The Limits to Capital
Are we at the threshold of the apocalyptic ‘next world’ that scientist James Lovelock (2009) speaks of? Put differently, is the human species now at the precipice of natural default and the massive societal change it must surely trigger? These are not new questions. The end of carbon-intensive capitalism has been long predicted: As Beck (2012: 90) reminded us, already, more than a century ago, Max Weber anticipated the end of oil-based capitalism when he spoke of a time when ‘the last hundredweight of fossil fuel is built up’.
The contemporary problem of overshoot has two faces: one of over accumulation and thus depletion of natural capital; the other a simul- taneous overabundance of financial capital and critical deprivation of social capital (‘planet of slums’ etc.). The built environment is now central to these twin crises of the age. Urbanisation is at the heart of overproduction and ecological default, but also central to the absorption of excess capital. The real estate sector has its own dynamics, and investment in housing is vital for capital accumulation, as Harvey has explained, yet all this takes place within a paradigm of growth capitalism that shapes and seems to impel these destructive and often exclusive modes of development. The massive contemporary infrastructure development push in world cities reflects both realities—absorption and depletion. The ricocheting spiral of these modalities defines the urban age. This indicates a convulsive instability at the heart of human prospect that contradicts the predictive confidence of popular urban commentary. As debt fuels what seem to be property bubbles in various urban centres—with the Australian capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne being particularly worrying examples—renegade economist Steve Keen (2017) warns that it would be prudent to prepare for the closing of the casino before these bubbles burst. The convulsion suggests a bad ending.
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