E.4 Can "education" solve ecological problems under free market capitalism?

Besides their emphasis on the right to sue polluters, supporters of "free market" capitalism sometimes also address ecological problems like pollution and depletion of resources by calling for public education which will raise people's awareness to the point of creating enough demand for environment-friendly technologies and products that they will be profitable to produce.

This argument, however, ignores three crucially important facts: (1) that environment-friendly technologies and products by themselves are not enough to avert ecological disaster so long as capitalism is based on "grow or die," which it necessarily is due to the requirements of production for profit (see D.4.1); (2) No amount of education can countermand the effects of market forces. If faced with a tight budget and relatively expensive "ecological" products, consumers and companies may be forced to choose the cheaper, ecologically unfriendly product to make ends meet or survive in the market. Under "free market" capitalism, we may be free to choose, but the options are usually lousy choices, and not the only ones potentially available; and (3) Under the price system, customers have no way of knowing the ecological (or social) impact of the products they buy. Such information, unsurprisingly, is usually supplied outside the market by ecological activists, unions, customer groups and so on. As is the case today, the skillfully created media images of advertising can easily swamp the efforts of these voluntary groups to inform the public of the facts. And the example of McDonald's, who (until the famous McLibel trial) successfully used the threat of court action to silence many of their critics, indicates that the money and time required to fight for free speech in court against large companies is an effective means to keep the public in the dark about the dark side of capitalism.

We must also point out that if, as is increasingly the case, companies fund children's education then there are obvious limitations on the power of education to solve ecological problems. Companies will hardly fund schools which employ teachers who educate their pupils of the real causes of ecological problems! And we may add, alternative schools (organised by libertarian unions and other associations) which used libertarian education to produce anarchists would hardly be favoured by companies and so be effectively black-listed - a real deterrent to their spreading through society. Why would a capitalist company employ a graduate of a school who would make trouble for them once employed as their wage slave?

This indicates the real problem of purely "educational" approaches to solving the ecological crisis. Even in a "pure" capitalist world in which private property is protected by a "night-watchman" state or private security forces, a wealthy capitalist elite will still control education, as it does now.

Any capitalist elite must control education, because it is an essential indoctrination tool needed to promote capitalist values and to train a large population of future wage-slaves in the proper habits of obedience to authority. Thus capitalists cannot afford to lose control of the educational system, no matter how much it costs them to maintain competitive schools. And this means that such schools will not teach students what is really necessary to avoid ecological disaster: namely the dismantling of capitalism itself.