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Climate Change and Capitalism | Munk Debates

EPISODE #20

Climate Change and Capitalism

Be it resolved: ending climate change requires the end of capitalism as we know it.

Guests
George Monbiot
Andrew McAfee

About this episode

The UN deadline of achieving net zero global emissions by 2050 is becoming an increasingly unrealistic goal as many countries fail to impose drastic measures to combat rising emissions. Some believe that capitalism is to blame: perpetual economic growth requires an increase in production, consumption and fossil fuel use. In order to prevent a climate change disaster, free market capitalism must give way to a new eco-fiscal reality that privileges the planet over profits. Defenders of capitalism think the opposite is true: while capitalism has contributed to climate change, it is also uniquely positioned to solve it. By harnessing the dynamism of the market through the pursuit of profit, corporations and individuals will create new technologies and the social change needed to avert the climate crisis and build a sustainable future.

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Guests

George Monbiot

"Capitalism's characteristics drive us towards destruction. Climate change requires the end of capitalism full-stop."

George Monbiot

"Capitalism's characteristics drive us towards destruction. Climate change requires the end of capitalism full-stop."

George Monbiot is an author, Guardian columnist and environmental campaigner. His best-selling books include Feral: Rewilding the land, sea and human life and Heat: how to stop the planet burning; his latest is Out of the Wreckage: a new politics for an age of crisis. George cowrote the concept album Breaking the Spell of Loneliness with musician Ewan McLennan; and has made a number of viral videos. One of them, adapted from his 2013 TED talk, How Wolves Change Rivers, has been viewed on YouTube over 40m times. Another, on Natural Climate Solutions, that he co-presented with Greta Thunberg, has been watched over 50m times.

Andrew McAfee

"There is no fundamental incompatibility between capitalist economies, free market societies, and taking better care of the planet"

Andrew McAfee

"There is no fundamental incompatibility between capitalist economies, free market societies, and taking better care of the planet"

Andrew McAfee is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy and a Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He studies how information technology changes the way companies perform, organize themselves, and compete.  On a higher level, his work also focuses on how computerization affects competition, society, the economy, and the workforce. His new book More From Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources - and What Happens Next was published by Scribner in the fall of 2019. He and his coauthor, Erik Brynjolfsson, are the only people named to both the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top management thinkers and the Politico 50 group of people transforming American politics.  Prior to that, he was a Professor at Harvard Business School.  He has a doctorate from Harvard and two Master of Science and two Bachelor of Science degrees from MIT.

Show Notes

You can read George Monbiot’s column on capitalism and climate change here.
 
You can read Andrew McAfee’s argument about how capitalism can help combat climate change here.
 
Andrew mentions the 1970 Clear Air Act. The US legislation aimed to prevent air pollution and gave the EPA more power to fight against environmental pollution. The CAA has been hailed as a success: total emissions of six major air pollutants decreased by 63% between 1980-2015
 
The Paris Climate Agreement was a adopted as a global effort to combat climate change. The goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well 2 °C. The agreement was adopted in 2016 with 195 signatories from around the world. In 2017, President Trump announced he intended to withdraw the US from the agreement.
 
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the top 5 most polluting countries are China, The United States, India, Russia, and Japan.
 
Many countries have cut their emissions by outsourcing much of their carbon pollution overseas, importing goods rather than producing them domestically. Here is a look at how many developed nations have ‘outsourced pollution’
 
George talks about adopting a climate commons which would reframe government and societal institutions and effectively combat climate change. You can read more about it here.
 
Both George and Andrew agree that nuclear energy can help lower carbon emissions. Nuclear power plants release much less greenhouse gas emissions compared to a natural gas-fired power plant. This is an in depth look at the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear energy.
 
The effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 has led to a sharp decrease in greenhouse gas emissions due to global shutdowns, cancelled flights and closed businesses. However, many environmental scientists are not hopeful about this latest development; history has shown that while emissions decrease during economic downturns, they will continue to rise once the economy bounces back, meaning this current crisis will have little to no impact on the effort to combat global warming.
 

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