Our economic system must evolve in the face of the ravages of the environment

Climate change is the greatest risk and challenge of our time. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 415 parts per million – the highest for nearly three million years. And the past five years were the hottest on record since the 1880s.

British scientist Brian Cox said that politicians “often make the mistake of viewing society as a series of groups competing for limited resources.” But this mistake is the very premise of much of the world’s free market economy, that different stakeholders compete for the biggest profit with total disregard for any negative externality.

Now, this amoral competition has brought us to a tipping point, where Earth is gradually experiencing devastation. The impacts include ocean acidification, sea level rise and, among others, the displacement of people. According to a to study According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, an estimated 60 million people were affected by extreme weather conditions in 2018. Because of this devastation, nature is forcing us to mend.

Climate change, however, is no longer just global warming. It is also the erasure of other equally important life forms on the planet and the depletion of its finite resources. A recent report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that nearly one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction due to hyper-intensive human activity.

Our current economic system has created the mechanisms that allow us to produce and consume endlessly and without thinking. In many of her speeches, author and activist Naomi Klein has castigated capitalism as a stupid system that lacks morality. Unlike the natural world which follows the pattern of birth, growth, maturation and death, nations working within the paradigm of capitalism strive for perpetual upward growth, for that is what constitutes success. In his book, Prosperity without growth, Tim Jackson writes that “for the past five decades, the pursuit of growth has been the most important political goal around the world.”

Gross domestic product (GDP) measures in monetary terms the number of goods and services that a country produces during a given period. For decades, GDP has been the sole measure of a country’s economic success, while other development factors such as literacy and health, as well as levels of well-being and happiness, have been ignored. So while GDP can give a lot of information about the state of an economy, it provides an incomplete picture.

The global achievements of capitalism cannot be ignored. Since the Industrial Revolution, the world has realized immense potential – space travel, the internet and the smartphone revolution to name a few. These achievements were unimaginable just a few decades ago. However, economic growth has been fueled by a dependence on fossil fuels, which has resulted in constant warming of the planet. As Barnabe Geis, director of Climate Ventures, an incubator for entrepreneurs, innovators and climate advocates, says: “We can’t always look to the past to learn lessons for the future.

This insidious disaster resulted from the paradigm of capitalism and its thirst for endless profits. The model must be reviewed and evolved to adapt to the needs of the moment. According to Geis, automation and technology are changing the nature of work and our economy anyway, and climate change will only accelerate this transition:

“The jobs of today will not be the jobs of tomorrow. This will force us to look for other ways to manage our society. The system can no longer function as it is and as it collapses there will be some level of chaos. What we do over the next twelve years will determine if and how this chaos stabilizes. The disruption is going to be so great that we will have to rethink our economic and social orders. “

The evolution of the model is the key phrase here. According to Eduardo Souza-Rodrigues, assistant professor in the economics department at the University of Toronto, the system must be beaten by its own rules:

“Complaining about capitalism is not the solution,” he says. “We need to make clean activities profitable, not dirty ones. We must deter anything that causes harm. Then we can let the economy run on its own, ”he says.

But recent work paper by the International Monetary Fund revealed that governments offered the fossil fuel industry an alarming $ 5.2 trillion in subsidies in 2017, despite year-to-year warnings about the catastrophic effects of fossil fuels on climate change – effects we already know.

Another recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that the cost of producing electricity from onshore wind fell 22% between 2010 and 2017, and that of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity fell 73%. They predicted that the cost of producing renewables will be in the same price range as fossil fuels by 2020.

Reducing the dependence of global economies on fossil fuels must be the priority to mitigate climate change while we are in the paradigm of capitalism. One way to do this is to encourage lasting solutions through policy changes by governments.

Transformational change, however, will occur at the intersection of politics, markets and behavior change. As Geis adds: “Our economy is based on extraction, so in terms of individual consumption patterns, we cannot just talk about replacing things that are done with the combustion of fossils with those done with energies. renewable because the planet simply does not have enough natural resources for us to continue consuming as we have.

The focus on GDP promotes consumerism and as a result we live in a world where the idea of ​​single use, throw away and replace has become ingrained in our culture. But if people start to change their consumption habits, not only will it help reduce further environmental damage, but it will also send a strong message to producers that consumers are no longer willing to invest in unsustainable products.

Angering people can actually make governments act faster, Eduardo says. Since most countries operate like a democracy, a large number of people rallying to a cause can be a powerful motivator for governments to take strong action. Behavior changes can even be as simple as using cooler water in the washing machine, air drying clothes, buying less clothes, eating less meat, using water and electricity more efficiently.

“When it comes to climate change, there is no quick fix,” says Souza-Rodrigues. “It is the most difficult economic problem to solve because it requires cooperation.

“Realistically, solutions that ignore how the economy works will fail. And no radical change in the way the economy works will happen. We need to look at the system to see what works for us and take advantage of it. “

Environmental degradation, climate warming and the loss of plant and animal species are no longer imminent. All of these catastrophic changes are happening now.

It’s a complex combination of factors that led to this moment, but a business model with profit as the ultimate goal has been central. It is therefore imperative that leaders around the world take a moral stance and act for the greater good, rather than maintaining their power and status quo. And for the greater good to unfold, the privileged players will have to relinquish control. It may not seem like a realistic approach, but utopian ideas can promote desirable changes.

Climate change is a risk for everyone, no matter what angle you look at it – financially, politically, socially and even geopolitically. Without concerted cooperation at all levels – by citizens, businesses and governments – capitalism will continue to wreak havoc on the only planet we know that can sustain life. As a transitional measure, working within the system to beat the system is the realistic way to limit the rapid, real-time environmental damage that is unleashed. In the long run, however, the culture of a profit-oriented society must be dissolved and rebuilt. And for that, we will have to re-examine the concepts of finality, work and productivity.

Change is another feature of the natural order of the world, so whether we like it or not, transformation will continue to occur. But according to Geis, the question is whether we are going to choose between “the fastest and most extensive deliberate transformation humanity has ever undergone, or the fastest and most extensive unintentional and destructive transformation.”


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