Campaigns Co-ordinator called shale gas correctly nearly 18 months ago

Capitalism Creates Poverty

A blog for the promotion of social, environmental and economic justice – by Howard Thorpe

Saturday, 12 November 2011

So, have we screwed up Planet Earth?

The simple answer is no, the Earth will be around for a long time after we have perished, but it is beginning to look like we may have screwed up the planet as far as humans are concerned. The latest data from the International Energy Authority paints a disturbing picture. It seems that we are in danger of passing the point where we can prevent a global temperature rise of 2oC and damaging climate change, because we are continuing to build fossil fuel power stations, and that we have only five years left to do something about it.

We are always being told that capitalism can do great things and that the market can solve all our problems. But it is clear that the market is responsible for this particular problem. Its not just the demand for energy that is at the root of climate change but the fact that the energy companies are completely wedded to fossil fuel extraction. We could have gone down the renewable energy route years ago, putting ourselves in a much better position now. But what was the energy companies response to a shortage of easy to extract fossil fuels? Go for the harder and much more environmentally damaging fossil fuels like tar sands oil and shale gas from fracking. With capitalism the desire for profit obviously outweighs the desire to prevent irreversible climate change – here is a quote from Oil and Energy Investor:

Shale is no longer “the future” of natural gas… It’s now… And fracking is paying-off in high profits for those who know how to take advantage of it. The reason is simple: Old natural gas wells around the globe are running dry, replaced by new shale wells.

So now we know. It should come as no surprise, because capitalists put profit before people and the environment. But the energy companies are not just behind our addiction to fossil fuels, they are just as keen to discredit alternatives to fossil fuels, and the very idea of climate change itself. In the UK, Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the front man for something called the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an energy company funded organisation which is dedicated to casting doubt on man made climate change, activities which were exposed in this article in the Independent. Lawson often speaks out about climate change and was apparently responsible for changing the policy of the Daily Mail against climate change.

On my desk I have a copy of a book called ‘Natural Capitalism‘, which was published in 1996. In this book the authors, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L Hunter Lovins, show how, using resource efficiency, we can create more goods using less materials, and much less energy, and recycle the outputs on closed loops that mimic how nature works. The authors have provided us with a solution to climate change and resource depletion. Any company which uses these methods is bound to be much more efficient and competitive than its rivals. But this hasn’t happened, certainly not on any kind of scale that will help the planet. The reason why is that capitalism, far from being dynamic and innovative, is inherently conservative. People stick with what they know works, and what they know is profitable, and they also often have large amounts of capital tied up in plant and machinery which is simply out-of-date. I’ve posted about this problem before here.

Natural Capitalism in action

So what is the answer? Its simple. Governments bailed out the banks. Now they must make changes happen to prevent climate change. The move to renewables must go ahead and the energy companies must be made to make that change. If they won’t do it they must be nationalised. The solar energy Feed in Tariff (FIT) must be maintained at a reasonable level instead of being cut in half as this government is doing. We also have to make companies use resource efficient methods, both through incentives and regulation. We need a Green New Deal to insulate all our homes and create thousands of jobs. The market has failed us, and will continue to fail us. Its time that democratically elected governments remembered what they are their for – to represent the interests of the people and the common good – not to bow down to the market.

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