So recent evidence gives us good cause to believe that it is highly probable we are on course for a very bumpy ride, and that our window of opportunity for trying to achieve a soft climatic landing is there, but quickly closing. Writing in mid 2008, Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation claimed that we have '100 months to save the planet'.8
While this evidence is crucial in building a sense of the necessity of radical action on climate change, it tells us little about how societies are already both adapting to climate change and developing strategies to mitigate it. Apart from in George Monbiot's Heat and Anthony Giddens' The Politics of Climate Change, the best we get is a series of 'what you can do to help the fight against climate change', as in books like The Climate Diet: How You Can Cut Carbon, Cut Costs, and Save the Planet or How to Live a Low Carbon Life or former chief scientist for the UK government Sir David King's The Hot Topic: How to Tackle Global Warming and Still Keep the Lights on.9
7 J. G. Ballard, The Drowned World (London: Gollancz, 1962).
8 A. Simms, '95 months and counting', The Guardian, 1 January 2009. http://www. guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/01/climatechange.
9 J. Harrington, The Climate Diet: How you can cut carbon, cut costs, and save the planet. (London: Earthscan, 2008); C. Goodall, How to Live a Low Carbon Life,
In Gore's film, the question of what needs to be done is barely an afterthought - relegated to the credits - and left in the realm of the most individualised of actions - buying a hybrid car or turning down the thermostat or the air-conditioner.
The premise for this book is that we need to understand how societies might collectively address climate change. Dealing successfully with climate change entails a wholesale transformation so that the economy can be 'decarbonised'. Our central question is: 'What will determine whether, as a society, we can avoid the most dangerous aspects of climate change?' And our central argument is encapsulated in our title Climate Capitalism.
We are not endorsing a blind faith in capitalism to adequately address climate change. Those at all familiar with our other work would be surprised if that were the case. We are suggesting, however, that the origins of climate change are in the ways that the economy has been organised; the technologies, sectors, imperatives and patterns of growth that have led to increasing CO2 emissions. These have all been also central to the growth of the capitalist economy as a whole over the last two centuries.
As a consequence, the attempt to decarbonise the global economy presents a huge and unprecedented challenge. The transformations involved are not easy to pursue, will not be smooth and most likely unpopular. There are plenty who would lose out from such a transformation - coal companies, miners, oil companies and exporting countries, those addicted to their cars, flying round the world or other aspects of high-consumption lifestyles, in particular. They can be expected to resist, and have already done so vociferously.
Behind the cosy language used to describe climate change as a common threat to all humankind, it is clear that some people and countries contribute to it disproportionately, while others bear the brunt of its effects. What makes it a particularly tricky issue to address is that it is the people that will suffer most that currently contribute least to the problem, i.e. the poor in the developing world. Despite often being talked about as a scientific question, climate change is first and foremost a deeply political and moral issue.
The origins of climate change are implicated in the choices we all make every day, throughout the day. From the moment you wake
(London: Earthscan, 2007); G.Walker and Sir D. King, The Hot Topic: How to Tackle Global Warming and Still Keep the Lights on (London: Bloomsbury, 2008); A. Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009).
up in the morning and decide what to eat for breakfast (assuming you have that luxury) you are engaging, mostly unconsciously, in sets of choices about whether the food you eat is sourced locally or has been transported half way around the world to get to your breakfast table. How you heat the water for your shower implies a decision to use a particular source of energy which will have an impact (malign or benign) on climate change and how you decide to get to work also determines how much CO2 you add to the atmosphere.
It is easy to see then why politicians talk about personal carbon allowances, making us individually responsible for our carbon footprints. But if decarbonisation of the economy is really to take off, the challenge has to be addressed at many more scales. The suppliers of our energy have to have incentives to switch to renewable options. We have to have transport systems that do not create incentives for individual and unnecessary car use, which in turn implies changes in planning systems for a carbon-constrained world.
This is not only an issue of ethical consumerism and individual choice. Persuading people to buy CFC-free deodorants may have worked in helping to address ozone depletion. Persuading people to fly less in a world of cheap flights, to leave their cars at home when their nearest shops are out of town is harder because food, energy and transport systems, currently organised, assume a world unconstrained by limits on carbon use. This is why capitalism as it currently operates is not working when it comes to tackling climate change. Fundamentally, capitalism does not have a concept of sufficiency, of how much is enough. If it doesn't continue growing, it implodes in crises such as those of the 1930s.
