Capitalism versus the climate?

Capitalism versus the climate?

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If you think congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is proposing new ideas in her Green New Deal, go and read Naomi Klein’s 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. In it, Klein advocates a ban on fossil fuels and a statist utopia where government “creates” a record number of jobs through “investment” in wind and solar energy. (Full disclosure: I have not read Klein’s book, nor do I intend to read it. However, when the book came out, I did read fawning reviews by Mark Bittman in New York Times and Drew Nelles in the Globe and Mail—more than enough time spent contemplating Klein and her reviewers’ dishonest claims.)

Why should we care about what AOC and Naomi Klein claim? First, their claims contradict facts, yet the media lap them up and spread them to their uncritical readers, touting climate change as “the defining issue of our age” that will lead to a disaster—unless drastic measures are taken to counter-act it. Second, AOC, Naomi Klein, and their media fans argue that to combat climate change, we need “Marshall plan-level” government control to end capitalism and to extinguish the fossil fuel industry.

Such measures would lead to incredible human misery and shortened lifespans (for evidence, consider life before the individual rights and fossil fuels were discovered). Therefore, it is important to counter the untruthful claims of AOC, Klein, and others and to defend both capitalism and the fossil fuel industry as crucially important to our well-being.

As Alex Epstein shows in his book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (based on meticulous research using data from nonpartisan international sources, including the World Bank and the International Energy Agency), there has been no significant global warming in the last century. The temperature increase over the last hundred years has been less than one degree Celsius, which is non-significant as temperature has gone through both cooling and warming trends—and shows that CO2 is not a significant cause of temperature fluctuations. Importantly, the global temperature has been flat for the last 16 to 26 years—completely contradictory to the environmentalists’ claims.

Climate is always changing—not due to human activity and CO2 emissions but due to natural causes. The fossil fuel industry is not the villain that AOC and Klein paint it. Quite the contrary, the fossil fuel companies are critically important to our well-being. They provide 87% of the world’s energy, powering the plants and farms producing our food, clothes, medicines, vehicles, computers, furniture, and all other material goods on which our survival and well-being depend.

Fossil fuels also power our homes, offices, hospitals, and means of transportation. They provide raw materials most of the products we depend on daily: clothes, footwear, plastics. Nuclear and hydro power are the second most significant sources energy, whereas the so called alternative energy sources, wind and solar, have proven too undependable to play a significant role in the modern industrial society with unprecedented levels of income and life spans, achieved largely thanks to the fossil fuels.

One reviewer of Klein’s book points out that she is not very clear about the meaning of capitalism; nor is AOC. Yet they claim capitalism is bad for the planet (because, according to them, it causes climate change) and should therefore be banned through government force. They may be foggy about capitalism but they are wrong: capitalism is good for the planet.

Capitalism, in Ayn Rand’s definition, is “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.” There are no capitalist countries in the world today, so capitalism could hardly be blamed for climate change, or for anything else. However, if it did exist, pollution would be reduced (because of private property and the protection of property rights) and more innovative solutions to energy and raw material problems would be found (because of competition and free trade). For evidence, consider the 19th century America, the closest that world ever came to capitalism, and its unprecedented level of innovation and wealth creation.

Irrational environmentalists like AOC and Klein are intentionally unclear and misleading about the fossil fuel industry and capitalism, because it serves their purpose of taking away our freedom to live our lives and run our businesses the way we choose (without violating the rights of others).

If we care about human flourishing, it behooves us to learn the truth about the environmentalists’ claims (Alex Epstein’s new book would be an excellent starting point), to defend the fossil fuel industry’s right to produce energy, and to advocate capitalism.

 

Photo credit: Maxpixel.net

The original version was posted 22 September 2014.

 

 

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Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada.

She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada.

Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.