When We Finally Own Up to Climate Change, Capitalism Won’t Be the Answer

The Old Man

Capitalism is all about growth. It’s about the next new thing. How can the pursuit of private profit possibly address a global catastrophe?

Capitalists have never concerned themselves with issues of public interest. The capitalist directs industry with the power of capital to produce whatever is of excellent value. Adam Smith called it the “invisible hand.” The butcher does not ply his trade out of civic duty but for personal profit. He will not give up his business to pluck plastic out of the ocean for the good of humanity — besides, there is no market for soggy plastic. There is no profit from investing his capital in such an endeavor.

The promise of capitalism is a better tomorrow. But that promise has come to an end. Even in America, the American dream is no more. Tomorrow looks bleak. How will my grandchildren buy a home in this new America? What sort of job opportunities will be available? Will they be indebted for life to the education mega-industry if they pursue a degree? Or is fast-food work the new norm, clerking at a retail behemoth, a cog in an Amazon warehouse?

Capitalism is dependent upon growth and constant consumption. Planned obsolescence is built into everything we buy, so we consume faster and forever. If it’s not designed to wear out, it’s instantly outdated because of fashion, or it’s no longer cool because of a new style update or twenty new features.

Capitalists do not look to solve the moral dilemmas of over-consumption, the over-use of fossil fuels, food waste in our society, or carbon in the atmosphere. Instead, capitalists look for the next grand opportunity to make a profit, bring you more of the same. Capitalists will continue to offer more of what has brought us to the brink — they are hard-wired to seek profit for profit’s sake.

What if, to save the planet, we have to change our ways dramatically? Or die? If humanity refuses to take climate change seriously — we could face an extinction-level catastrophe.

How does a role for the capitalist emerge from this problem? What if growth and over-consumption are no longer sustainable? What if it’s simply not practical or sustainable to support eight billion people? What if part of the solution is to scale down to a 60s level population of just under four billion? Birth rates are already tailing off. People are instinctively scared. The future is no longer promising. Many people in the US are already panicked over refugees crossing our southern border. How many of these people are already climate refugees? As temperatures climb in the hottest equatorial zones where both water and electricity are scarce, will we lock down our borders, hide behind a wall while we sit back in comfort while millions succumb to heat exhaustion?

Not that the US is safe. Do you want to be in southern California when Lake Mead dries up? Colorado River water, once held behind the mighty Hoover Dam, formed Lake Mead, and it watered all the arid lands of the southwest. Much of what was once an arid desert is now fertile farmland — but not without water.

Lake Mead is at its lowest level since Hoover Dam since constructed in 1931. The current water level is 1061 feet. If the water level falls below 895 feet, it becomes a pond of dead storage with no way to generate power or get the water out.

Faced with a looming water shortage, are residents in Southern California still keeping their lawns lush and green — of course, they are.

When it comes to climate change, humanity is much like the frog in the pot of water set to boil. The frog got in while the water was cool. Every day he claims that it’s not too bad yet — until it’s too late. We need action on a worldwide scale. Incremental changes by a few dedicated people are not sufficient to make a difference. We need the opposite of growth — we must have de-growth.

  • We need a worldwide effort to scale down our population of eight billion by half. Four billion people put far less pressure on the earth’s resources. Every female on the planet gets one voucher for one child, use it, sell it, or trade it.
  • We need immediate drastic fuel rationing to limit transportation.
  • We should return to local economies to reduce the transportation of the things we consume. Think in terms of regional centers where all essentials are derived from local (100-mile radius) — food, clothing, household goods all from local sources.
  • Durable goods like large appliances need to be manufactured to last much longer than they last today. They should be manufactured with easily replaceable parts, available for years after initial production. We need to say goodbye to style and feature upgrades and focus on a few ultra-durable models that will avoid the landfill for the foreseeable future.
  • Automobile manufacture needs to end tomorrow. If we burn the fuel in all the vehicles in existence right now, we can kiss the future goodbye. Electric vehicles can fill the transportation gap, transport of goods first, people second, but only if they are charged from 100% renewable sources. Using a fossil fuel grid to charge your Tesla is deception — it’s simply a shell game with no benefit.
  • We need a renaissance in walking and bicycle transportation for our health and the environment.
  • International flights and dumb-ass billionaire rocket junkets need to end stop immediately.
  • The US and Canada are the world’s greatest energy hogs. We consume far more than our worldwide share. We must scale back our energy use and reduce our carbon footprint. Our energy gluttony has worldwide consequences.

Climate change is real. It’s as dire as ninety-nine percent of the world’s climate scientists say it is. Are we prepared to make sacrifices? Or are we like the frog in the pot?

We either bring a halt to the warming of the planet and begin to reverse it, or we die. It’s that serious. How will the invisible hand of the free market solve these problems? It won’t. All the problems we face capitalism labels as externalities — they exist apart from the market. Capitalists say yes to continued pollution and carbon emissions because those things enhance profit. Clean up? Never! The mess capitalists make of the environment is simply an external byproduct of the market — an externality, something to be ignored.

Capitalism is not the answer, it’s a big part of the problem.

What about investment? What about profit? Profit comes from growth, expansion, and consumption. I don’t believe there is any margin for profit in de-growth. In a sense, we need to shut everything down and find our way anew as we shrink back to a sustainable level. We will need to chart an entirely new economic course.

There is no margin for profit in the desperate effort to save our environment. Is that even a choice? Profit vs. Extinction?

How will humanity’s epitaph read?

  • We failed to protect our environment because there was no way to make a profit.
  • Humans are extinct because we could not adapt to a falling Gross Domestic Product.
  • The human race is gone because we refused to sacrifice anything — we wanted it all.

It will take tremendous leadership to forge a global alliance to confront our climate dilemma on a scale that will affect positive change. It will take creative intelligent minds to plan for a shrinking economy. Unfortunately, this comes about at a time when we lack strong leaders.

In the US, we are torn between two parties that delight in sabotaging one another. Even President Biden’s modest climate change proposals were gutted from the infrastructure bill before the Republicans would even consider it.

After four years of Trump, I doubt anyone in the world looks toward the US for leadership anymore. But without the US on board, any efforts will most likely fail — we are a big part of the problem. Many say it’s already too late to avert disaster. Maybe they’re right. I suppose we will all end up like the proverbial frog in the pot.

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Looking for solutions to improve our world. I write about politics, education, climate change, and any issues important to average Americans struggling to survive in a world gone mad.

Chico, CA
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