capitalism is costing us the earth
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Earth Is on the Verge of Collapse — Is Eco-Socialism the Only Answer?

A Radical View of the Existential Crisis Facing Our Environment


Richard Smith thinks that we face a global emergency and that nothing short of changing the operating system of the world economy will suffice to stop it.

We are facing planet-wide extinction, a climate emergency — and our current course is suicidal.

That is the underlying belief of author and scientist Richard Smith, who is Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.

Smith believes that our current model of capitalism, with virtually unlimited growth and consumption, cannot sustain a planetary population of nine billion people. He tells Schechtman that we do not need most of what we consume, and that our current behavior must stop. But Smith’s Jeremiad goes even further.

He talks about the need to stop building planes and cars, to ration air travel and fishing, to nationalize and take public control of the fossil fuel industry, to close down oil companies and many manufacturers of disposable consumer goods, and to make less stuff. He understands that this may mean putting whole industries out of business and people out of work, but he thinks it’s the only way to keep the planet habitable for humans.

As just one solution, Smith talks about the need for global agreements on everything. That nation-states should no longer make many of the decisions they do now. That we need global plebiscites, a contraction or elimination of capitalism, and more global equality. Anything short of this, he argues, will bring the collapse of civilization.

It’s a radical set of views, but powerful food for thought.

Smith is the author of Green Capitalism: The God That Failed (College Publications, 2016).

