Capitalism Could Kill All Life On Earth
Are we going to let capitalism destroy life on Earth? According to 99% of climate scientists – we’ll know by the end of the century.
Scientists have agreed for three decades about what is causing atmospheric temperatures to rise – humans are burning Earth’s carbon resources to fuel economic activity. But even before we knew what was causing the temperature to rise – scientists warned about the dire global impacts of a two degree increase in atmospheric temperatures.
Earth’s climate has been basically stable for hundreds of thousands of years. But that changed during the industrial revolution - when Great Britain realized the potential of coal-powered steam engines. Soon continental Europe and America followed suit.
And over 150 years later – coal, oil, and natural gas dominate the global politics and economics: wars are fought over oil; communities are destroyed for coal; and increasingly scarce water supplies are poisoned by natural gas extraction.
The Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels –which means we have to change our energy system completely before the Earth warms another degree in order to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Is it possible?
Scientists say “Yes!” – BUT it will require us to take bold and immediate steps towards a completely renewable energy system. The technology exists – the shortfall is in investment.
According to the IMF – oil companies get 5.3 trillion dollars in subsidies worldwide per year. And the oil companies pay only a portion – if any – of the environmental costs of ripping fossil fuels from the ground and burning the CO2 into the atmosphere.
In other words, every living human being and government are paying for coal, oil, and gas companies to profit from the destruction our planet. And that’s not a market failure – that’s how the market was set up. Capitalism as we know it isn’t the solution – it’s the problem.
In a report in “Nature Climate Change” – scientists point out that we can keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius – if every country takes bold and immediate action to deploy current clean energy and limit the use of fossil fuels. The biggest failure in our system is that there is no price on carbon. Burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon into our atmosphere has very real costs that corporations aren’t paying for – costs that are being kicked down the road for future generations.
In America, we’ve let the fossil fuel industry become so profitable that it relentlessly funds campaigns and lobbies to keep oil subsidies in place and weaken environmental regulations - all at the expense of our communities and our planet.
Our current oligarchs claim that renewable power isn’t efficient or cheap enough to be competitive or to reliably replace fossil fuels – but that’s just not true. Solar, wind, and wave technology are all ready to be deployed at large scales – and Denmark, Germany, the UK and China, among others, are doing it right now.
Our transportation system is ready for renewables – solar roadways in the Netherlands are proving more effective than expected – and over two dozen models of electric cars are now out on the market.
Our households are ready for renewables: LED lightbulbs and high efficiency appliances mean that households use less energy – and affordable rooftop solar means that households can meet a lot their own energy needs.
We can make renewables competitive if we just cut subsidies to oil and coal companies and enforce our clean air and clean water regulations – but that means getting money out of politics so that legislation is written in the interest of communities and the planet - instead of corporations.
Capitalism is great at creating profits and products – but it doesn’t care about environmental justice. Capitalism doesn’t care whether we restore our forests and soils so that the planet can begin to reabsorb the carbon we’ve dumped into the atmosphere. Capitalism doesn’t care whether streams are poisoned or if the air is noxious – it doesn’t care if a river burns because of pollution – and it doesn’t care if another technology is ‘cleaner’ - unless the ‘dirty’ option becomes unprofitable.
That’s why we need both more regulation of the fossil fuel industry - and public investments into clean energy like solar and wind. Capitalism is to make money - but a government like our republic is put into place to protect the people from those whose quest for money harms society. We cannot replace democratic government with capitalism – and climate change proves this.
In fact - climate change challenges capitalism at its very root – is an economy really growing when all the costs are dumped on society while a handful of corporations and billionaires take all the profits? Science says that we can keep global temperatures from rising another half degree – but it can’t be left to a private sector that makes its profits from leaving the costs to everybody else.
It’s time for a New Green Deal – we need to stop directly and indirectly subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and we need to invest in a large-scale deployment of current clean energy technologies – one that will create permanent, sustainable jobs, and protect the Earth for future generations.