sarahopinionsThis summer, the Dakota Access Pipeline garnered media attention, igniting opposition across the U.S. and critique from international partners. According to Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., the Dakota Access Pipeline is a “1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that will connect the rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks [oil] production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.” For several months, a growing number of indigenous people, environmentalists and landowners alike have been joining the Standing Rock Sioux in their protest of the construction and use of this pipeline. The pivotal concern is the pipeline crossing the Missouri River, the primary freshwater and drinking source for the tribe and those living farther down the river. The battle over the pipeline — and the pipeline itself — is a product of

perhaps long term benefits if the U.S. were able to consume only the oil that is produced within the U.S. boundaries, but that still lacks feasibility. Even with the well-intentioned measures to move to more sustainable energy sources, oil use still rises in the U.S. It may be that the U.S.’s goal to become independent of foreign oil, while undoubtedly noble, is in vain, as the demand for oil increases.

So, with the goal of maintaining an unsustainable capitalist system (industrial capitalism) and of cutting the use of foreign oil, what happens when the construction of the pipeline again moves forward? What happens if (and perhaps when) that pipeline contaminates the Missouri River, compromising an entire people’s sole source of drinking water? As those affected will be deprived of a basic human right — access to clean drinking water — another group of people will be outraged on behalf of the deprived, and yet a different group

of people will shrug the incident off, considering the Standing Rock Sioux and their drinking water as collateral damage in the war towards alleged oil independence and economic gain.

Significant change is, by simple human instinct, a threat, something to turn a critical eye toward. However, for the sake of the common good — for the good of those less privileged and underrepresented — it is of utmost importance that the idea of natural capitalism be investigated further. As previously iterated, industrial capitalism has guided humans through the past 200 years, and an unintelligible amount of financial and human capital has been invested in the idea. The critical difference of current times from the past 200 years, though, is the increasing scarcity of natural resources. So, yes, as foreign and “scary” as it may seem, it is at least worth the time to investigate the idea of the more sustainable and equally productive natural capitalism.

industrial capitalism, similar to other pipelines and modes of fossil fuel transportation.

Given the contentious debates over the Keystone Pipeline and now the Dakota Access Pipeline, it seems a more environmentally and socially sustainable alternative should be in demand. On the surface, the idea of an environmentally sustainable future appears to juxtapose the ideals encompassed in industrial capitalism; however, it is worth considering that environmental sustainability and capitalism are not mutually exclusive.

The solution could be a theory of capitalism called “natural capitalism.” The idea of natural capitalism was explored in Paul Hawken’s 1999 book “Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution.” Industrial capitalism, as it has existed for the past 200 years or so, ultimately prizes the finished product above all other forms of capital (human, natural, manufacturing, etc.). In the context of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the finished product is not necessarily the pipeline, or even the refined oil — it is the financial capital gain achieved by the pipeline and the oil it would carry. Natural capitalism, unlike the tried and tested industrial capitalism, values natural and human capital above other

forms of capital. With the dwindling resources available and the soaring global population, natural capitalism is an ideology that suggests society ought to use the remaining resources in a more productive way than they are currently, and that industrial processes ought to be redesigned to function more like nature does.

In essence, the Dakota Access Pipeline is a paradigm for industrial capitalism, and perhaps more radically, it shows how embroiled oil companies are in big corporations, the government and in society — after all, not all have protested the pipeline, but rather praised it as a means for economic benefit.

It is true, if the Dakota Access Pipeline were to move forward, there would be economic benefit — but only for a short period of time. Energy Transfer Partners, the funders of this project, estimate that the pipeline will create 8,000 to 12,000 jobs, but many (if not most) of those jobs will disappear shortly after the completion of the pipeline, thus making the benefit to the economy and the working class minimal in the long run. Another factor used in support of the pipeline is the U.S.’s goal to sever its dependency on foreign oil. This would surely lead to economic benefits, perhaps long term benefits if the U.S. were able to consume only the oil that is produced within the U.S. boundaries, but that still lacks feasibility. Even with the well-intentioned measures to move to more sustainable energy sources, oil use still rises in the U.S. It may be that the U.S.’s goal to become independent of foreign oil, while undoubtedly noble, is in vain, as the demand for oil increases.

So, with the goal of maintaining an unsustainable capitalist system (industrial capitalism) and of cutting the use of foreign oil, what happens when the construction of the pipeline again moves forward? What happens if (and perhaps when) that pipeline contaminates the Missouri River, compromising an entire people’s sole source of drinking water? As those affected will be deprived of a basic human right — access to clean drinking water — another group of people will be outraged on behalf of the deprived, and yet a different group

of people will shrug the incident off, considering the Standing Rock Sioux and their drinking water as collateral damage in the war towards alleged oil independence and economic gain.

Significant change is, by simple human instinct, a threat, something to turn a critical eye toward. However, for the sake of the common good — for the good of those less privileged and underrepresented — it is of utmost importance that the idea of natural capitalism be investigated further. As previously iterated, industrial capitalism has guided humans through the past 200 years, and an unintelligible amount of financial and human capital has been invested in the idea. The critical difference of current times from the past 200 years, though, is the increasing scarcity of natural resources. So, yes, as foreign and “scary” as it may seem, it is at least worth the time to investigate the idea of the more sustainable and equally productive natural capitalism.

Sarah Liebig

Sarah Liebig is a senior studying English Writing and Global Studies: Worlds in Dialogue. Liebig's principal interests lie in social justice and environmental concerns. Upon graduation, she intends to study law. Liebig is originally from Lincoln, NE and is the only child of two soil scientists. She shares permanent residence with two cats, Oscar and Ophelia.

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