Carbon credits. Selling indulgences

selling indulgences

More on Ian Angus’ “Confronting the climate change crisis

The primary capitalist response to global warming has been to institute an unworkable and unenforceable system of pollution credits. Never mind that the system doesn’t work, is open to corruption, fraud and rule-breaking. At core it favors the elites and solves nothing.

George Monbiot has compared [selling pollution credits] to the medieval practice of selling indulgences. If you were rich and you committed murder or incest or whatever, the Church would sell you forgiveness for a fixed price per sin. You didn’t have to stop sinning — so long as you paid the price, the Church would guarantee your admission to heaven.

The emissions trading schemes are actually worse than that. It’s as though the Church just gave every sinner a stack of Get Out Of Hell Free cards — and those who don’t sin enough to use them all could then sell them to others who want to sin more.

So, capitalism, rather than examine itself as a possible cause of global warming, instead creates yet another way for speculators to make money, with a bunch of greenwash about how it will solve global warming.

The biggest most obvious loophole here is that the system is voluntary and not global. Polluting companies don’t have to buy credits if they don’t want to. Nor do all countries have a carbon trading program, nor is it enforceable and mandatory.

So, rather than give a serious response to global warming, capitalism gives a fig leaf of carbon trading that solves little while pretending to be green.

  • DJ

    I believe a comment was made some days ago that under socialism, pollution in Eastern Europe was at least as bad. There is certainly much to be improved in what passes for capitalism nowadays– but that’s not the cause of global warming. Kind of like blaming industrialization for cancer. There may well be a link, but seeking to eliminate industrialization is not a practical cure for the cancer patient.

    The production of greenhouse gases regionally has two causes. In the industrialized west, it’s our addiction to two things: fossil fuels and comfort. Whatever economic system we adopt, those two issues will remain. (Except perhaps feudalism, which would pretty much eliminate both addictions for the vast majority of us.)

    Aside from minor adjustments like CFLs, solar panels, and hybrids that double our gas mileage, the solutions that allow us to rely on non-fossil sources of energy for the bulk of our needs (like transportation and space heating) do not yet exist in marketable form. We need new technologies, and we need them fast. Historically, a motivated capitalism does a better job of developing new technologies than socialism. (Our capitalism is not currently motivated to do so.) But in either system, the solution is not economic. The implementation might be, but again both systems have the means to implement should they choose to do so.

    That’s the industrialized world. In the developing world, the cause of greenhouse gases is simple: population. At anything above a subsistence level, India and China (the two most populous countries) will make huge contributions of greenhouse gases. If the standard of living in those two countries rose to even half what it is here, multiplied by over 2 billion people, well we’re pretty much all cooked.

    Hmm, that suggests that if we truly believe in egalitarianism, we’re going to need to lower our own standard of living far below what we currently think of as acceptable. Those who believe the relative standard of living ought to be more or less equal for all people might want to get out and see what the average standard of living is for the vast majority in the world, because that’s the direction you’re suggesting we move. And while I agree in principle, I doubt most of us are going to like it.

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