Accuracy in Media

To end climate change, we must abolish capitalism, according a recent piece by Salon.

What this shows is that Salon understands neither capitalism nor climate change. In fact, one of the basic assumptions made by the International Panel of Climate Change itself is that capitalism is not just consistent with beating climate change, it’s one of the ways of doing so.

Managing to be inconsistent with reality is, of course, a sign of bias: “Solving the climate crisis requires the end of capitalism”. One proof offered is that capitalism requires growth, growth is the problem, therefore we cannot have capitalism. Which ignores that capitalism no more requires growth than any other socioeconomic system does. Further, the reason we have growth is because people like growth. Folks just do like to think that the future will be better, that their kids will be richer, it’s just human nature to be that way.

Capitalism is a good way of gaining that growth that people like, that’s true, but the socialist promise, back when the system hadn’t been tried, was that proper scientific planning would speed up growth. We found out that that’s not true but the same claim is made today – if we get government to do things then we’ll be richer. The promise of future riches is what people follow, that’s why the claim is made – however silly or incorrect that claim is.

That elephant is called capitalism, and it is high time to face the fact that, as long as capitalism remains the dominant economic system of our globalized world, the climate crisis won’t be resolved.

Part of the proof is the Jevons Paradox, that if we become more efficient at using something then the price falls – we use less – so with the lower price we all use more again. The mistake is that this is only sometimes true, it depends upon the price elasticity of demand. How much does the use of something change when the price does? This being proper economics and requiring hard numbers and calculations so not something Salon is going to try to deal with.

Actually, they have problems with the most basic economic concepts:

GDP merely measures the rate at which society transforms nature and human activity into the monetary economy, regardless of the ensuing quality of life. Anything that causes economic activity of any kind, whether good or bad, adds to GDP.

Nonsense. GDP measures value added in an economy. It doesn’t measure “activity” at all, it measures whether the activity has added to potential human welfare. Also:

Of the hundred largest economies today, 69 are transnational corporations,

That’s simply ignorant. It’s comparing the turnover of companies with the GDP of countries – which isn’t how this works. GDP is value-added, so with a company, it’s the profits made (the value added, see?) plus the wages paid. A proper comparison says Exxon is about the size of Luxembourg. Which makes sense, there’re a couple of hundred thousand workers in Exxon and a couple of hundred thousand in Luxembourg.

But the biggest problem with this biased analysis? The IPCC has already considered all of this. It’s built in to the basic models that are used to predict climate change itself. Those models are here. A low growth economy (called, in the IPCC models, “B2”) is a climate disaster with billions upon billions more grossly poor people. A coal-fired capitalism (A1 FI model name) is also a disaster. Renewables and nuclear-powered American capitalism (A1 T) or European-style social democracy also renewables powered (B1) works out just fine. Climate change fades away as even a possible problem in a couple of decades.

This claim that beating climate change requires the abolition of capitalism ignores the very models we are all using in the science that says that there is climate change as a problem to deal with. This all could be the result of simple ignorance, that’s a possibility. Rather more likely, though, is bias. Some people just do insist that capitalism must be abolished and any excuse is good enough to call for it. Even ones that are manifestly untrue.




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