Human civilization is making a desert of the planet. As the population grows and the western “standard of living” itself balloons while also spreading to more people around the world, the ecology of the planet is being devastated. From mountain top removal coal mining, to deforestation, tar sands extraction, mega dam projects all the way down to suburban sprawl, lawn after lawn of Kentucky Blue Grass, and your local strip of parking lots and big box stores, the natural world is being killed. It is being ripped up, burned, and paved over. Scientists are declaring that right now, life on Earth is undergoing a period of mass extinction unlike anything seen since the Permian-Triassic mass extinction which killed upwards of ninety-five percent of all life.
Any sane, rational culture, would upon coming to a realization such as this – that their mode of being is self destructive – decide that their activities should be halted and rethought immediately. Of course, the dominant culture under which we are subjugated is neither sane nor rational. The dominant culture barely acknowledges the horrors it is leveling on the living beings of this world, and when it does acknowledge them, it both minimizes them and declares the solution to be more of its methodologies applied, not less. Examples of this are claims that “green capitalism” or technology or geo-engineering will save us. Somehow, more extraction, more consumption, and more domination are supposed to undo the damage done by extraction, consumption, and domination.
I agree with the thinkers who have laid the blame for this rapacious omnicide beyond the feet of capitalism, calling out the organizing structure of civilization itself which begat capitalism. I agree also with those who indict the modes of thinking and views of the human self that begat civilization. While these modes of thinking, which become cultures, and ultimately became the dominant culture have led to much to be woeful about, including patriarchy and racism, they also have manifested as a social, economic, and legal framework that is institutionalizing the desertification of the planet.
One of the manifestations of this flawed way of thinking and flawed understanding of ourselves, is the concept of private property. Private property is the idea that one human can deprive all other humans of access to a particular tract of the Earth, that this human can enforce this deprivation with lethal force — whether self applied or called down from the hierarchy in the form of police and courts — and that this particular human not only has sole access to this tract of land and what it contains, but that the land and all that lives upon it can be destroyed at the whim of this person.
There are no limits to private property accumulation under the dominant culture. The logic behind private property is merely that land can be purchased from a previous title holder with currency. Thus, a person’s “holdings” are limited only by their accumulated wealth, and desire to own. According to this logic, should one person accumulate enough currency to purchase all of the land everywhere, they would not be forbidden from doing so. While this seems unlikely due to the cost in currency involved in this example, it is still within the logical framework of private property, acceptable. Perhaps we’ll never see one person owning all of the land everywhere, but with a population of seven billion people on the Earth, would it be acceptable to have even one million people, or one billion people owning “everywhere?” Do we find it ethically acceptable that a minority of the human population should have a protected right to deprive the majority of access to land, as well as a protected right to destroy living ecosystems? Is it ethical — or sane — to allow the minority of the population this protected right because they have been skilled at playing the game of capitalism (or are the offspring of people who were?)
Land is often dubbed by those utilizing academic language as “natural capital,” as opposed to manufactured or physical capital (e.g. a factory or a tool.) Land is obviously the most important form of “capital,” as it is the source of all raw materials, and is the source of all things necessary for life. By allowing land to be owned, the culture allows owners to have controlling access to the resources all people and non-humans need to survive. This subjugates all non-owners into a state of dependence upon the owners. This dependence is then channeled into wage labor, rent, and other methods by which owners exploit non-owners, siphoning away any meager wealth the non-owner class ever comes to possess. Of course, this only further enriches the owner class, who then can acquire further land holdings, and escalate the rate at which they can exploit non-owners to create for themselves a comfortable life devoid of labor.