Capitalism and its essence, the pursuit of wealth, has resulted in the environmental disasters that the world is facing today. Environmentalism, giving the preservation of the natural world top priority, is almost the opposite of capitalism. If we don't place greater emphasis on environmentalism than on capitalism soon, we face a future on a greatly damaged planet.

Communism was seen as an alternative to capitalism, but, at least to the present it has been a failure. Under Stalin in the USSR it was corrupted beyond recognition. Under Mao Zedong in China it resulted in famines, cruelty and perverse abuse of power. I don't think any state in the world today operates under communist principles. I don't intend to discuss communism further on this page.

What's wrong with capitalism?

Capitalism is defined as something like:
  • An economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit - or
  • an economic system in which private actors own and control property in accord with their interests, and demand and supply - or
  • an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.
The individuals involved in the capitalism systems often combine to form corporations. Corporate law, I believe, holds those who run the corporations responsible for doing nothing that will damage the profitability of the corporation. Corporate law does not, I believe, place any responsibility on company boards to act in ways that protect our shared environment.

Capitalism is not necessarily unethical, but it is anethical; that is, it is neither ethical nor unethical, it is unconcerned with ethics.

So, in effect, capitalism exploits the environment for the sake of maximising profits to the capitalists. Should we be surprised then, if in the early twenty-first century we are facing many insults to the natural world?

While capitalism itself is anethical (or amoral if you prefer), unfortunately a great many capitalists are unethical. Some Australians are among the most unethical of the world's capitalists.


It is our environment that feeds us. It is our environment that 'replenishes our souls' when we take a walk in a park or a swim at a beach. Money is no substitute for a healthy environment.

Humans seem naturally to be primarily selfish and only secondarily to consider the needs of others and the greater world. (A relevant page on this site: Selfishness or altruism?)

This being so, how can we ever hope that the needs of the environment will be giving a higher priority than profits?

Do we care enough to do it? Certainly our record so far is abysmal.

Related pages

Related pages on external sites...

Wikipedia: Capitalism, Environmentalism

Capitalism or the Environment by Gary Engler, 2013/10/04

Capitalist or Environmentalist? Who can make the biggest difference? by Sharon Bray, 2020/01/20. From an investor's point of view

Australia must make the environment integral to economic decision-making, The Conversation, Carl Obst, 2017/01/16