A recent article by Phil McDuff in The Guardian carries the headline, “Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?” Although I obviously disagree strongly with the author’s claims, McDuff’s piece is refreshingly honest in its demands. Those of us warning that the radical environmentalist movement—particularly in the context of battling climate change—was tied to a broader rejection of capitalism, period, have yet another advocate admitting it openly in the popular press.
Policy Tweaks Won’t Meet UN Goals
McDuff and I actually agree when it comes to the likelihood of piecemeal reforms meeting the UN’s climate goals. Here’s McDuff:
Right now we can, with a massive investment of effort by 2030, just about keep the warming level below 1.5C. This is “bad, but manageable” territory. Failing to put that effort in sees the world crossing more severe temperature barriers that would lead to outcomes like ecosystem collapse, ocean acidification, mass desertification, and coastal cities being flooded into inhabitability.
We will simply have to throw the kitchen sink at this. Policy tweaks such as a carbon tax won’t do it. We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital. The impact of a dramatic reconfiguration of the industrial economy require similarly large changes to the welfare state. Basic incomes, large-scale public works programmes, everything has to be on the table to ensure that the oncoming system shocks do not leave vast swathes of the global population starving and destitute. Perhaps even more fundamentally, we cannot continue to treat the welfare system as a tool for disciplining the supposedly idle underclasses. Our system must be reformed with a more humane view of worklessness, poverty and migration than we have now. [Bold added.]
McDuff’s reading of the literature comports with my own. Ever since last fall when the UN released guidelines on how the world could limit warming to 1.5°C, here at IER I have pointed out just how ludicrous the objective was, and that (for example) the work of recent Nobel laureate William Nordhaus recommended a much weaker temperature ceiling.
Also notice that McDuff (like the staff of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) utterly rejects the idea that a mere carbon tax would appease them. Libertarians and conservatives should realize that a “carbon tax deal” with progressive climate activists would turn out like Lando’s deal with Darth Vader.
A Funny Way to Demonstrate Paranoia
Speaking of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal, look at how McDuff tries to take lemons and make lemonade:
This emergent radicalism is already taking people by surprise. The Green New Deal (GND), a term presently most associated with 29-year-old US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has provoked a wildly unhinged backlash from the “pro free market” wing, who argue that it’s a Trojan horse, nothing more than an attempt to piggyback Marxism onto the back of climate legislation.
The criticism feels ridiculous. Partly because the GND is far from truly radical and already represents a compromise solution, but mainly because the radical economics isn’t a hidden clause, but a headline feature. Climate change is the result of our current economic and industrial system. GND-style proposals marry sweeping environmental policy changes with broader socialist reforms because the level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below “absolutely catastrophic” is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo. [Bold added.]
Everyone catch that? Stop calling the Green New Deal a Trojan Horse to bring about a Marxist revolution: The Marxists aren’t in a horse at all! (For one thing, why involve more methane than needed to overturn capitalism?)
Admitted socialists such as Ocasio-Cortez are at least consistent: They think capitalism per se is responsible for putting the planet at risk, and therefore only a radical overhaul of our society can possibly avert catastrophe. I think these socialists are wrong, but at least they’re consistent.
In contrast, those holding up the UN’s policy goals as a justification for a carbon tax “reform”—perhaps even in a revenue-neutral way that promotes GDP growth!—are utterly misleading the public. Any piecemeal measures would merely get the anti-capitalist foot in the door, and would not be sufficient to avert the (alleged) climate disaster, given the very goals the so-called moderates endorsed at the start. The whole enterprise would fulfill the “Trojan Horse” warnings many of us have been issuing, and indeed as this recent Guardian article confirms.