But if one premise for this book is that climate change entails an enormous transformation of how capitalism operates, then our other premise is that despite resistance, in fact an embryonic form of climate capitalism is already emerging. The chapters that follow elaborate how the ways that governments, corporations and non-governmental actors have responded to climate change are best understood as an effort to decarbonise the global economy. Of course this development is patchy - some governments are more active than others, some businesses much more entrepreneurial and far-sighted than others - but the foundations of such an economy are nevertheless in the process of being built. These foundations can be characterised as different types of carbon markets, which put a price on carbon, and thus create incentives to reduce emissions.
These sorts of response to climate change are also highly problematic of course. Many readers will already have prejudices against, or at least worries about, treating the atmosphere like a commodity to be bought and sold, or about buying carbon offsets to enable the rich to continue their high-consuming lifestyles with a clear conscience. We share these worries.
But there is something about climate change that makes it unique amongst environmental problems. The origins of climate change are deeply rooted in the development of the global capitalist economy. The ways the world has responded to climate change have been conditioned by the sort of free-market capitalism which has prevailed since the early 1980s. To respond to climate change successfully entails decarbonising that economy, to re-structure or dismantle huge economic sectors on which the whole of global development has been based. This is in sharp contrast to efforts to deal with ozone depletion, which involved the elimination of a relatively small batch of chemicals with specific uses by a handful of leading companies. Likewise, we can deal with most forms of water pollution by banning certain applications of fertilisers, dealing with human and animal wastes, and controls on what chemical industries can discharge into rivers and lakes. To ban these practices, while often inconvenient for the companies involved, is hardly a challenge to the whole edifice of global capitalism.
In contrast, to propose to ban all further coal and oil use, as some have done, is both unrealistic and deeply problematic. The use of these fuels is currently so widespread that simply to ban them would cause economic growth to collapse. And a lack of growth is something that the capitalist system in which we live simply cannot tolerate - it would collapse as a system.
So the challenge of climate change means, in effect, either abandoning capitalism, or seeking to find a way for it to grow while gradually replacing coal, oil and gas. Assuming the former is unlikely in the short term, the questions to be asked are, what can growth be based on? What are the energy sources to power a decarbonised economy? Which powerful actors might be brought on board to overcome resistance from the oil and coal companies? And for those worried (including us) about the image of unbridled free-market capitalism as managing the climate for us, then we are forced to address the questions: What type of climate capitalism do we want? Can it be made to serve desirable social, as well as environmental, ends? And what might it take to bring it about?
In this context, a response that focuses on creating markets, where money can be made for trading carbon allowances within limits set by governments, is rather appealing. Against the backdrop of the problems of recalcitrant industries and reluctant consumers, it creates the possibility of economic winners from decarbonisation. What's more, those winners - financiers - are rather powerful, and can support you as you build the policies which might produce decarbonisa-tion overall. Trading on its own clearly won't be enough, but it does provide a powerful constituency that benefits from climate-change policy, which is crucial politically.
Turning this into a successful project for decarbonisation requires constructing altogether different models of growth that do not depend on abundant and cheap fossil fuels, one that may actually reward reductions in energy use and its more efficient use. This means decoupling emissions growth from economic growth. The key question is whether capitalists can find ways of doing new business in a way that helps to achieve decarbonisation. They need to be able to do this in a way which brings on board those that will be doing less business in a low-carbon economy, or at least to provide enough growth overall for policymakers to be able to override their resistance.
What we try to do in the chapters that follow is elaborate the central elements in this emerging economy, and the central political dilemmas we face as it comes into being. Will it in fact enable us to decarbonise the global economy? Does it need to be regulated to do so or will climate capitalism arise 'naturally' out of the practices of corporations and markets? Will it come at the expense of the world's poor and marginalised, or could it rather enable redistribution of wealth from rich to poor countries at the same time?
At the end of the book, we draw out various possible scenarios for what sorts of climate capitalism we might end up having to live (or die) with. We invite you, the reader, to decide which one you feel is most likely and which one you would like to see. None are inevitable. All result from the complex interplay of a wide array of actors, institutions and decision-making processes. And the financial crisis of the last couple of years gives us unusual room for manoeuvre in shaping these responses. Getting involved as consumers, activists, entrepreneurs and concerned citizens will allow us all to shape the sort of future we want in a carbon-constrained world.
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