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Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman. It’s hard to imagine a wholly radical approach to the issue of climate change when the EPA, specifically in the American government in general, is doing everything possible to turn back the clock on even the smallest steps that they’ve taken. On the other hand, my guest Richard Smith thinks that whatever steps we take, or any nation takes, for that matter, within the established global order, will not be enough. In his view we’re on the road to extinction, and nothing short of changing the operating system of the planet will suffice. This at a time when change is becoming harder for people to adapt to, when disruption and its resulting displacement has already altered and fed demagogues that use fear of change to push their agenda. So will future disruption and radical ideas only make even the most incremental change that much harder to enact? We’re going to talk about all of this with my guest Richard Smith. He’s a founding member of System Change Not Climate Change. He’s the author of Green Capitalism. His latest book is China’s Engine of Ecological Collapse. He’s published articles on the Chinese revolution, China’s transition to capitalism and capitalist development, and China’s environment. He’s written extensively for numerous publications, and it is my pleasure to welcome Richard Smith here to Radio WhoWhatWhy. Richard, thanks so much for joining us.
Richard Smith: Thank you for inviting me.
Jeff Schechtman: One of the key points that you’ve made in numerous things that you’ve written is that things are much worse than we think they are, that this is an existential crisis and that we really are, if we continue on our present path even taking incremental steps, we are on the road to planet-wide extinction. Talk about that first.
Richard Smith: Okay, I think that that’s a good summation. Scientists, current scientists tell us repeatedly in reports that we face a climate emergency, that if we don’t immediately and radically suppress fossil fuel emissions, we’re headed to a situation where global warming will be out of control, where it will be impossible to slow it down. Climate scientists, like most scientists, tend to be pretty conservative. They’re not alarmist, almost every report they publish reveals that they actually were underestimating how bad things were in the last report that they did five years ago or three years ago or so forth. They’re scientists. They try not to provoke alarm, they’re just trying to tell us what the evidence is.
James Hanson, for example, the world’s leading climate scientist, actually quit his job at the Barnard Space Center to campaign full-time to try to do something about climate change because he felt that it’s such a peril to us, such an existential crisis we face. That’s where we are. The problem is that we have to kind of live in denial. We have to carry on, we know, we hear how bad it is and so forth, but we live in an economic system built on perpetual growth, and we can’t face the threat that that would pose to stop the machine. We try to just carry on because we have to pay the rent and buy the groceries and take care of the kids and so forth. We kind of know in the back of our mind there that what we’re doing is ultimately suicidal, but that’s tomorrow. In the meantime, we have to pay the bills today.
Jeff Schechtman: The other part of it is the scope of the problem itself from a geographic point of view, that the number of industrialized nations has increased dramatically, the number of nations that are constantly trying to grow and improve their standard of living in ways that arguably adds to this danger is also part of the problem as well.
Richard Smith: For a very long time, the most developed countries were just Europe and the US and Japan and so forth. That was enough of a problem, enough of a burden for the planet’s atmosphere and resources. Then with the transition to capitalism in Russia and most especially China, which is the fastest growing economy in the world, and also by far the biggest consumer of resources and by far the biggest polluter, that’s just completely changed the whole picture. This is the problem. The general problem, just to step back a bit, is that we live in, for all of human history up until a few hundred years ago, we lived in societies which were basically agrarian societies, and they reproduced from generation to generation without terribly much change. Technology was sort of rudimentary: waterpower, horsepower, that kind of thing. People lived in the best of times, the Renaissance era and so forth, people lived in many countries a pretty decent standard of living, but still it was limited compared to what we have.
The problem is with the transition to capitalism from the 15th century forward, 16th, 17th century, the industrial revolution and so forth, we have this engine of economic development that has incredibly improved our living standards over the long haul. It revolutionized science and technology and education and medicine and everything. The problem is, it’s a perpetual growth machine. It can’t stop when it’s made enough. It’s overdeveloped, I guess. It’s overproducing, overdeveloping, overconsuming, strip mining the planet of resources and the ocean of fish and so on and so forth, and all of that is to produce these days, for sure, a lot of stuff we don’t really need. It’s just producing it for the sake of production to keep up profits, but it’s a lot of, what I argue in my work is that what we have to face up to the reality is that we need to put the brakes on our growth economy and really de-industrialize, to a certain extent, in the advanced industrial countries like Europe, US, Japan, and China.
