Confronting the Climate Change Crisis

By Ian Angus from Socialist Voice, published on ZNet, January 30, 2007.

Excerpt with part four of six, No Capitalist Solution: … Any reasonable person must eventually ask why capitalists and their governments seek to avoid effective action on climate change. Everyone, including capitalists and politicians, will be affected. Nicholas Stern estimates that the world economy will shrink by 20% if we don’t act. So why don’t the people in power do something?

The answer is that the problem is rooted in the very nature of capitalist society, which is made up of thousands of corporations, all competing for investment and for profits. There is no “social interest” in capitalism — only thousands of separate interests that compete with each other.

If a company decides to invest heavily in cutting emissions, its profits will go down. Investors will move their capital into more profitable investments. Eventually the green company will go out of business.

The fundamental law of capitalism is “Grow or Die.” Anarchic, unplanned growth isn’t an accident, or an externality, or a market failure. It is the nature of the beast.

Experts believe that stabilizing climate change will require a 70% or greater reduction in CO2 emissions in the next 20 to 30 years – and that will require a radical reduction in the use of fossil fuels. At least three major barriers militate against capitalism achieving that goal.

Changing from fossil fuels to other energy sources will require massive spending. In the near-term this will be non-profitable investment, in an economy that cannot function without profit.

The CO2 reductions must be global. Air and water don’t stop at borders. So long as capitalism remains the world’s dominant economic system, positive changes in individual countries will be undermined by countermoves in other countries seeking competitive advantage.

The change must be all-encompassing. Unlike previous anti-pollution campaigns that focused on single industries, or specific chemicals such as DDT, stopping greenhouse gases will require wrenching change to every part of the economy. Restructuring on such an enormous scale is almost certainly impossible in a capitalist framework — and any attempt to make it happen will meet intense resistance.

Only an economy that is organized for human needs, not profit, has any chance of slowing climate change and reversing the damage that’s already been done. Only democratic socialist planning can overcome the problems caused by capitalist anarchy … (full text).

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