Capitalism is the solution to the global climate crisis, not the cause


Photo credit: Andrea Nebhut

Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Late last month thousands of young Americans voiced vehement outrage at the lack of action taken to address the global climate crisis. They left class, left work and occupied the streets and public spaces in order to raise awareness. That Friday, September 20th the climate strike made its way to our own campus. Seeing my peers and professors participate in solidarity reminded me of how proud I am to be a young person and a Trinity University student.

I enjoyed the cathartic experience of participating in it and I agreed with much of what was said, but what concerned me the most was learning that so many people today view capitalism as an obstacle to change and the systemic germ causing our planet’s ailments. I feel this view is misguided and misdirected.

I can understand people’s frustrations with the status quo and with the inaction coming from institutions of power, but directing it at capitalism is a mistake.

It is not capitalism that is the problem with our ongoing global climate crisis. The desire of some to abandon an otherwise beautiful and liberating system for more radical and unconventional ones like socialism fails to realize that doing so would prove no better at tackling the true causes of our looming ecological demise. If anything I would argue that capitalism is far better positioned to do this than socialism or anything else that is proposed because of its innate drive for innovation, growth and change.

Capitalism is a truly remarkable system that is an example of true human excellence; however, I am not naive. Our system is indeed broken, and capitalism, as it exists today, is not perfect and in dire need of changing. What so often people do in blaming capitalism for the cause of climate change is gloss over the fact that our energy market is far from free and capitalist.

We are failing capitalism by not allowing it to support new ideas like those that exist in the renewable energy sector. At the heart of capitalism is the belief that there should exist a free-market to allow for competition and innovation. However, it is perhaps the most tragic irony that the current system coddles the established non-renewables industry (i.e. oil, natural gas, etc.) and failing to support the innovation of the emerging renewables industry.

Instead of adapting to the needs of today’s society, capitalism has continued to operate on the same model that came to existence at its conception in the 18th and 19th centuries. American capitalism fully materialized amid the years of industrialization during which the most influential sector of our economy was big oil, which remains to be true. What many of us fail to realize is that there is another path forward. Therefore, what I propose is instead of embarking on a futile last-minute restructuring of our society toward socialism, we should instead utilize all that works within capitalism and strive to change our political and business culture.

This is because I do not believe capitalism is antithetical to our desire to live in a clean and healthier world.

This is the 21st century, and in order for us to survive as a species, we need a capitalism that promotes a free-market business model built upon the idea of a more socially-conscious capitalism in which we seek to benefit the common good and not only the bottom line. Furthermore, the independence of our political institutions from the influence of our economic ones has proven to be a contributing factor to our ecological downfall and needs to be redressed. As a result, we must embrace the notion of natural capital and seek market-based policy instruments to address our climate problems to save both capitalism and ourselves from calamity. First and foremost, it begins with cutting fossil fuel subsidies and aggressively expanding the funds directed at renewables. Doing so would mean we can create a fairer free market and help transition ourselves toward a greener economy.