That’s not such a horrible thing as it sounds. I’m not proposing that we go back to living in log cabins and riding horses, I’m simply saying that much of our industry is dedicated to, leaving aside the military, which is totally dedicated to destruction and waste, moving aside from that, much of our industry is dedicated to the production of stuff we don’t really need to have a happy life, to have a good life, to have a good quality life. It’s dedicated to producing designed-for-obsolescence automobiles, designed-for-obsolescence iPhones, like the one I’m talking to you on right now. This is actually a good example, there’s no reason, no technical reason for example why this phone I’m talking to you on could not be made to last for decades. It could simply be designed to be upgraded and rebuilt and so on and so forth. It’s perfectly serviceable unit, there’s no reason it couldn’t go on forever, but Apple has an incentive to get you to lose this phone or trade it in every year if they can.
It’s the same with so many industries across the board from automobiles to fast fashion clothes to IKEA furniture, you name it. So much of our industry is geared to the production of waste as quickly as possible, ever faster cycles of consumption and disposal and reconsumption again, perpetual consumption and reproduction over again. I mean, we have some of the economy infrastructure and some construction and so forth, which is not that way. It’s designed to last for years, decades, even centuries, but much of our industrial structure is geared to the production of waste, and that’s what I’m saying we could do without. If we could do without that, and we could go on for other things, like needless luxuries and pointless cruise ship vacations and god knows what. If we could do away with a lot of these useless, pointless, resource-consuming and polluting industries, we could have a very decent quality of life without all this over-consumption and over-production and over-construction.
That’s what I’m saying about the advanced industrial countries. Of course, the developing countries, 400 million people in India don’t even have electricity, so they need development, but they don’t need, in Africa and so forth, and there are parts of Latin America and parts of Asia, these people for sure need some industrialization, but what they don’t need and what the planet cannot sustain is the kind of consumerist economy we have here. They need to have goods made to be durable, to be long-lasting, to be rebuildable and so on and so forth, not to be disposable. We just can’t have an economy built around disposable products on a finite planet. There’s just not enough of this stuff to go around, and we’re fouling our nest to produce all this stuff, so those are the kinds of arguments that I make. But you know, I’m really just connecting the dots here, saying what is really obvious, that many people don’t want to accept because they just want, because to say this, to say that we have to deindustrialize is a really big thing, because then you’re talking about, well what about a whole capitalist economic structure, private ownership of the means of production and corporations and so forth, you know?
Because we’re talking about the need, well scientists, for example, tell us we need to radically suppress fossil fuel emissions. Okay, that’s fine, but that means we need to radically suppress the production of oil. Well, that means we have to put oil companies out of business and pull companies out of business. Nobody wants to talk about that. Everybody says well, we have to suppress oil consumption. That’s the mantra of the environmental movement, and they’re right, we have to do that, but few people out there want to take the bull by the horns and say oh, okay, but that means we have to close down companies. Well, that’s a threat of bankruptcy, that’s a threat to employment, and so at the end of the day, what usually happens is, what invariably happens is that at the end of the day all environmental movements are eventually subordinated to keeping the growth machine going, but what I’m saying is that if we keep doing this we’ll reach a point at which it’s too late, and so we have to get out of this growth machine. If we have to get out of the growth machine, if capitalism can’t be slowed down and it can’t be rationalized, then we have to transition to a different kind of economy.
Jeff Schechtman: Isn’t part of the problem, though, that the perfect is standing in the way of the good in some respects in that to the extent that you make this case of de-industrialization, of re-looking at capitalism and really looking at this in the ways that you’re talking about, it has the effect among people that listen and take this seriously, of scaring them off to the point where they don’t want to do anything? It has arguably a more adverse effect in the big picture.
Richard Smith: Yeah, you could say that. This is, you know, for some people, that will seem the case. I’m not saying that at all, I’m saying that ultimately there is no solution to our crisis within the framework of any conceivable capitalism. That said, does that mean that we can’t do anything at all until we overthrow capitalism? No.
