Azara Blog: A Science for Sustainable Living

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Date published: 2006/04/26

The seventh (and final) lecture of the university's Fourth Annual Lecture Series in Sustainable Development (2006) was given today by Fritjof Capra, originally a theoretical physicist but for the last twenty years working in ecology and political activism. He wrote a book in 1975 called "The Tao of Physics", which already tells you he is out in left field, but in a way which makes him rated highly by a certain section of the chattering classes.

This lecture was all about how corporations are the biggest evil in the world, e.g. he said they have "a mostly negative impact on the world". This is so ludicrous that it's amazing anyone could say it with a straight face. But an amazing number of otherwise seemingly well-educated people seem to spout this kind of nonsense, without fear or trepidation. It certainly seems to work a treat amongst the academic middle classes as well represented in the audience. And at least Capra seemed to be earnest in this belief, rather than just yet another person with a book to sell. (Although he has several books to sell.)

Capra alleged that capitalism is fundamentally different now than 50 or 100 years ago. Well, you could have said the same 50 or 100 years ago, and the same again in 50 or 100 years, so hardly a deep thought.

Being an ex-physicist, he uses some of the jargon of physics (e.g. of complexity theory) to try and impress his audience that he is saying something important. His whole thesis seemed to boil down to the idea that everything in life is connected via networks (gee whiz, who would have thought) and that certain networks (global capitalism) are "unsustainable" and other networks (local communities) are "sustainable" and must be promoted as the only way forward in the world. Indeed, the world economic system allegedly needs to "be fundamentally redesigned". Yeah, yeah.

Well, you might want to take some of this seriously, only he said that global capitalism was all about "electronic networks" (banks moving money around at the touch of a button) and "sustainable communities" were all about "networks of energy and material flows". Obviously he hasn't yet seen that most of the global economy is not about shifting money around by computer but about the oil countries supplying energy for the world, China selling more and more industrial goods to the world, and the US and Europe (currently) leading the way in selling services to the world. The fact that he is fixated on money changers loses him a good deal of credibility. Sure banks have a big role to play (they provide the grease for the economy), but a lot of global capitalism is also about "networks of energy and material flows". So what? Clever-sounding but content-free linguistic jargon does not move the world forward.

Capra hates genetically modified food, it would seem more for religious reasons (hatred of corporations) than for scientific reasons, but in any case this also loses him a lot of credibility. He is also against nuclear power, but at least you can give that argument some reality.

He was deluded enough to say at the beginning that "there is a fundamental change of world view now occuring". Hmmm, is he referring to the fundamentalist religious nutters (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and whatever) taking over the world? No, he somehow believes that the anti-globalism campaigners are making a big impact. Well they manage to arrange riots at various global trade meetings, but anybody can be a hooligan, it is not exactly winning the argument. They get some press in the usual places (the BBC, the Guardian) but on the whole they have little visibility or impact.

Needless to say, Capra and his fellow travellers are all direct beneficiaries of the global economy. You can buy his books on Amazon. He flew all the way from California to Cambridge to give the lecture (although at least he was not flying back again straight away, apparently going down to Devon to spread the word), and travels all over the place promoting the cause. His talk was webcast to MIT. He was born in Austria but has worked in several countries. This is someone who directly reaps the benefits of the global economy.

He claimed the "South" (i.e. the developing world) was growing hostile to the "Northern" philosophy (of economic rape and pillage). Obviously he hasn't come across the streams of refugees and immigrants who are trying to move to Europe and America. They too want the lifestyle that Capra lives.

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