Before I get into the core of this post, I want to start with a video I watched from Contrapoints the other day. For context, Contrapoints is a leftist – and she spends the video making the case to other leftists for why they should vote in the 2020 U.S. election for Joe Biden, even if he’s not a leftist and won’t be a leftist President.
While I don’t always agree with what Contrapoints says in her videos, she makes an interesting point in response to leftists who say that voting doesn’t matter and that the world will only get better by ending capitalism:
Tabby: But capitalism is the root of the problems with our world. The whole system is broken and voting won’t change that. We don’t need a Democrat, we need to end capitalism.
Natalie: Tabitha, capitalism is an epochal world economic order. When you say end capitalism, you’re talking about a tectonic shift in global politics that is so much bigger than all of us that I don’t really understand what course of action you’re recommending.
Natalie: Like before capitalism there was feudalism. And feudalism ended over hundreds of years of complex shifts in population and production, not because people just decided it was time to end feudalism. So won’t capitalism end just whenever a new economic system overtakes it?
Natalie: I don’t think that’s the kind of thing that can be accomplished by a small group of activists. And I say small group because, I’m sorry to break it to you, but the vast majority of Americans are not communists.
Take note that this is openly leftist Natalie Wynn telling this to leftists.
This isn’t a post about the 2020 election, and quoting Contrapoints here is probably going to be one of the only things I say about the 2020 election (unless something crazy happens after November 3rd).
No, this is post about climate change – and activists who casually say that the only real way to solve climate change is to end capitalism.
Over my time listening to environmentalists and being part of green groups, one of the refrains I have heard often (and said myself at one point) was that capitalism was the root cause of climate change. The belief goes that so long as capitalism exists, and people have a profit motive to ignore pollution or actively pollute, climate change and environmental destruction will keep happening, and so the only way to stop these things is to end capitalism.
Here’s the thing about climate change: the central cause is not capitalism. The central cause is planet-wide industrial emission of greenhouse gases. If those stop, then climate change stops (or stops getting worse). The central problem is not capital. The central problem is CO2.
While polluters certainly have a profit motive to pollute, this is not a necessary ingredient. It’s entirely possible for countries with other economic systems to pollute at similar or greater levels than capitalist countries – simply look at the environmental records of the Soviet Union or People’s Republic of China. Being a non-capitalist country won’t save the environment if that country doesn’t care about the environment in the first place. You don’t have to be capitalist or profit-motivated to pollute, you only need to have industrial technology and short-sightedness.
But I doubt that matters to (many) environmentalists. From what I can tell, there’s a huge number of environmentalists who are anticapitalists at their core. Environmentalism didn’t lead them to anticapitalism – anticapitalism led them to environmentalism. They are people who have a sheet of paper in their heads, and at the bottom it says “…therefore end capitalism.” Above the sheet of paper are all of their reasons for ending capitalism, and one of the biggest reasons is climate change. If climate change gets fixed tomorrow, where we don’t have to worry about it ever again, this same group of environmentalists would just switch to another reason for ending capitalism. They might care about the environment, but they are opposed to capitalism even more.
There’s an insult that’s sometimes directed toward environmentalists, that they are all “watermelons” – “Green on the outside, deep, deep red communist on the inside.” This often incredibly overblown, with claims of environmentalists wanting to take away your trucks, cows, airplanes, and hamburgers. But there are many environmentalists who really are watermelons, and are using it as a vehicle for the end of capitalism. I’ve met them. I used to be that kind of environmentalist.
As you can guess, I don’t think this way anymore. Climate change is already bad enough, complicated enough, and hard enough to solve that we don’t need to make it more difficult to solve. This group of environmentalists have replaced the already large problem of solving climate change with trying to change the fundamental economic order of the entire planet. Even if that was possible, I doubt it’s going to happen in the small window available to stop climate change.
Climate change is real. It needs to be solved. If it doesn’t get solved millions of people will lose their lives, and billions more will suffer in a more chaotic world. Climate change can be solved through changing the greenhouse gas levels of the world, the average temperature of the world, or some combination of both. There are ways to do that which don’t require the infinitely harder task of ending capitalism, and I’m going to be exploring those in the days ahead.