I would say, for example, that right now, I mean, I’ve argued in papers that the most immediate crisis is the fossil fuel industry, and what we need to be saying to the fossil fuel industry and to the government is that we need to nationalize it. We need to socialize it. I’m not proposing that Exxon Mobil be expropriated and its CEO home from the nearest lamp post. I’m saying that what we need to do is buy out the company, society needs to buy it out, because after all, it’s not just the capitalist industries, it’s workers who own shares of those in their retirement funds and so forth. I’m not proposing to expropriate people, I’m saying that look, for those industries that pose the most immediate danger to us, the only way we can shut down, reduce, drastically cut back fossil fuel emissions is to cut oil production, and if that means the companies go bankrupt, then society has to buy them out and say look, Exxon Mobil will have to take it over and make it a public company, and we’ll phase it out, and we’ll guarantee jobs to those workers.
That’s the key thing here, at least what I’m arguing, I think is the key thing is that you have to say okay, we have to face up to the fact that we have to pull some companies down, but if we’re going to do that, we have to guarantee jobs for them, so what we need is a government-funded, government jobs like a WPA program like during World War II or during the thirties and World War II. We need guaranteed jobs for those people to be transitioned out of those industries into non- or low-carbon jobs, all kinds of things: environmental restoration, renewable energy, organic farming, all kinds of social needs, social services that are unmet. So people need to be given new jobs, that’s the thing. I’m not proposing that we have a crisis, but in fact I’m saying the only way we can avoid ultimately the crisis of the collapse of civilization is if we start right now, start soon, and deal with the worst cases first like the fossil fuel industries, and say okay, so we have to socialize those industries. We have to take them in public control and we have to phase them out as quickly as we can.
I’m not saying overnight, but we have to phase them out. The scientists tell us look, we have to cut fossil fuel emissions, which means cut oil production by six percent a year over the next few decades in the United States, 10 percent in China because they’re so awful. If we have to do that, then we have to provide jobs for those people, because that’s only fair to the workers, it’s only fair to the shareholders, and it’s the only way that people can seem to work collectively in our common interest.
Jeff Schechtman: Doesn’t that miss a step in the process, because the amount of money that it would take to buy these companies essentially, and that’s what you’re talking about … As you say, you don’t want to expropriate them, but the amount of money that it would take to buy these companies and do this, if that same amount of money was put into investing in alternative fuels, both in terms of research and production, you would have the jobs and be creating new industries and new profits at the same time.
Richard Smith: But what if you don’t suppress … Then you’re saying you’re not going to suppress fossil fuel emission, you’re just going to produce renewable energy. These are not just going away. We’re facing an emergency. That’s what I’m trying to say, what the scientists say, hello, we face an emergency here. We really do need to start shutting this stuff down right away. Yes, we have to transition to renewable energy. To go a little further in my articles and books my articles and books, I do argue that we need a drastic reallocation of capital. We need to take the money out of fossil fuels and put it into renewable energy and many other things, other social goods that we need in society. Yes, for sure, but in the meantime, I don’t want, I’m proposing trying to find a way to propose to close down these industries which we must close down to save the future for us, without causing an immediate environmental, without causing an immediate economic collapse and throwing masses of people out on the streets. We can’t do that, because we’ll never get them on our side. We have to have them on our side.
We have to as a society, we have to unite and focusing on … Many people said:  “Look, we need a World War II style mobilization,” and that’s right, we do need that, but not just to build new stuff. We need it also to suppress the construction of bad stuff. We need to stop making bad stuff, and we need to start making the minimal stuff that we do need, but overall, we need to stop making, we need to reduce production overall of many, many things, from airplanes to iPhones to H&M clothes to IKEA furniture, you name it. There are just so many things that we’re overproducing that are not sustainable for the planet. We have to start with the criteria for what is sustainable for humanity and the planet, for other creatures that live on the earth, to leave space for them too. If it’s not sustainable then we have to stop it. We may have to, for example, ration airplane flights. I’m not saying there should be no airplane flights, but we have to ration them, because we just can’t. I’m not the only one who says this. Look at George Monbiot, who has written an article about that in The Guardian, and other people have said the same thing.
Airplane emissions are the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions on the planet. We just cannot have an ever-growing airline industry. It’s just so crazy to have people flying about the world like this. When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, we never thought about flying, jetting off to Hawaii or Cancun or Europe, you know? I was a working class kid. We lived a perfectly okay life. We went to national parks for vacations and so forth. I didn’t feel deprived. I grew up in Seattle. We had lakes and Puget Sound and whatnot. It was beautiful places to spend our vacation. We didn’t feel deprived if we didn’t get to go off to Bali or whatever. I’m not saying people should never fly anywhere, but I’m saying we have to dramatically cut that back.
