Capitalism and ecology: from the decline of capital to the decline of the world – Paul Mattick


‘Kapitalismus und Okologie’ (1976) by Paul Mattick, translated by Paul Mattick Jr. This article looks at ecological crisis, the Club of Rome’s ‘The Limits to Growth’, and the work of East German philosopher Wolfgang Harich.

The historical character of nature follows from the Second Law of thermodynamics, discovered more than a hundred years ago by Carnot and Clausius, spelling an increase in entropy ending in heat death. Our earthly life depends on the continuous supply of energy from solar radiation, which decreases with increasing entropy, however slowly. The period of time involved is indefinite from the human point of view, too gigantic to be taken into practical consideration. Nevertheless, the entropy law has a continuous, direct influence on the earth and therefore on the fate of humankind. Apart from the sun, the mineral wealth of the earth provides for the satisfaction of human energy needs. Its exploitation, however, hastens the transformation of “free” into “bound” energy, that is, energy no longer available for human use and degrading towards heat death. In other words, the available energy sources can only be utilized once. With their exhaustion human life would come to an end, and indeed very long before the cooling of the sun, as all the natural riches of the earth contain no more energy than two days’ sunlight.

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