Capitalism and Climate Change

The global climatic outlook is considered an area of concern for a number of scholars. Namely, climate is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today due to its segregate effects. It is mainly felt by those whose earnings are at low or medium levels since the impact of climatic change has exposed millions of people to poverty and hunger, especially those who rely on agriculture (Adger& Kelly 2000, p. 348). It has further worsened the situation since the economies of many developing countries across the world depend on agriculture. Failures in crop production, deaths in livestock as result of drought are causing enormous economic losses among farmers. In effect, this has been markedby escalation in food prices and hence deterioration in food security.

At the same time, the countries with big industrial muscles have been aggravating the situation. This may easily be observed in their tendency of emitting greenhouse gases to the environment, which, in turn, affects the climate. Accordingly, this has raised concern in the global climate governance in that nations with little industrial muscles feel the effects, which are not directly dependent on their operations. At the same time, efforts to mitigate the situations point towardfinancial muscles. This means that capitalism, which is the ability to produce wealth, lies in the solution and the causes of the current global climatic governance. This paper assesses the extent to which capitalism can be deemed either a solution or a problem to the current global climatic governance (Adger & Kelly 2002, p.348).

Capitalism and the Environmental Damage

Capitalism is a viewpoint of an economic system that favors, or promotes, private ownership of wealth creation factors. It favors individuals, corporations, competitive market, wages, capital accumulation, and personal finances and profits. This means that capitalism is not popular to the majority but rather to the few. Degen (2008, p.167) and Stephenes (2000, p.552) argue for capitalistic market that any business establishment is mandated to making profits for the organization, and such profit ought to be utilized for organizations’ benefits and the national economy. However, the proponents of capitalism as the panacea for climate change fail to consider whether the economy and the people really benefit. In contrast, Bojö, et al (2004, p.10) and Pryor (2002, p.156) argue that capitalism largely promotes individualism and selfishness; the few in the upper echelon benefit, whereas the mass in the public suffers. The proponents of capitalistic economy are after personal gains, and they propagate the same in the issues of climatic change. Sincethe efforts of capitalistic economy are to create wealth, the same has been doneat the expense of climatic change and in the course of creating wealth; industries emit harmful products to the environment, which later affects the mass (Langford 1995, p.145).

Climate-Crisis Capitalism

The quest for wealth creation because of capitalism has led to the condition termed as climate-crisis capitalism. The term is a connotation of the situation in which the worldwide environmental managerial elites utilize environment-threatening methods to create wealth for themselves. Unfortunately, the wealth created in this case is short-term, but the environmental damage incurred by the activities is long-term (Pryor 2002, p.156). Moreover, it is also termed climate-crisis capitalism, because wealth created is for the rich yet the environmental damage realized affects the entire globe. Specifically, wealth creation methods being experienced are accomplished via industrial activities that are considered as the muscles for economic empowerment. Namely, industrial activities from the countries, such as The United Kingdom, the US, Japan, Germany and China, result into emission of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which is a major source of the greenhouse gas whose effects are discussed below (Bond 2003, p.16).

Global Warming Issues and Effects

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the temperature of the Earth has been rising. The increase has been averaged at 0.8 %u25E6C with an increase taking place majorly in the beginning of 1980 (The National Academic Press 2011, p.16). The average increase in temperatures of the Earth constitutes the global warming. Because of the fact that the major increase in the Earth’s temperature has taken place recently, it means that the condition is worsening with the current generation than in the past. This implies that some more activities have heightened the menace as it is discussed in science. Scientifically, the heating or warming of Earth results from blanketing effects of greenhouse gases such as CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane), oxides of nitrogen gas among others. These gases form a covering on the upper part of the Earth’s atmosphere that traps the Sun’s rays in the Earth (World Almanac Books 2000, p.3). Accordingly, due to such covering or blanketing effect the Earth gradually warms up.

As the Earth warms up, the atmospheric temperature also increases. The increased temperatures then cause the melting of the ice on snow-capped mountains, which further forms water that flows to fill up oceans and lowlands. This means that the continued global warming will lead to flooding, which, in turn, has a devastating effect on plants, human beings andanimals. Furthermore, global warming affects temperatures of ocean waters that,in turn, affect the life of sea creatures. For instance, rising temperature of the Earth warms seawaters thataffect the growth of algae, an important producer in the aquatic food chain (Mander 2012, p. 37). Because algae are primary producers, their death will lead to death of other aquatic creatures due to food deficiency.

Subsequently, the small fish will die as they depend on algae and the other aquatic creatures for food. The death of the small fish will then lead to the death of larger animals, whichdepend on them for food. The process will, in turn, affect human beings as they will lack what to eat. Global warming is also linked to acid rain, which is experiencedin many places. This is whereby the rainwater dissolves some of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which, in turn, falls as acid rain. Acid rain is harmful to plants and properties. Furthermore, global warming is linked with common human catastrophes such as forest fires. This is because the warm climate dries up the small plants and leaves of large trees in the forests, which easily catch fire (The National Academic Press 2011, p.5). This means that the world is at a threat because of environmental damage caused by global warming. Thus, a widespread problem caused by few individuals affects everyone around the globe (Bojö, Green, Kishore, Pilapitiya & Reddy 2004, p.10).