That would put airlines out of business in a minute. Well, I’m sorry, but it’s either the airplanes, either we keep these companies in business forever or we save the humans. That’s what it comes down to. That’s the brutal fact here, the brutally unpleasant, inconvenient truth. We can save those companies and those jobs as they are for now for a few decades until the ice melts or we can save the humans. We can’t do both.
Jeff Schechtman: Or we come up with more fuel-efficient airplanes or electric airplanes or whatever the next technology, solar airplanes, whatever the next technology might be.
Richard Smith: Well, we’ve already come up with fuel-efficient airplanes. Actually, airplanes are so much more fuel-efficient now than they were 10 or 15 years ago, yet the problem is, there are ever more airplanes. The fuel-efficient, this is the Jevons paradox, across the industrial function, it’s the same thing. Cars are more efficient, but so what, because there are ever more cars. There are like four billion cars on the planet now, and the Chinese are looking to spend a trillion dollars on airplanes. This is just so climatically suicidal to do this, and there’s no damn reason the Chinese need to be flying all over the world any more than the Americans do. I mean, in China, they’re just promoting tourism for the sake of tourism because it’s patriotic and all this kind of stuff, but it’s so insane. We cannot do this.
And switching, there is no solution to our ecological crisis by switching to electric cars and electric airplanes. Electric airplanes, the battery’s going to be heavier than the plane. It’s not going to happen, or anytime soon. The point is all these commodities, these products, use resources. You think oh, we’ll switch to electric. Oh yeah, well where do the materials come from, the cobalt and the rare earth and all these sorts of things that children are mining in eastern Congo to get to produce batteries. There’s no free lunch here. Batteries and electricity production cost resources and pollution. Maybe somewhat different resources and somewhat different pollution than from fossil fuel pollution, but nonetheless, these are not sustainable in mass endless quantity. See, that’s the problem. We cannot have an endlessly growing economy of endlessly consuming resources, even if they’re green powered.
Jeff Schechtman: Who gets to decide then, who gets those resources and who doesn’t?
Richard Smith: I have a very interesting chapter in my book called just exactly that. Who’s the decider here, taking off from George Bush. I argue that we have to have, and I quote some other people that are scientists and stuff. We have to have a societal discussion about that. We have to have discussions, town halls, national town halls, and we have to have scientists get up and make their arguments and people to make their counter-arguments and to vote on these decisions democratically. It’s very interesting to look at the polls about environmental issues. If you look historically, you’ll see that actually people have a pretty good environmental consciousness and they want to do what’s best, but when doing what’s best is counter-posed against the threat of a loss of jobs, then people end up voting kind of against their environmental interests, and you see this time and time again.
In California, there was an initiative a few years ago to require, mandate that GMOs, if they’re used, they should be listed on the product. This was overwhelmingly popular, because 80 percent of the population said of course, this is sensible, this is what we should do. It should be listed on the product. That way, it’s not banning, it’s just saying if you don’t want it, you don’t have to buy it. But the industry raised hell and said oh, we can’t do that. It’ll raise everybody’s grocery bill by $400 and people will be out of work and stuff. They came in at the last minute and they spent massive amounts of money and they distorted the public opinion and the bill lost, by just the tiniest percent, by like one percent, 49 to 50. It went out, and you see that across everything. If you have a fair discussion, a fair, and you don’t have Fox News, if you have a fair discussion of opinions, people can vote the big pictures. People, they don’t have to be experts about this. Corporate boards vote about what product they want to produce, and they have experts prepare a talk and say, this is the product I think we should invest in and so forth, and the board sits there and listens to it and then make a vote, take a vote.
Corporate boards aren’t experts. They’re just all these people who are businessmen and VIPs and political people. They’re not necessarily technical experts. I’m just saying, why can’t society do the same thing? Why can’t we say, put it up for a vote, let’s say okay, should we switch to renewable energy wholesale or should we keep up with fossil fuel? Let’s vote it up or down. Let’s have a discussion, both sides, vote it up or down. Should we switch to organic farming or should we support the pesticide industrial complex forever? Vote it up or down. But when the pesticide workers have the alternative of a different job, well then it’s not such a problem for them to vote their conscience on these issues. When you have people’s jobs at risk, then of course their voting gets distorted. I’m saying if you can have a system whereby the industries we need to shut down, the workers are guaranteed other jobs at the same rate of pay and benefits they had, then that alleviates, that eliminates that distortion from their voting patterns. I think that’s a perfectly reasonably thing.
