Capitalism and environmentalism are not enemies

Reader comment on: The Professor's Climate Change Retreat

Submitted by ben (United States), Feb 15, 2010 20:53

Contrary to what this post would have one believe, capitalism and environmentalism are not natural enemies. There is no question that a functioning economy needs to use natural resources (to print paper, build houses etc), but how an economy uses these resources is important. China clear cut its forests in the past decades to help sustain a building boom, and now it is paying the price in the great dust storms that blow east and cover their coastal cities, clogging commerce (and lungs). Generally, environmentalists believes in conservation, not preservation. This point is too often lost on people critics of environmentalism. Preservation means not touching something, whereas conservation is using a resources in a sustainable way. Often, what is in the short term interest of an individual or company does not maintain that resource for future individuals and companies (overfishing being a classic example). In these situations, government MUST regulate and establish rules.

In terms of pollution, why would a powerplant stop spewing its toxins into the air if that is what is most profitable, even if it causes asthma to thousands, acid rain and contaminated drinking water (all costs which the powerplant does not pay)? There is no incentive for them to stop - they can charge less than their competitors who do not have up to date scrubbers on their smokestacks. With government regulation, the government can look out for the greater good, something that individuals and companies are not good at doing. As much as futureofcapitalism would like to think that collective individual actions produce the best outcomes, reams of economic theory and studies would show this is not always the case (there are always free riders, and the tragedy of the commons very much exists). So, if this site believes in global warming, which I think it does (despite a scandal and snowstorm here or there, the science is overwhelming), then governments must take collective action to address the problem. I would very much be in favor of free-market solution (a carbon tax) rather than the cap-and-trade bill which is a recipe for government favoritism and corruption. On this point, even I can agree with Charles Krauthammer - and maybe even futureofcapitlism!

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