I debated against motion “The Climate Crisis Cannot Be Effectively Tackled Without Transforming Capitalism” at Durham University last night:
The Proof of any pudding is in the eating:
The boffins at Yale, mapping their Environmental Index on to the international indices that measure the ‘capitalism of economies’ -the World Bank’s Ease of Doing business index and the International Chamber of Commerce’s Open Market Index -reveal that the freer the economy the better environmental record.
Furthermore that there is a critical point in the economic development of free economies when additional economic growth leads greater environmental benefit
This is the reverse of what groups like Extinction Rebellion tell us
Well., there are several reasons, but I’ll fix on just one
Capitalist driven economic growth affords citizens the opportunity to care more about the environment. We aren’t consumed with worry about disease, slums, and malnutrition, so instead have resources to care about the environment and to demand political action from our democratic systems to address it.
For Example: Notwithstanding that our coasts and rivers are cleaner than they have been for years, every time a storm overflow discharges into the river Avon I get scores of emails demanding action, and that sort of political pressure drives the eye-watering £60 Billion investment now planned.
Equally London was often ground to a halt by smog and fog so thick they were called ‘pea soupers’ it led to political action and the Clean Air Act.
Where is the campaign for clean air in Beijing?
People who are worried about where their next meal is coming from, or about dying from malaria, are not in a position to be concerned about the extinction of endangered species or potentially rising water levels driven by climate change. And even if they were, they don’t enjoy the political freedoms and property rights that capitalism promotes, in order to demand a remedy
Some comparisons: In the 198ies Total Green House Gas emissions in the USSR, with an economy a fraction of the USA generated, at the most conservative estimate, at least one and a half times as much pollution as the USA per unit of GNP.
East Germany provides an example as a socialist-capitalist contrast with West Germany. Before it folded, CO2 emissions in the German Democratic Republic were almost twice the West German level, in per capita terms – astonishing when compared to how much richer the German Federal Republic was.
When the Soviet system collapsed, the enormity of environmental degradation became apparent including the disappearance of the Aral Sea, perhaps one of the worst environmental disasters, and directly attributable to socialist planning.
I do not contend that Capitalism is an environmentalist’s paradise. Of course there are plenty of examples of capitalist excess that we need to address through regulation, as Adam Smith sets out in Book 5 of The wealth of Nations. This is why property rights, contract, rule of law, a free press, and democratic oversight are essential components of Capitalism.
But the present danger is this:
A New puritanism is out to rob you of your liberty. To coerce you into giving up meat, to confine you to 15 minute cities, to take away the convenience and liberation of your own car, restrict you to public transport, stop you enjoying international travel.
But let’s be clear. We account for about 1% of Co2 emissions. Were we to stop at once, it would make no difference to climate change. The future of emissions will be determined in Latin America, India and China. Currently they have other priorities,
Remember Alok Sharma in tears closing COP 26 when he thought he had unanimous agreement to abandon coal – but they pulled the plug on him at the last moment
Because their people are, per capita, much poorer, so they attach a much greater priority to increasing consumption. If you were poor your priorities would be exactly the same.
As Bill Gates points out in How to avoid a Climate Disaster, the solution lies in the technologies that enable us to enjoy increasing prosperity whilst repairing the damage to the planet’s climate.
Where socialist planning has sought to catch-up by investing in industrial espionage and the theft of intellectual property. It is the initiative and enterprise of capitalist economies that are the essential engines of innovation and technological advance,
This is Capitalism’s greatest strength, and frankly, without it we have no chance!
On the contrary, Capitalism -far from being the problem – it is the solution.
[In the student debate Capitalism won – by a very comfortable margin]