Society can vote on all kinds of things. You have the initiative process in California, where I’m from, where initiatives get proposed and voted on all the time in California. Other states too have some, that’s basically a very democratic process, so I don’t see why we can’t do it nationally. In my book, I talk about the democratic process as a public utility, public utilities in the United States. They’re amazingly one of the most democratic institutions, arrangements in society, and this is a capitalist society, but it’s completely, they’re completely open to the public, and everybody gets a say, and the books are all open, there’s nothing hidden. It’s very interesting about this democratic process. I don’t see why this can’t be scaled up to society. We can just vote the big questions and hire the technicians to figure out how to do it, just like corporations do, but like a national corporation.
Jeff Schechtman: Part of the problem though is that these are, as you pointed out repeatedly, these are global issues, and it’s not a question of just taking a plebiscite somewhere in Maine or an initiative in California, which has been an arguably disastrous process, and also the fact that such a small number of people actually participate in the process, and we’re talking about issues and things that are really on a global scale here.
Richard Smith: Okay, and I do argue in my book for global planning and coordination too. I’m not saying everything has to be done at a national, some kinds of planning need to be done locally, sometimes some regionally, nationally, globally. I mean, CO2 emissions, for example. That’s a global problem. We need to have coordination and agreement by countries and peoples around the world that we’re going to limit CO2 emissions. Protection of tropical forest, well, there just has to be agreement on the whole world that this is something we need to protect, and if people live in those forests who presently have an economy based on cutting down the forest, then we have to say look, you can’t do that anymore, but here, we’ll buy you out. We’ll give you some other kind of work so that you don’t have to do that, because this is something we need for the whole world.
The fisheries, we have to have agreement that over the world, people will not, we have to say look, what’s a rational level of consumption here, and then effectively police these. Right now, you have Chinese fishing boats strip mining the fishing beds off the coast of Argentina, for Christ’s sake, or off of Africa, you know, or the Europeans have done the same thing. You have to say look, you have to sit down as a society, as a global society and say look, we are one planet, one people, really. We have to start acting like it, or we’re not going to have a future. We have to decide the big issues. We can do that. We don’t have to be technical experts for this. We can listen to the technical experts and we can vote, and this has to be done all over the world, this is absolutely true. Some things can be handled locally, but many other things are global. We really do have to have global concave, global conventions, and discussions about that.
I would argue that you can’t do that in a global society where you have huge inequalities of wealth and power, like in capitalism, and you need to have a contraction and convergence between the rich and poor nations so that people can live a comparably decent lifestyle, not over-consuming lifestyle, over the whole planet, and their interests therefore, that way, to vote for rational, environmental policies that will benefit everyone more or less the same. I’m not saying this is easy, I’m just saying that, and look, I’m only one person. I’m only one person thinking about this and writing about this. There is a world of creative people out there, yourself and many millions of others who will have input to these things. I’m just saying, I’m just sketching out sort of broadly what I think we need to do here. We need to have really a democratic planet. We need to have a planet democracy of deciding these kinds of big questions that affect the whole planet. We have to start thinking like we’re one people on the whole planet and not little nations and not little tribes around the whole world.
Jeff Schechtman: Isn’t what we’re seeing now, doesn’t that run counter to everything that we’re seeing in the world now and have seen in the world for a long time where it is exactly those tribes and exactly the human instinct towards tribalism that ultimately prevails, number one, and  two, it assumes that people are going to vote out of altruism as opposed to voting or taking steps that are directed towards their self-interest?
Richard Smith: Well, I’ll take the last question first about the altruism. I don’t think people should be expected to vote altruistically at all. I think they’ll see it in their own material interests to vote the way they vote. I think to vote to save the environment is in everyone’s material interests. When I say, in my book, if you look at the studies I quote, you’ll see that people think this way in the polls and they vote that way sometimes, but when their options are distorted by the threat or perceived threat that it’s going to suddenly cost them a lot out of their paycheck, my grocery bill’s going to go up $400 or whatever, or they’re going to be threatened with their loss of jobs, then they don’t vote their environmental interests. But mostly, people will vote their environmental interests, and this is not altruism. This is their self-interest, the self- interest of themselves and their children for the future.
