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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

using capitalism to save the planet? « Previous | |Next »
December 31, 2009

In the light of the failure at Copenhagen to halt and reverse the growth of carbon dioxide in the air and the Coalition's forthcoming green light approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions without cost we have this insight from John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark in their The Paradox of Wealth: Capitalism and Ecological Destruction. Their argument is that:

Today orthodox economics is reputedly being harnessed to an entirely new end: saving the planet from the ecological destruction wrought by capitalist expansion. It promises to accomplish this through the further expansion of capitalism itself, cleared of its excesses and excrescences. A growing army of self-styled “sustainable developers” argues that there is no contradiction between the unlimited accumulation of capital — the credo of economic liberalism from Adam Smith to the present — and the preservation of the earth. The system can continue to expand by creating a new “sustainable capitalism,” bringing the efficiency of the market to bear on nature and its reproduction.

They add that in reality, these visions amount to little more than a renewed strategy for profiting on planetary destruction.

James Hansen in How to Solve the Climate Problem in The Nation says that there is no "silver bullet" solution for world energy requirements and that the problem demands a solution with a clear framework and a strong backbone.

Hanson adds:

Let's define what a workable backbone and framework should look like. The essential backbone is a rising price on carbon applied at the source (the mine, wellhead, or port of entry), such that it would affect all activities that use fossil fuels, directly or indirectly.Our goal is a global phaseout of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. We have shown, quantitatively, that the only practical way to achieve an acceptable carbon dioxide level is to disallow the use of coal and unconventional fossil fuels (such as tar sands and oil shale) unless the resulting carbon is captured and stored. We realize that remaining, readily available pools of oil and gas will be used during the transition to a post-fossil-fuel world. But a rising carbon price surely will make it economically senseless to go after every last drop of oil and gas--even though use of those fuels with carbon capture and storage may be technically feasible and permissible.

Hanson goes on to say that a successful new policy of “sustainable capitalism,” cannot include any offsets. We specified the carbon limit based on the geophysics. The physics does not compromise--it is what it is.
And planting additional trees cannot be factored into the fossil fuel limitations. The plan for getting back to 350 ppm assumes major reforestation, but that is in addition to the fossil fuel limit, not instead of. Forest preservation and reforestation should be handled separately from fossil fuels in a sound approach to solve the climate problem.

Fossil fuels continue to provide most of our energy because we do not take into account their true cost to society in that the effects of air and water pollution on human health are borne by the public. So the expansion and accummulation of capital trumps actual public interest in protecting the vital conditions of life.

Hanson says that in the end, energy efficiency and carbon-free energy can be made less expensive than fossil fuels, if fossil fuels' cost to society is included. The question is will this succeed in reducing emissions? Or will it simply result in capitalism continuing to profit on the destruction the planet?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:35 AM | | Comments (2)


Want to chew over Foster and Clark a little longer before
I'd be able to pluck up the guts to comment further, but it seems to me that the above eventually devolves back to equitable cost sharing and how any burden must be shared; a factor at the core of so much denialism being fear.
Any attempt to share pain will inevitably be howled down as "socialism". So like the Gadarene swine we are impelled helplessly to the brink, thru the intransigence of meaner, lesser souls.
Some of above relates to the reassertion of neolib since Obama; the chance may already have been missed again.
This is because, not least, it must contain that element of social reform that capitalists find so anathemic, but that the rest of us cannot accept as to ecological reform, without precisely that social element involving equity, involved.

right-wingers are convinced that a cap-and-trade mechanism to restrict greenhouse gases is an affront to Australian values