Corporate Nature

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MAVE Dissertation,

Lancaster University 2001

Corporate Nature

Has the developing corporate nature of the conservation organisations helped retain an alienation from Nature?
Mick Green


According to opinion polls, the environment still features highly in the public concerns. Over 5 million people are members of environmental groups in the UK, more than all the political parties put together, and 55% of people in one poll said that environmental policy will effect the way they vote1. And yet environmental issues did not feature in the recent election, and hardly feature in the main media on any regular basis.

Meanwhile, the environmental crisis deepens – we are seeing a continual loss of species and habitats, the threats of climate change and the increasing scarcity of some natural resources. The system we have created for ourselves causes what Porrit calls ‘alienation as a way of life’2.
Why is it that despite the size of the environmental organisations, they have failed to engage the political or journalistic debates, and that degradation continues? I argue that we are alienated from our environment, and from Nature3, therefore fail to see the depth of the problems on a day to day basis. There has been a failure of the environmental groups to address the root causes of that alienation – that of materialism and capitalism - and therefore the root cause of the environmental crisis. As the groups have grown I show they have become corporations in their own right, slavishly following the mantra of continued growth in order to survive. In becoming part of the capitalist system the groups are unable to address the root cause of our crisis, and can only instil a bit of greenness at the edges. A new approach is necessary if we are to overcome our alienation and address the root causes of our problems.

Causes of Crisis

Few people appear to challenge the notion that at least in terms of continued loss of habitats and species, we are in an environmental crisis. However, despite the increased awareness, and the number of people concerned enough to join an organisation purporting to do something about it, we are failing to stem these declines. There seems to be an underlying problem in addressing the root causes of the crisis and instead I will show we only really try and address the symptoms as individual issues.
Dickens4 has claimed that there is a generally supported view that the environmental crisis stems almost entirely from institutions and organisations promoting free-market economics. A report prepared for WWF supports this view saying

The economic, political and cultural structures that shape our world almost all promote resource consumption and transformation and recognise little value in biodiversity. Socio-economic institutions including markets, laws, political bodies and social norms favour and provide incentives for the expansion of consumption driven patterns of development.5
How have we become so tied into these systems that we seem oblivious to the links between our lifestyle and the biodiversity losses that we claim concerns us?

Alienation – ‘estrangement; the state of being an outsider or the feeling of being isolated; a state in which a persons feelings are inhibited so that eventually both the self and the external world seem unreal6

In today’s world I contend we are estranged from Nature – that is we have very little contact with the ‘natural’ world – the world other than that constructed by humans, both physically and mentally. In Britain we are a very urban based society, and ‘Nature’ seems to be something that is ‘out there’, and not really connected with us, our day to day lives or our well being. For example, we are completely divorced from our food supply, and even our methods of producing the basic raw materials in agriculture are moving further and further away from any system based on natural rhythms of growth. We in Britain are obsessed by the weather, and yet unless we are flooded or are banned from hosing down our cars, the day to day weather really has little impact on us, so divorced we are from the elements. When I have to attend meetings in London, I would be very hard pressed at the end of the day to tell you much about the weather as I have not directly experienced much of it, and I see very little of the sky as I scurry between buildings.
This alienation, I would argue, is central to our environmental crisis. We are so isolated from the natural world that we do not see the damage we are doing to it on a day to day basis. We may belong to some worthy causes, and ‘tut tut’ to ourselves when watching television programmes about declining wildlife, but we do not make the connections between our actions and lifestyles and the consequences. This is so even when we experience the results of our collective actions at first hand. Most peoples reactions to the floods of last winter were not to look at the changes in land-use or our changing climate, but to blame ‘them’ for not building big enough walls between their houses and the surrounding environment. Our ability to turn nature’s raw materials into a materialistic lifestyle may seem to be the acme of civilisation, but as Engels said

