Can capitalism fix the climate?

Green Left makes clear the obvious point that capitalism, with its maniacal focus on short-term profit over everything else, is incompatible with the long-term vision and planning needed to stop global warming.

But then they quote Bolivian president Evo Morales saying “The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the Earth then we must end that economic model,” which strongly implies that socialism is a better route.

Well, maybe. But USSR under communism despoiled and plundered land and resources at least as much as the US. China, which is a weird capitalist-socialist hybrid, isn’t exactly turning in stellar results either, as they build ever more coal plants. Sure, Cuba has indeed made a transition to a more renewable type of economy, but that was forced by events external to them (the collapse of USSR.)

So maybe that’s what it will take. The changes come when events force them.


  • Ten Bears

    No. We’ve crossed the mark, passed the peak, achieved event horizon. Nothing can “fix” climate change. Adapt. Or die.

  • I’m not quite as pessimistic as Ten Bears – we can always lessen the impact, although climate change IS here to stay.

    I think that big capitalism is very much to blame, but, like you said, there isn’t necessarily an economic system that would be better. What’s better is just knowing that growth isn’t all and looking at everything in a more ecological perspective. That could be applied to socialism, communism, capitalism, or whatever.

  • DJ

    If we include in the definition of capitalism that anything can be bought or sold– even the government– then you’re right. Manipulation of the tax code has made eco-unfriendly practices like coal mining, oil drilling, and factory farming unfairly competitive.

    But Adam Smith’s capitalism required government to be an independent entity. If corporations can’t subsidize their income with taxpayer money, and if the real cost of practices was born by industry (not the taxpayer), the picture looks a little different.

    As we reach peak oil (projected for 2014, just 4 years off), much of what we now do, from trucking cheap Chinese goods around the country to wasting 3/4 of our electricity, will become uneconomical. We must (and already are beginning to) focus on local rather than global economies. In that environment, the small business gets an advantage over the multinational, which is hard-pressed to be everywhere at once.

    • Adaptation. Natural selection. Survival of the fittest.

      See beyond the windshield… I’m of a mind that long-term effects of short-term global warming is a good thing. Sure, sure, sure, billions will die and the world as we know irreparably changed, but the surviving species will be evolved species. I’ve said many times (here and elsewhere) that as humans we stand at a cusp, ready to move on from our adolescence as a species, to cross the next iteration in the evolution of our species – the human species, but that we may not survive at all if we don’t stop bickering over dogs. If we don’t abandon adolescent fairy tales to explain the dark.

      If we don’t accept responsibility for our own actions.

      Sounds cold and callous, but survival is cold and callous. I’m truly sorry for those billions, but my only concern is for Logan and his cousins. Those who refuse to ‘believe’, refuse to recognize what is slapping them in the face, refuse to take steps to address and perhaps mitigate… well, I’m truly sorry about those billions, but they’re just not strong enough. Culls we call them in the woods, just not good enough.

      • DJ

        Or just unlucky. Strong and well-armed won’t help you if there’s no food to be had. Ironically, it appears that the U.S. is so situated that we’ll likely suffer the least from this peril we created. As for the rest… well, our convenience is just too important to worry about them.

      • DJ

        (Again, not directed personally, just a general cultural observation. I’ve met many people in the world who are far more hardworking and ingenious than we are. If we *are* the ones to survive, it’ll be, like our wealth, an accident of geography.)

        • I am reluctant to publish what I could publish just on how sweet my model of things will be here in Cascadia alone. Errr… I mean just how ugly it will be. Really, really ugly. Move to Texas ugly. Blistering deserts, inscalable mountains; wolves, grizzly bars, mountain cats big as cows, Sasquatches, and the largest clandestine population of Vietnam Vets in the country. And no junk food.

          I’m with ya’, DJ, I think you’re as right as I am.

  • There can never be any real model to fix the climate under capitalism since.. capitalism is always focused on the bottom line…

    You cannot separate The government from the capitalist system for which it serves…
    The government is but a condiut of which the ruling class uses to conduct it’s affairs. As Marx wrote “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
    The USSR under Stalin was not a real socialist state, since real socialism needs real democracy (not the bourgeois democracy under capitalism) to develop. And that goes for the communist state in China as well Maoism was just another form of Stalinism…
    Below is a segment from the Copenhagen climate summit by the CWI reporters, Sweden…
    Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna rejects all proposals for trade with emission rights, all of them reactionary. Such a trade means a kind of privatisation of the air, giving the capitalists the right to buy themselves free to destroy it. Such a trade also creates a new and insane speculative finance market which inevitably leads to massive and uncontrollable corruption at all levels. We also reject all utopian proposals for individual carbon dioxide rationing, which not only would be impossible to control and establish, but also would be marked by the same kind of corrupt markets.

