Many on the left insist that dealing with global warming necessitates dealing with capitalism. Because the latter causes the former, they say, it is the root of the problem. Replacing capitalism is therefor an integral part of the solution. With all due respect, I suggest this approach is a bad idea.

First, conflating capitalism with global warming allows skeptics and deniers a powerful piece of propaganda. Global warming, they claim, is not a real issue, it is a conspiracy by a bunch of Marxists attempting to bring down the economic system. Because this contains a grain of truth it has legs.

More importantly, capitalism-bashing alienates a great many people. Most of us appreciate capitalism, and deservedly so. No other economic system has provided such prosperity for ordinary people.

If ever there was a cause that needed the broadest possible co-operation, it is combatting global warming. We cannot afford to alienate anyone. Maybe if we had a century or two to convince the masses that we need a new economic system this approach would be viable, but we don’t. On the contrary we are, to say the least, in a bit of a hurry.

Finally, the conflation is false. Capitalism isn’t the problem, we are the problem. As the great philosopher Pogo once said, as he observed his beloved swamp littered with garbage, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Non-capitalist systems, e.g. Soviet Communism, have been at least as exploitive of the environment as capitalist systems, just less efficient.

Humanity has been waging war on the environment for a very long time. I can think of three major assaults dating back to early days. First, when we emerged from Africa 50,000 or so years ago and began our colonization of the planet, we wiped out the megafauna, the most majestic of land mammals, everywhere we went. Then, about 10,000 years ago, we invented agriculture and began to systematically transform vast areas of prairie and forest into desert. More recently came the industrial revolution and technology that allowed us to greatly accelerate our exploitation of the natural world.

We may blame the first two assaults on ignorance. We didn’t know what we were doing. Now we know and we are doing it anyway. We are a greedy, reckless species. And we were greedy and reckless long before we invented capitalism.

Yet we are capable of better things. The growth of modern capitalism has been paralleled by the most extraordinary social progress in all of history. We have abolished slavery, emancipated ordinary people, liberated women, offered equal rights to all ethnic groups and gay people, and invented the welfare state, all compatibly with capitalism. Whether it helped or hindered each of these achievements is debatable, but that they were achieved in its company is not.

So the idea we must undo capitalism in order to deal successfully with global warming, and other environmental crises, is contrary to history. We must rally humanity to save civilization from climate change and deal with capitalism, one way or another, as another issue entirely.

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