From problemising solutions to solving problems

Published: April 20, 2017
The writer is a Pakistan enthusiast and an MPhil student at GIDS, Lahore School of Economics. He can be reached at

The writer is a Pakistan enthusiast and an MPhil student at GIDS, Lahore School of Economics. He can be reached at [email protected]

They say that if you can’t explain a tree, then tie a goat to the tree and explain the goat. Historically, such has been the course of most debates prevalent over the years. Every other day a new dimension is added to strengthen the case of either debating side, which is more intent to score than to solve, and therefore durable solutions could not be tapped even with a ten-foot pole. The fundamental issue with debate-focused discussions is that they set out to decide winners and losers, which inherently affix both parties to extreme stances who employ every ‘goat’ they have to strengthen their polemic positions. Resultantly, instead of solving problems, this approach ‘problemise’ solutions due to ever-increasing friction between the debating camps.

In the current capitalism vs environmentalism debate too, there exist an ill-conceived and staunch ideological hostility between the two circles, in which both sides, caught in an ego cloud, are unwilling to free up some room for durable solutions. And under the rollers of this inertia, it is the masses bearing the biggest brunt for the longest time because the best this debate has managed so far is some band aid solutions which are not good enough in the current environmental crises. Therefore, this alarming need of durable solutions requires the convergence of capitalists and environmentalists to a common denominator, ie, welfare of the masses. Such realisation entails exploring the pre-requisites and potential instruments mandatory to bring such a merger home.

First and foremost, both sides need to accept each other’s existence and embrace the fact that neither climate change nor capitalist economic structure is going anywhere in the near future. But such acceptance looks remote, given the actions taken by both the leading environmentalists and capitalists. While capitalism led United States is busy promoting the propaganda that ‘climate change is a hoax’ through attempts like major investments in Heartland Institute and recent onslaught from Trump’s administration to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, major environmentalists like Naomi Klein are also hell bent on uprooting capitalism, once and for all. But neither capitalism can go on with the same production systems without acknowledging climate change concerns, because depleting natural resources are threatening economic sustainability, nor environmentalists can keep asking for abolition of capitalism without proposing an alternative economic system to run the world. Therefore, it is in the best interest of everybody that both the camps sit down and find a middle-ground with the help of reasonable demands.

Fortunately, welfare of the masses can serve that purpose because it is so inextricably linked to enviro-economic sustainability that by putting former in the primary narrative, latter can be achieved. Moreover, environmentalism has a head start as its whole argument revolves around the welfare of the masses. But capitalism, even though endorses ‘welfare of few humans’, through hyper individualism and elite focused resource distribution, isn’t so conducive to welfare of the masses. Then the question arises that other than the logical basis of such merger, ie economic sustainability, what tool could prove to be instrumental in forcing capitalist forces to accept certain behavioural restraints like ‘no more blatant exploitation of natural resources to generate profits’.

The answer lies in the pressure that social movements of masses can create and have created over the past few years. Such social movements include, the Chipko movement in India where people wrapped themselves around the trees and prevented deforestation of the area in the face of capitalist interests, movement in Bolivia where people rebelled against the privatisation of water and won, and the Blockadia movement that originated from the US and is gaining momentum across different countries to resist the fossil fuel extraction. Even in Pakistan, after being petitioned by a local social movement, Lahore Bachao Tehreek, the Lahore High Court declared Jail road’s signal-free corridor illegal for not getting the approval from the Environment Protection Department.

Thus, such movements do make a case and they have gradually been increasing in number over the years, but they have not resulted in substantial impact due to two reasons. One is the lack of acceptance that is mentioned earlier, which in reaction to such protests have produced band aid solutions at best. Second is the misguidance in their underlying demand that capitalism must be eradicated.

Furthermore, even if the above two problems are solved, it will still entail massive mobilisation among the masses to generate substantive pressure for capitalist structures to seriously consider a change in their approach. It means that for widespread effect, we have to take such mobilisations also at the individual level, which means starting movements within ourselves; starting from a change in our moral stance with respect to nature that John Bellamy Foster calls ‘ecological morality’.

Therefore, there is a need to move from debate-centered discussions to solution-centered debates, which calls for negotiations and not disagreement, accommodation and not animosity, so that durable solutions can be reached. Concurrently, it is paramount that the masses generate enough pressure for capitalists to dwell on that negotiated space through reasonable demands. To conclude, it can be said that the solution to environmentalism vs capitalism debate is a two-tier one and both tiers have to operate simultaneously and in opposite directions to make possible the dream of engineering a green economy.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2017.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Ammarah
    Apr 20, 2017 - 1:30PM

    Very well written. Keep up the good work.Recommend

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