Today’s Climate Strike protests are supposed to bring attention to the science showing that human-made global warming is becoming a problem. Fair enough. But some participants see climate change as pretext for destroying a market system that they have always hated.
Naomi Klein made this point crystal clear in her 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Speaking with New York magazine this week, Klein claimed that “taking climate change seriously decimates the entire neoliberal project because you can’t have a laissez-faire attitude, where it’s having your emissions in 11 years; you actually need to regulate your way out of it. And yeah, you can have a few market mechanisms in place, but the market is not going to do it for you.”
The science, insists Klein, “says our future is radical. The present is pretty radical too. The idea that there is some sort of gradual, incremental, let’s-split-the-difference pathway to respond to this crisis is silly at this point.”
A headline in The Guardian put it even more forthrightly: “Ending climate change requires ending capitalism.”
Global warming is a classic example of what happens in an open-access commons. The atmosphere is unowned, so no one has an incentive to protect and conserve it. Instead, people overexploit and pollute it. Historically this happened with sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and smoke. In the United States, cities initially implemented regulations to cut back on noxious air pollutants. (For example, the first smoke abatement regulations were enacted by Chicago and Cincinnati in 1881.) Eventually federal regulations and market mechanisms were adopted. As a result, since 1980 air pollutants have collectively declined by 68 percent while the economy grew by 175 percent.