A human spider, climate change, and economic systems

2009-01-10

in Economics, Politics, The environment

LeBreton Flats construction

Alain Robert – a man famous for climbing absurdly tall buildings with his bare hands – is also something of a climate change campaigner. A website he runs endorses a three-stage plan for dealing with the problem:

  1. Stop Cutting Down Trees. Plant More Trees.
  2. Make Everything Energy Efficient.
  3. Only Make Clean Energy.

What this speaks to is a central question of the climate change debate: how much do the economic and philosophical bases of society need to change in order to deal with it? Can climate change be successfully addressed through targetted policies that do not fundamentally alter liberal capitalist democracy, or is it only possible to address it through something more ambitious, such as switching from an economic system based on growth to one based on a steady state of wealth?

In some ways, this debate is reminiscent of other debates about capitalism. It certainly seems as though some of the harmful aspects of capitalism can be curbed through good laws, without eliminating the capitalist system itself. Such problems include things like local air pollution and child labour – if we really care about eliminating them, it is entirely possible within our current general economic approach.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

R.K. January 12, 2009 at 10:12 am

Can climate change be successfully addressed through targetted policies that do not fundamentally alter liberal capitalist democracy, or is it only possible to address it through something more ambitious, such as switching from an economic system based on growth to one based on a steady state of wealth?

Even if the specific challenge of climate change can be addressed, it stands to reason that human wealth and population cannot keep growing forever. At least in terms of resource use and waste production, humanity will eventually need to reach a steady state.

Of course, those resources can be used more and more efficiently as knowledge and technology continue to develop. While it will be steady state in terms of raw materials, there will still be scope for human advancement.

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