The Climate vs. Capitalism

by Steven James

There are a multitude of factors contributing to the ever-deteriorating climate situation we are facing. Overpopulation, lack of recycling, overconsumption of finite resources, and manufacturing of compounds and gases that are destroying our environment are not only examples of these factors, but also markers of a growing global economy. Despite being at different levels of economic growth, every country has more or less followed the same pathway towards building wealth: consume resources, build and expand, worry about the repercussions later.

If it costs more to dump waste than to recycle it, dump it. This behaviour is certainly encouraged by a capitalist market, where the goal of each member is to maximise productivity to optimise profit. Despite having zero care for the environment or living sustainably, capitalism certainly has its benefits – it allows for higher standards of living and ample employment opportunities, where one’s opportunities are endless. However, these opportunities can only remain endless if we have a habitable planet to live on.

Curbing climate change and capitalistic values do not go hand in hand. Government policies that cut down on environmental pollution will generally also slow economic growth – it is near to impossible to find solutions that allow economic growth and protect our environment simultaneously (or else we wouldn’t be in this mess!!). At a corporate level, capitalist markets provide no incentives for sustainability – protecting the environment comes at a cost, and very few corporations are willing to risk losing out to competitors by making sustainable choices that are actually impactful. Is this solely to blame on capitalism, or is will this always be a problem regardless of the economic model in place?

If a solely capitalist model is a certain death sentence for the environment, could governments step in and regulate markets that are damaging the climate the most? Could a mixed economic system give corporations a financial crutch in order to make better choices for the environment? The vast majority of wealthy countries actually have mixed economic systems, where some industries are regulated by their government, and the remainder are privately owned.

Ireland is an obvious example of this, and unfortunately is also a clear example of why mixed economic models are no better than full-blown capitalist models for the environment. In 2020, Ireland was ranked among the worst countries in the developed world for our climate crisis response. Despite declaring a ‘climate emergency’ in 2019, carbon emissions in Ireland continue to rise. The Irish government have failed time and time again to set achievable targets for emission reduction, constantly being slowed down by TD’s defending the agricultural industry. 

In an ideal world, our government could help lift the financial burden placed on the agricultural industry in order for them to drastically reduce emissions. In the real world, nobody is willing to take a pay cut to help the environment. Our government is currently faced with two options; either make a small reduction into emissions in the agriculture, which is probably going to be too little to make a positive difference and will potentially put some farmers out of business, or else they can make a decent reduction in agricultural emissions while bankrupting several farmers and threatening our country’s food supply.

What they won’t do is make considerable reductions in agriculture and support farmers financially through the process, ensuring food security, job stability and progress on climate protection. Why? Because that will cost too much money. Through smart investment, mixed economic systems could definitely lend a hand to the industries that effect climate change the most, giving all market competitors incentives to become more sustainable. Sadly, not many governments see this as a useful investment, certainly not the Irish government.This may seem bleak, but there is hope for the future.

Despite the fact that a capitalist economy will pillage and destroy its environment to irradicate poverty, once this objective is complete, there is an opportunity for this damage to be reversed. Capitalist markets encourage competition between some of our brightest and most creative minds, as well as demanding constant innovation to fix the most prominent problems faced by society. In recent times, eradicating poverty and starvation was the prime objective of many nations, but soon their focus will shift to saving the planet.

The dark shadow of climate change continues to loom over us, getting darker as the days go by, and not long from now it will become a problem we simply cannot ignore, finally making climate change somewhat profitable to investors. This will hopefully spark an influx of money into new technologies and strategies to combat climate change – it is sad that we have to wait until saving our planet becomes profitable before major investment into this industry happens, but money truly does make the world go round.

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