That’s the first thing. The second thing about tribalism and the rest of the world, nationalism, well, there are a lot of interests pushing nationalism right now all over the world from Trump and to Xi Jinping in China and so forth, and I don’t want to underplay that, but I’m just saying that if we don’t find a way somehow to overcome that and see the world as a collective of humanity that we need to work together on this, then I think we are in fact doomed. There’s no other alternative. I just don’t see any other way out of this. There’s no technical solution to our problem. Electric cars, electric, there’s no technical solution because all of these industries eat up raw materials and convert them into products, most of which we don’t need, but in any case, we can’t sustain. If there is only a billion of us on the planet, or half a billion of us on the planet, then we can have capitalism and consume all we want. It wouldn’t be much of a threat to the planet, but with seven billion going on nine billion people, we have to slam the brakes on.
We can’t do this, because we just cannot have infinite expansion on a finite planet. I don’t care how electric or gasoline or what, we just can’t do this, or consumption of every other resource. Everything we have, from fabrics to cars to construction materials, these are all natural resources that we’re consuming, and we just cannot have infinite consumption of those. If we don’t find a way to collectively reorganize our economy to create, I mean, I argue for an eco-socialist alternative. There’s really no alternative, I don’t think. If you think there’s a better alternative, or if anybody else thinks there’s a better alternative out there, I’m all ears. I don’t see it. I see the only way we can transition is to basically socialize most of our means of production.
I’m not saying we have put small businesses or worker collectives or farmers or farmer’s markets out of business, because they’re not destroying the planet. The big industries, large corporations are destroying the world, and they’re not doing it because they’re evil, but plenty of them are evil. They’re not doing it because they’re able to do it, it’s because that’s what they have to do for their shareholders, but they’re huge, and they have huge impact on the planet. We have no choice, we have to socialize them, take them over, put them in public control, otherwise, they’ll just drive us off the cliff to collapse. Now, if somebody has a better alternative than I’m proposing, I’m all ears, let’s hear it.
Jeff Schechtman: Finally, Richard, looking at the world today and what you see in every part of the world today, here in the US and everywhere else, how realistic do you think any of this could be?
Richard Smith: Well, I’m not trying to be Pollyannish here. I’m trying to sketch out a possible, plausible alternative to ecological collapse. I’m not sure we’ll be able to make such a transition, I don’t know. I’m just saying that we have to have some vision of some alternative out there, or we can’t transition to anything. Can we do it? I don’t know. You know, I’m a child of the 1960s, and I saw radical transformations in consciousness, in people’s behavior, almost overnight. The civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the women’s movement, the Chicano-Latino movement, the Black Power movement, these things had incredible impact on society and changed people’s consciousness. I’m saying that, right now, we’re moving into, we are kind of on the brink of the collapse of civilization, to put it brutally. We’re facing that over the next two decades with the environmental crisis we face, especially global warming. I think that in the process, people’s consciousness will change through their desperation and efforts to try to find an alternative, and I’m just trying to contribute to that as best I can. I think that people’s consciousness does change, and we will see that. We are seeing that as people all over the world are trying to re-think things, and that’s why I’m on this program.
I wouldn’t have been on this program a few years ago, or on other programs. I mean, I just went to give some talks to universities in California, and kids just would not have given me an audience about this kind of thing five or 10 years ago, but today they’re all ears. They want to know, they want to think about this, because they realize the peril that they face, and they want to find an alternative to it.
Jeff Schechtman: Richard Smith, thank you so much for spending time with us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy.
Richard Smith: Thank you for inviting me, it was a pleasure.
Jeff Schechtman: Thank you for listening and for joining us here on Radio

WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast, I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Capitalism is crisis (Neil Cummings / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).


  • Jeff Schechtman

    Jeff Schechtman’s career spans movies, radio stations and podcasts. After spending twenty-five years in the motion picture industry as a producer and executive, he immersed himself in journalism, radio, and more recently the world of podcasts. To date he has conducted over ten-thousand interviews with authors, journalists, and thought leaders. Since March of 2015, he has conducted over 315 podcasts for

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