Columns

Willig ’16: Heated rhetoric doesn’t stop climate change

By
Guests Columnist
Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Last week’s opinions column by David Katzevich ’16 (“Climate change: End capitalism or end the world,” Oct. 10) regarding the irreconcilable differences between capitalism and ending climate change deserves attention, as it places two incredibly broad topics against each other — and fails to understand the intricacies of both. Additionally, it fails to provide a substantive suggestion on how to go about producing any real change.

As someone with a lifelong passion for the environment and preserving the Earth, I believe our environmental problems are too severe for extremes to dominate the conversation and impede progress of any kind. Economic and natural systems are far from rival entities and can even benefit from each other.

First, it is important to note that climate change is an international problem and is not constrained by any economic worldview. China is one of the largest emitters of pollution and greenhouse gases, and is not exactly a textbook capitalist society. To mitigate global warming, global society must make significant changes to move away from fossil fuel use and reduce pollution of all forms to reduce the impact on the environment. This doesn’t require a political revolution. It requires a change in everyday habits. These types of changes come through concerted effort, thought and action. Many businesses are at fault, but it is entirely possible to demand changes in harmful practices. Companies that pollute should be made to pay the true cost of their products — for example, the cost of mountain-top removal, acid-mine drainage, etc. — rather than push these costs onto citizens. If companies had to pay the real cost of their actions, sustainable alternatives might become a more realistic option. This is where the voice of the people is important in order to demand reform and legislation. The United States has already been successful at reducing emissions from sulfur, chlorofluorocarbons, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane and other horrible pollutants, but regulation is still nowhere near what it needs to be to successfully protect the environment.

Capitalism is not inherently in opposition to environmental protection, and businesses that invest in the natural environment can earn fruitful returns. A whole sector of our economy has risen to meet the demands of a population that wants more ecologically conscious products produced using more sustainable practices. This economy is not just hybrid cars, farmers’ markets and fair-trade coffee, but also includes businesses that use sustainable energy sources, more efficient production processes and great amounts of recycled material.

Another form of such eco-capitalism is environmental entrepreneurship, exemplified by the environmental credits market. When industries pollute and destroy wetlands in the United States, they are required to create or restore areas to offset their produced losses. This is lucrative for companies that specialize in environmental restoration. While not outright reducing the effects of climate change, the use of environmental credits does restore ecosystems, which provide space for threatened species. This is a step toward a more ecologically conscious world.

For future political, business and environmental leaders, recognizing that it is possible to protect our natural resources and achieve economic success is crucial to solving these global issues. Beyond simple supply and demand, there is a tremendous amount of work that adopts practices and frameworks to achieve environmental and economic success. These practices are known as ecosystem-based management, which evaluates environmental problems holistically by placing humans within the ecosystems and allows both human and environmental needs to be reconciled within a capitalist system.

There are significant problems that we are facing, and very smart people are working to solve them. To say climate change and capitalism cannot coexist ignores all the work that is being done to achieve progress on environmental issues globally. Of course everything would be easier if our world was slightly different, our economic system was more humane and our political system was not so heavily influenced by the fossil fuel and extraction industries. We have a long way to go before we reduce our environmental footprint, and whether we can get there is a whole different conversation. But we have to take any step we can. It doesn’t take revolutions, it takes small steps and conscious changes.

Transforming issues into a binary debate becomes an excuse to blame the other side and avoid actually having to create substantive ideas regarding how to solve these problems. The nuances and intricate interconnections of these issues require conscientious diligence to understand and to solve. This conversation demands educated viewpoints, not just rhetoric. Our future and current leaders must understand that today’s global issues cannot be painted with broad brushstrokes and recognize that it is possible both to protect our natural resources and achieve economic success.

 

Ned Willig ’16 can be reached at edwin_willig@brown.edu.

    • HA

      Ahh yes, collapse of industrial civilization dot com. The gold standard of unbiased opinion.

      Keep drinking the Kool aid, man.

      • Unable to read studies from MIT and 30-year veteran climate scientists?

        thought so… go back to drinking your Kool aid, man.

        • HA

          I’m not a climate change denier, but think about it for a second. If capitalism is gone tomorrow, what happens? People stop driving cars? The population magically needs less food so no more land is cleared for farming? A lot of problems going on with our environment have to do with the fact that we have a finite planet trying to sustain an ever-growing human population.

          The above is a good article. Willig is not defending capitalism, he is trying to promote a rational discussion of issues that will help mitigate the effects we have on the environment WITHIN the socioeconomic structure of our society. Wouldn’t you think that it would be easier to create incentives for a capitalist society to protect the environment rather than trying to topple the current system, make a new one, then deal with environmental problems?

          FYI, an argument from authority is one of the most common logical fallacies that exist. You should probably check yourself before you try and pull that stuff…