Living off the grid won’t help stop global warming

Is living off the grid a needed step forward or just an evasion, however well-meaning, of what really needs to be done.

So many liberal enviros won’t touch the ugly, hairy, 500 pound guerrilla in the room: Capitalism.

We have to be rational and realize these markers aren’t really all that revolutionary in the long run. They are only band aid approaches that make the brutal free market system more palatable to us folks with a pesky conscience.

So says Brickburner, in their post aptly titled No Impact? Exactly.

As long as short-sighted predatory capitalism, with its focus on profits above everything else including the health of the planet, is allowed to prevail, there can be no real remediation of global warming. A system that puts the well-being of all above profits is what’s needed.

Sure, I use CFLs not incandescents, recycle as much as possible and try to keep my carbon footprint low. But those are individual efforts and can’t replace the societal restructuring needed to stop climate change. To expect capitalists to put the long-term good ahead of this quarter’s profits is delusion.


  1. The bourgeois liberal cannot conceive of change as the product of a collective radical restructuring of society. For them, everything is the product of individual habits/actions. The individual is the unit of analysis and it is individuals, as such, that must change if things are to change as well.

  2. The problem you present is a typical one that every upper-division economics student will see in pulbic choice economics. The problem is unconnected to any economic system except the Luddite, since you have to include pricing schemes that aren’t reflected in market prices. There are plenty of ways of doing this, well developed in the economic literature, but you do it whether you’re in a capitalist society or a socialist, centrally-planned one. Once again, the example of our socialist bretheren does not lead one to the conclusion they htey are kinder and gentler on the environment. Indeed, the conversation efforts of the West have been dramatically better than those elsewhere, including present and formerly socialist countries. They’re not yet good enough because, outside of Europe (i.e., in the US), it’s politically difficult to get the proper incentives in place. You would think it would be easier under central planning, but history has proven that it’s not.

  3. As you know I’ve been having this discussion on my blog as well. My conclusion: the only way to make change is to change the source of the grid, not to remove from it.

    The problem is not capitalism– well, not exactly anyway. In a true capitalist system (using my interpretation of Smith), the government MUST take two actions. First, ensure that the true cost of a resurce is reflected in its price–i.e. if cleanup or global change costs will later be borne by the populace, it is the government’s responsibility to append those costs to the users. This would make clean energy much more attractive. Second, if the market cannot give us clean energy (which I doubt), and clean energy is in the best interests of society, Smithian capitalism says it is the government’s job to give it to us.

    The problem as I see it is one of monopoly– a fundamental problem that under capitalism the government is supposed to deal with. Right now, the people making the rules are also the people selling the dirty energy. When you can buy a president, that’s not capitalism. The problem is not capitalism, but lack of capitalism. In fact, I would describe the current trend toward monopoly and globalization as approaching economic anarchy. Like social anarchy, it may sound good to some but it doesn’t work very well.

  4. So how is Smithian economics different from socialist economics? He’s implying massive governmental intervention and control of markets, something ‘free market’ proponents would howl about.

  5. So-called free-market proponents have left Adam Smith far behind, in the same way anarchists have little to do with John Stuart Mill. Capitalism relies on markets as the primary tool for allocating resources– but with limits, controls, and above all, RULES. The wellbeing of society is its primary goal, using the self-interest of each individual as a given, and thus a means to that end. The general trend is toward efficiency (because waste costs money). Markets also create some negative trends, such as increased poverty, concentration of wealth, and monopoly, which it is the government’s role to correct. The goal is to encourage markets and manage the ill effects. Smith also believed that Capitalism was not possible without a moral framework, though I don’t even know if we can talk about a moral framework in the current economic climate.

    Socialism as I understand it relies primarily on the government as its primary method of economic allocation. Markets, when allowed (depending on the degree of socialism involved) are often tempered with price controls and other constraints that encourage inefficiency and, depending on the level of restraint, corruption.

    You are correct in that in a successful economy there is (and should be) quite a bit of overlap between the two. I believe that markets ultimately reflect human nature– and that human nature must be tempered by structure, just as Congress and the Executive branch are tempered by the Courts. Thus, some inefficiency is inevitable, as is some poverty. The question, I think, is to what degree markets are relied upon as the primary means of allocation.

    A capitalist solution to global warming would likely mean ensuring that actual costs are reflected in the cost of goods, and letting the market decide. (Free-marketeers will scream socialism, just like dopers in the 70s screamed about fascists. I remember– I was one.) A socialist solution might include either banning the goods (dirty energy) outright or assessing punitive penalties (taxes), or subsidizing a desirable good in order to make it more competitive. Any of these may backfire in their application.

    Then there are solutions that would be appropriate in either school of thought, like government-sponsored research. On the other hand (and this is as I see it the flaw in a socialist solution for the U.S.) can you imagine our government getting involved and not screwing it up? A left-wing teacher I had at Santa Monica College once observed that our inherent fewar of government ensures that we will never have one that works!

  6. Well, just because the US government is dysfunctional doesn’t mean all governments have to be. And saying the market will solve global warming doesn’t take into account the short-term profit motive of capitalism,which generally will always override the greater long-term good.

  7. I think the short term profit motive has gotten out of hand. Maximizing capital demands long-term thinking. It’s the election cycle (and employment cycle) that cause short-term thinking. Grab what you can while you can. My opinion is it’s due to price deferment– it doesn’t cost as much to pollute and run as it does to stay and do business properly. And it should cost more, because the cost to society is more. But the cost is left to the taxpayers as a whole, rather than the offenders. That’s not capitalism. That’s criminal.

    As to governments, it’s true not all have to be dysfunctional. But ours is, and it seems to be cultural, and it’s also over one of the largest, most influential, and destructive economies in the world. Until we get taken over by France, we’re probably stuck with it. I try to think in terms of solutions we can implement in our very imperfect world.

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