All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

The Economist’s climate issue

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What’s the point of a big march?  Yes, September 27th was huge in Vancouver and Montreal (and the previous week in Europe), but so what?

One of the impacts is awareness raising – the more people know about the issue, the harder it becomes for politicians to ignore it. Yes, it is circuitous – but we need the politicians in order to get things done.  Politicians listen to many voices – climate protesters have to make sure to keep theirs loud.

This needs mainstream media.  I was pleased to see last week-end’s Globe & Mail profile a number of climate issues (I reviewed those here).  Now here’s another player on the scene a considerable one: the august British magazine The Economist.  (In fairness, it was there first; its climate issue is dated September 21st, but my library gets the magazine with a bit of delay.)

And it is quite the review.  It features 23 articles linked to climate change.  Some are what you would expect, such as What Goes Up, which describes the global increase of CO2 emissions.  Since the articles in the magazine are organised geographically, there is an article describing the US Green New Deal proposals.  The Europe section features a review of Germany’s addiction to coal, and lessons from wind power in Britain.  The science section talks about climate uncertainties, and the effects of a warming Arctic.  None of that will be surprising for anyone who follows climate change news, but all these articles are excellent summaries.

The real beauty of the magazine, though, is that it goes further afield.  It discusses how South America’s left seems to love oil, despite climate change concerns (Brazil’s Bolsonaro notwithstanding); rising seas in Jakarta and haze in South East Asia; climate-induced drought in Malawi, and its impacts; and the demise of century-old olive groves in Spain.  All climate related.

The magazine also discusses the implications for the finance industry: insurance companies in trouble, and whither mitigation or adaptation.  There is an article on arts and climate, and the obituary section features not a person, but the Okjökull glacier in Iceland.  It also discusses whether a democracy or a dictatorship is more effective in fighting climate change – and does it intelligently, as always.

But where the magazine may come in particularly handy is for convincing friends and relatives who are somewhat conservative and think that environmentalists are exaggerating the potential impacts of the crisis in order to bring on big government; in other words, that environmentalism is just a Trojan Horse ploy to bring about socialism.  There is no publication that has more free market creds that The Economist – yet it recognizes that business-as-usual is a deadly dead end. Here are excerpts from its opening editorial, The Climate Issue:

FROM ONE year to the next, you cannot feel the difference. As the decades stack up, though, the story becomes clear. The stripes on our cover represent the world’s average temperature in every year since the mid-19th century. Dark blue years are cooler and red ones warmer than the average in 1971-2000. The cumulative change jumps out. The world is about 1ºC hotter than when this newspaper was young.

That the changing climate touches everything and everyone should be obvious—as it should be that the poor and marginalised have most to lose when the weather turns against them. What is less obvious, but just as important, is that, because the processes that force climate change are built into the foundations of the world economy and of geopolitics, measures to check climate change have to be similarly wide-ranging and all-encompassing. To decarbonise an economy is not a simple subtraction; it requires a near-complete overhaul.

To some—including many of the millions of young idealists who, as The Economist went to press, were preparing for a global climate strike, and many of those who will throng the streets of New York during next week’s UN General Assembly—this overhaul requires nothing less than the gelding or uprooting of capitalism. After all, the system grew up through the use of fossil fuels in ever-greater quantities. And the market economy has so far done very little to help. Almost half the atmosphere’s extra, human-made carbon dioxide was put there after the turn of the 1990s, when scientists sounded the alarm and governments said they would act.

In fact, to conclude that climate change should mean shackling capitalism would be wrong-headed and damaging. There is an immense value in the vigour, innovation and adaptability that free markets bring to the economies that took shape over that striped century. Market economies are the wells that produce the response climate change requires. Competitive markets properly incentivised, and politicians serving a genuine popular thirst for action, can do more than any other system to limit the warming that can be forestalled and cope with that which cannot.


Some claim that capitalism’s love of growth inevitably pits it against a stable climate. This newspaper believes them wrong. But climate change could nonetheless be the death knell for economic freedom, along with much else. If capitalism is to hold its place, it must up its game.

Written by enviropaul

October 6, 2019 at 2:42 pm

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