    Trading emission rights only give more room for exactly the same capitalist market whose fundamental weaknesses create the problem and are defined like this by Lester Brown in Plan B 4.0: “It does not respect the sustainable yield thresholds of natural systems. It also favours near term over long term, showing little concern for future generations. In does not incorporate into the prices of goods the indirect costs of producing them.

    As a result, it cannot provide the signals telling us that we are caught up in a Ponzi scheme.”

    Capitalist companies and governments are typically looking for all kind of supposedly easy “solutions”, such as nuclear power, carbon dioxide capture and storage, genetically manipulated crops, etc.

    A provocative example is how the Swedish government has given the green light to energy giant Vattenfall’s major investments in nuclear power and coal power stations, four times the size of the investments in renewable energy. The biggest investments, in German coal power, have been defended with reference to the company’s exploration of the possibility of carbon capture and storage in the ground. In other words, something that, if it ever becomes practically and financially possible, will take a very long time to develop. Socialists are, of course, not against such research or, for example, very long-term research in fusion power, but demand a freeze on coal power (and alternative jobs through other green investments) until such a way out has been proven.

    Neither will the capitalist crisis offer any easing for the climate, although the present crisis is believed to lead to a temporary downturn in carbon dioxide emissions with 5.9 per cent in the US and 3 per cent globally. Unfortunately, global investments in renewable energy at the same time have been reduced by 40 per cent or more.

    For the entire article go to…
    Capitalism’s impending failure to combat climate change

  • i also meant to say that… real socialism needs real democracy and not the totalitarianism that existed under Stalinism or Maoism…The USSR when it first underwent it’s revolution under Lenin was very democratic even more democratic than the bourgeios democracy under capitalism… But it was not left to develop as it would have, since that revolution was instantly under attack from the capitalists in the other Eruopean nations, who worked with the counter revolutionaries in the USSR…The USSR was put on a constant defensive war footing, which led to the deformation of it’s socialist beginnings.
    Below is a segment of an article which described
    Trotskys ” A Revolution Betrayed” which is a good starting point in understanding what happened to the Russian revolution..

    “In the immediate aftermath of the October 1917 revolution, the Bolshevik government attempted to put Marx and Lenin’s theories into practice: government officials’ wages were reduced to workers’ wages, delegates to the government and the Soviets, or workers’ councils, were immediately recallable, the standing army was abolished, women got the vote and were elected to high office, education and libraries greatly expanded, workers took over production at the factory level, etc. Indeed, “the state as a bureaucratic apparatus [began] to die away the first day of the proletarian dictatorship.”

    Yet something went terribly wrong. Instead of withering away, the bureaucratic state apparatus grew and strengthened. As Trotsky put it:

    However you may interpret the nature of the present Soviet state, one thing is indubitable: at the end of its second decade of existence, it has not only not died away, but not begun to “die away.” Worse than that, it has grown into a hitherto unheard of apparatus of compulsion. The bureaucracy not only has not disappeared, yielding its place to the masses, but has turned into an uncontrolled force dominating the masses. (52—53)

    A Revolution Betrayed

    • That’s always the problem. Buttheads at the top exploiting the system. I’ve always thought the whole dictatorship of the the proletariat concept was unworkable, because it won’t wither away, those controlling the system won’t let that happen.

      • About three years ago I began pondering the meandering of a commenter over at the Seattle blog Orcinus and sketched out the notion that perhaps what we need is an updated Turing Test to determine the ‘humanity’ of a commenter. Afterall, my middle name is Alan, I am a ‘computer scientist’, regardless the worthlessness that has turned out to be as a ‘career’, and my grad thesis was on the preposition that once a neural net achieves sufficient complexity it will achieve self-awareness (I know, my grad adviser said the same thing). Near instantaneous Trotsky sized responses filled with bizarre twists of nonsense and little known history alike, left me feeling as if something just felt like it wasn’t quite… ohh, spontaneous. As if someone back in the eighties wrote a Turin Loop and turned it loose – walked away, forgot about it, died… I don’t know.

        But as time passed I began to notice this phenomenon elsewhere…

        • That sounds like something a bot would say 🙂

  • Yep, that’s what she said. To which I responded “no, ‘bots’ lack the sufficient neural complexity for self-awareness, and are therefore incapable of formulation and statement.

    She also said “that’s hardly original, afterall, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes