Environmental Economics

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The Case for Climate Capitalism
Excerpt

 

Climate change defies the traditional divisions between left and right. The response from the far left — led by Naomi Klein and the Pope — targets market forces, economic growth, and capitalism itself as the enemy. Yet climate solutions need all three. The far right — dominated by market fundamentalists like FOX and the Koch brothers — view unfettered markets, unlimited growth, and unregulated capitalism as unassailable foundations of the twenty-first century. But that view is incompatible with a livable planet. The simple ideologies of left and right are unhelpful in trying to solve this problem. It’s time to let them go. Common sense provides a better basis for climate solutions than political or ideological preference.

 

Climate Capitalism is a pragmatic response to a messy problem. To rewire our economy in time to head off disaster, the left and right need to throw out a bunch of comfortable assumptions. The idea that we’re going to jettison capitalism itself is as absurd as it sounds. We need high finance. And market forces. Yet both must be tamed. Unbridled market forces make for great toys and factories but will take us straight off the climate cliff. Not everything can be valued in money or commerce. Some things have worth that can’t be contained in a spreadsheet: the human spirit, our place in the world, values and ethics, our planet itself.

 

The current intellectual trend claims all of human activity can be captured in value-free quantitative analysis. That view is false. We can’t speak to the climate issue without the deep, reflective language of moral philosophy. Intergenerational justice is not measured by what economists call the “discount rate.” The value of nature — the Amazonian rainforest, biodiversity, healthy watersheds — is not captured by estimating their monetary value. Our deeper qualitative concerns must bend (not bend to) the forces of commerce to be effective. Commerce is the tool, human values the force — not vice versa.

 

Yet this book is all about economics: money, trade agreements, discount rates, capital markets, entrepreneurs. Undoubtedly, my environmental friends won’t like the whole-hearted embrace of that language. And many business colleagues will bristle at the call for what they see as radical interference in those markets and a value first approach to weighing costs and benefits. That may be a sign I’ve got something right. In any good negotiation, both sides will feel like they lost. But both also win.

 

Things will get nasty in the climate debate as our world continues to get hotter. There will be fights — not just over ideas but water, food, land, and money. But one thing we can’t fight about anymore is which economic system occupies the high ground. The left and right, the business community and environmentalists, bankers and activists must together reclaim capitalism and force profits to align with the planet. We must retool our laws and institutions to reflect our collective long-term security. We can worry about who occupies the moral high ground later.

 

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On Fire

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The Burning Case for a Green New Deal
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An Economy of Wellbeing (PDF)

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Common-sense tools for building genuine wealth and happiness
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An Economy of Wellbeing (EPUB)

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Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution
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