Let us not flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory takes its revenge on us7
Whilst he is not known for his environmental writings, Engels friend Marx did have a lot to say about alienation, and I would argue that it is still very relevant to the current environmental debate. Especially in his early writings Marx did touch upon mans relationship with Nature. Marx claimed that humans have certain characteristics – a ‘natural being’ which we share with other species (where we eat, drink, reproduce and so on) and a ‘species being’ where, unlike other species we are conscious and creative. As a social species we need fellow humans to help develop our capabilities, and work is part of this development. We need creative work to fulfil our innate creativity. Tied with this we also need a close association with what Marx termed ‘external nature’ – ‘nature is mans inorganic body’ – nature being continuous with and an integral part of humans, albeit not part of their organic body8. Marx then argued that Capitalism caused certain aspects of human life to be consistently alienated.
Again in his early writings Marx asserted that the private ownership of property was the main culprit in alienating people from nature, but in later writings he pointed to industrial production and the use of raw materials of nature in the making of our material needs as the stem of the problem. In the industrial, capitalist system, despite all the benefits accruing to humans, nature becomes merely a set of inputs into the production process. Nature is not regarded as something worthwhile in itself. Human beings, Marx argued, despite being a species uniquely sensitive to aesthetic qualities, have even managed to insensitive themselves from the beauty of nature. “The dealer in minerals sees only the commercial value and not the beauty and peculiar nature of the minerals” 9
Marx also claimed that the division of labour brought about by capitalist industrialisation, further alienated people from society and argues Dickens, from Nature. In his analysis of Marx, Dickens argues that it is this division of labour, and the fragmentation of knowledge that goes along with it, that has caused human societies to become alienated and cause so much damage to themselves and Nature10. There is today little connection between the environments in which people live and the industrial and agricultural systems on which they depend. This division is a source of a confused and potentially disastrous relationship with Nature – a relationship where people no longer have what Dickens call their own ‘lay knowledge’ and tacit understandings to monitor, understand and control the consequences of their own actions.
Marx further argued that capitalism was impairing the very conditions necessary for its own survival. He argued that capitalism was digging its own grave by substituting machines for people, thereby profits declined as profit came entirely from the exploitation of labour power – peoples capacity to work. There is, says Dickens, a contradiction between capitalist society on the one hand and internal and external nature on the other. Internal nature is labour and the capacity of people to work. The physical and mental well being of people is undermined by the conditions in which capitalist society expects them to work. External nature is the external physical conditions needed by capital and are systematically undermined by an unsustainable accumulation of wealth. As Marx said

All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art not only of robbing the labourer but robbing the soil11

Also, by needing to encourage constant consumption, and even increasing consumption in order to continue to make a profit, it can be argued that capitalism needs a constant crisis to remain dynamic and retain the need to keep inventing new goods. As we have seen above, the increasing use of natural resources to feed that consumption directly drives biodiversity loss, and yet we put most of our attention into trying to protect pockets of Nature without addressing the root causes of the losses. We daily fail to make the connection between the demands of capital and the loss of Nature.

Thus it can be claimed that by needing a constant crisis, and by alienating humans from Nature, the capitalist system is to blame for the current environmental crisis. But are we right in extending Marx’s arguments of the relationship between people and capital into our relationship with the natural world? Although as we have seen his early writings can appear to be ecological in approach later works can be taken as less so. Even his talk of nature as mans ‘inorganic body’ has been interpreted as treating Nature as little more than his immediate means of sustenance.12 Marshall feels that Marxism is fundamentally man-centred and values nature only so far as it is a setting for the liberation of humanity. Both Marx and Engels have argued that there is human emancipation through the domination of nature with Engels proclaiming that we must overcome our ‘animal nature’.
I do not think there is a problem here. Marx was writing at the same time as Darwin, and indeed wrote in praise of Darwin’s views. On the publication of The Origin of species he wrote

Directory: users -> philosophy -> awaymave -> onlineresources
onlineresources -> Mave dissertation, Lancaster University 2001 The Role of Culture in the Perception of Nature in the United States Martin J. LeBlanc Acknowledgements
onlineresources -> Mave dissertation, Lancaster University 1994 Mind, systems and the sacred: a paradigm change in values for environmental survival? Noel G. Charlton
onlineresources -> Mave dissertation, Lancaster University 1995 Being and Everythingness? Aspects of Freedom and Identity in the Thought of Sartre and Others, with Reference to 'Environmental Ethics'. Nick Hunt ma values and the Environment: Dissertation
onlineresources -> Mave dissertation, Lancaster University 2001 Social Ecology and Feminism: Can Socialist Ecofeminism be the Answer? Megan Salhus
onlineresources -> The Last Refuge Of The Unquantifiable: Aesthetics, Experience And Environmentalism Michael Hannis
onlineresources -> The Myth Of Green Consumerism: Consumption, Community And Free Markets Michael Hannis
onlineresources -> Foucault's Discourse Karl Rogers
onlineresources -> What might it mean to say nature has “intrinsic value”? Do you think it has? Introduction
onlineresources -> Creating Moral Sentiments and Attitudes towards Farm Animals Saara Kupsala

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