On this day in 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled about a half million barrels of oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska. I remember at the time that I bought a shirt that said, “We don’t care. We don’t have to care. At Exxon, we’re part of the problem.” This was based, I think, on Lily Tomlin’s telephone operator character, Ernestine. It amused me for a while.
But even at the time, I understood that the problem was not Exxon or even the oil companies. The problem was and is the system itself. If you have a population that is dependent upon something as toxic as fossil fuels, you are going to have accidents. There will be consequences.
I don’t talk about it much because it seems elitist of me with my relatively stable life. But I wonder about capitalism and our push for ever more growth. I do see that if regular working people are going to see improvements in their lives, we need economic growth. But that’s only because we’ve decided that capitalism is the only system we can possibly have. And that seems less and less tenable.
I find that I get hung up on how you would replace capitalism. But the truth is, that’s silly. In our society, capitalism is like water to a fish: it is such a given that it doesn’t really even exist. I would say that for the vast majority of people in the “advanced” economies, belief in capitalism is far more real than belief in God. At least with God, people know there are other people who don’t believe in their particular choice.
So we are stuck in a situation where we are just trying to make the given state of awesome capitalism more humane. Think about Bernie Sanders for a moment. He calls himself a socialist, but that’s really a joke. He’s just an old style liberal. We’ve lost so much ground over the last five decades — especially here in the United States.
Obviously, we will eventually get over our addiction to oil and things like the Exxon Valdez oil spill will be a thing of the past. But capitalism will create new ways to destroy us. Rest assured.