Thursday, July 26, 2018

Can Capitalism Really Solve The Climate Problem? Perhaps, And Perhaps Space Aliens Will Also Abduct Donnie Dotard

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In perhaps one of the brashest claims on record in the media, Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp ('Capitalism Will Solve Climate Problem', WSJ, p. A17,  July 23) writes:

"Though climate change presents American industries a daunting challenge, market - based policies can unleash innovation from investors, inventors and entrepreneurs, who will work to build a more prosperous and safer future. Working with accurate scientific facts and the right incentives, the market will find winning solutions."

But author Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. Climate Change isn't buying.  Referencing the need for wealthy nations to cut emissions "somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 percent per year", to avoid even the minimal projected increase of 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 - she writes (p. 21):

"The free market simply cannot accomplish this task. Indeed, this level of emission reduction has only happened in the context of economic collapse, or deep depression."

Basically, as Klein argues in her book, capitalism is unable to affect or alter  the course of climate change due to its dependence on fossil fuels and need for continuous growth.  Take away the need for growth - or reduce it in major ways - and perhaps market "forces" can make a difference. But not when the growth demanded is on the order of 2-3 % a year. 

For his part, Krupp insists that "public policy that puts a price on carbon emissions would speed the adoption of clean energy by exposing the market to the costs this pollution puts on society."

But that begs the question: What exactly would the market do about it? Given a current 30 gT/year carbon deposition rate - and assuming we don't add to it-   that leaves us roughly  15 years before we end up at the cusp of the runaway greenhouse effect.  I mean we are already seeing monstrous flooding in the east, and we now know this is tied to climate change given the rainfall record (see graphic above) shows  30 percent more rainfall days of 3-inches plus over the last 50 years.  Also, few mainstream media sources are informing citizens of the ongoing global heat wave, e.g

No surprise here given the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 410 parts per million in May, the highest the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii had measured since Charles David Keeling started keeping records in 1958.  Do the corporate media not wish to alarm people? Well, maybe it's past time they did. As for Krupp, Naomi Klein points out (p. 208)  that he failed his "come to Jesus" moment after George Bush Sr. became president - and  promised action on acid rain  - a result of excessive  emission of sulfur dioxide - SO2-   in tandem with precipitation over affected regions (i.e. with coal fired utility plants).  Klein notes (ibid.)  "the solution would have been reduction by a fixed amount across the board."  But Krupp and the EDF punted, e.g.

"Instead, the EDF pushed for the first, full -fledged cap and trade system. These rules did not tell polluters they had to cut their sulfur emissions but instead, set a nationwide cap on sulfur dioxide, beneath which big emitters (like coal fired plants) would do as they pleased. - pay other companies to make reductions for them."

In Krupp's WSJ paean to capitalism it appears he has not moved much beyond such pedestrian, useless solutions and the calamity clock is moving.   Klein herself actually sees Krupp more as a fossil fuel accommodationist citing a quote he made in 2009 (cf. p. 191), "Coal is not the enemy, coal emissions are."  She also cites the fact that Krupp's leadership of the EDF has seen its budget expand from $3 m to $120m, much of it from a hedge fund (Tiger Management) which underwrote EDF's work. Her suggestion is that such vast expansion of support is not based simply on saving the planet - or the humans inhabiting it - but has a huge profit angle too.

More treacherous  than SO2 emissions is the  limit for total carbon in the atmosphere. This is now  2, 750 gT, based on research by Bill McKibben at 350.0rg. Once we cross this threshold, we will usher in the maw of the runaway greenhouse and be on our way to converting the Earth to another Venus. The problem? The energy- and fossil fuel companies  that govern most of our economic system don't see it that way.  Carbon gadfly McKibben cites the fact that Exxon's share price, for example, is based on a total carbon deposition of at least 2,800 gT - which also conforms to expectations set by hedge funds, et al including Peabody Global. 

So in the wake of this what can the market do?  If one rules out high emissions taxes about the only market solution left is "cap and trade".  This is the scheme Klein referenced in her criticism of Krupp's response to acid rain and sulfur dioxide.  But most global warming researchers, and honest politicians  have known for at least seven years that cap and trade is a fool's errand. As the MIT Technology Review puts it: "cap-and-trade, by itself, won’t make much of a dent. "
See e.g.

What WOULD make a dent - but which Krupp never mentions in his WSJ piece, is imposing a direct carbon tax on all oil supplies (including gasoline for autos) around the world. But the likelihood of this passing legislatures anytime soon  is about the same as extraterrestrials from a planet in the Tau Ceti system landing and kidnapping Trump before 2020.  So, in the meantime, too many push "cap and trade" when it is only a Potemkin solution.  

Part of the problem in the U.S. (the biggest CO2 emitter) is that too many don't accept the reality of climate change or that it deserves the priority of attention given it by most climate scientists. According to a June 7 WSJ op-ed by Steven Hayward:

"While roughly half of Americans regard climate change as a problem, the issue has never achieved the high salience among the public,  despite the drumbeat of alarm from the climate campaign. Americans consistently ranked climate the 19th or 20th of 20 leading issues."

It is  interesting that while climate change is highly prioritized and seen as scientific fact backed by 90 percent to 100 percent of experts  in many parts of the world -  this doesn't apply in the United States.   Here climate change remains  a fraught political issue that serves as a major wedge for the partisan divide which feels like it could swallow the nation whole.  But this is inevitably the case when divergent mental maps concerning an anomalous phenomenon hold sway, especially one that has been politicized like climate change- global warming.

A lot of this has to do with the climate denialists'  single minded campaign of agnotology - or sowing doubt on the most minor aspects of climate science divergence. This campaign is funded by economic agents, fossil fuel interests and their lobbyists,  who grasp that their model of "extractivism" and profiteering would have to literally be put  on life support to reach any realistic emissions cuts goals. But if they did that, they'd surrender their profits. This they won't do, and capitalist and the pols they have in thrall won't either. As Klein puts it:

"Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings. The cuts to greenhouse emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions or actions that can be postponed indefinitely."

The climate upheavals we are witnessing now in our world, discloses that this is wishful thinking and we may have already waited too long to act boldly.

See also:

How climate change is supercharging a hot and dangerous summer


"Gone are the days when scientists drew a bright line dividing weather and climate. Now researchers can examine a weather event and estimate how much climate change had to do with causing or exacerbating it."



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