Global Climatic Governance

Global climatic governance entails policy measures and diplomatic mechanism directed towards guiding the social systems or setup in adaptation of preventions against climatic risks resulting from manmade activities. Since 1980s, climatic concerns resulting from manmade activities have increased (Kelly 2010, p.399). The concern was triggeredby the world climatic conference held in 1979 by the World Meteorological Organization, which further led to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change (IPCC) in 1988; this body consisted of environmental specialists and diplomats from different nations. During the world climatic conference of 1990, a report was released by IPCC mentioning that the world had been warming, and this warming is more likely to continue. Consequently, the world came to the reality of environmental dangers resulting from manmade activities including industrialization (Bernstein, Betsill, Hoffmann & Paterson 2010, p.163). 

In 1992, officials from 154 nations converged at a conference in Rio and deliberated over climatic changes, which culminated into signing a pact by the same. Again, in 1997, the Kyoto protocol was agreed on. Moreover, the Kyoto protocol brought together 38 countries that were highly industrialized and required each nation to reduce its greenhouse gas emission by at least 5.2% by 2008. The global reporting initiative was also launched at the same time and was mandated with responsibilities of disclosing greenhouse gas emission; however, the US withdrew from the protocol in 2001. Despite the withdrawal of the US, other nations went ahead to implement the protocol, which was later declared unbinding to the member countries in 2011 (Bernstein, Betsill, Hoffmann & Paterson 2010, p. 163).

From the information on the timeline development of the global climate governance, it can be indicated that capitalistic nations including the 38 countries that signed the Kyoto protocols are aware of the dangers posed to the environment by their capitalistic activities. They have also gone ahead to form a coalition to fight the global climatic dangers. However, there has not been maximum commitment since even the United States, which is among the leading in industrial emission pulled out of the protocol. At the same time, the member nations of the Kyoto protocol decided to dilute the protocol by declaring the pact as non-binding. This indicates the inability of these nations to adhere to climate preservation.

Globally, there is no serious climatic governance, but instead, there are some claims against global warming concepts such as low carbon economy that focuses on all pillars of nation’s economies including manufacturing, agriculture, transportation and power-generation. Low carbon economy itself does not propagate for total stoppage to emission of carbon gases but rather offsetting emissions through different geographical locations. Additionally, low carbon economy is characterized by low-energy and low-emission buildings, and intelligent heating and cooling systems. The economy also includes electric and hybrid cars, and cleaner cities that have less air pollution and better public transport. Despite the warning reports by the IPCC on the seriousness of greenhouse gases, the Kyoto protocol was declaredunbinding (The National Academic Press 2011, p.2).

Capitalism as a Problem to Global Climate Change

Capitalism has been perceived to be the major cause of climatic change. In fact, without capitalism, there will be little or no climatic change. In the first place, capitalism aims at utilization of available resources for wealth creation. As a result, capitalistic nations’ main focus is to use the available resources with the purpose of creating wealth. This has been evident in many aspects (Nowelle 2010, p.179). For instance, China has been focusing on its economic growth in textile sector. It has invested in all major cities and even minor cities like Tibet, Mongolia and Xinjiang. This means that there is a widespread emission of carbon gases from industries that are located in all major cities and region in China. The country depends so much on fossil fuel, and the trend has been heightenedsince 2007, an action that has increased its carbon footprint (Martin & Morrison 2008, p.5). As such, heavy industrialization in Chinese cities adversely affects the world climate due to the carbon emissions from the industries.

From the analysis of the industry, the majority are in hands of private investors meaning that the wealth is concentratedin the hands of the few, yet the environmental damage is widespread to all. “No binding agreement on reducing emissions has proven possible, with every government competing against one another to gain geo-strategic advantage and boost the profits of their own major corporations” (Mander 2012, p. 45). In England, the situation has been the same. The country is highly industrialized with concentration of wealth in the hands of the few capitalists. The situation reached its apex in 2011 angering the Britons. Cameron, though belonging to the capitalistic party, agreed to the evils and damages capitalism has plunged into Britain by coining a slogan ‘let capitalism RIP’ implying that capitalism should die, in his speech on January 19, 2012. While belonging to a capitalist party, David Cameron recognized the effects of capitalism on climate change when he stated that, “I want them to lead to a socially responsible and genuinely popular capitalism,” (Mander 2012, p. 60).  

Capitalism is also a problem to global climatic change because of its policy of profit making. The chief principle of capitalism is to make maximum use of the available resources to make maximum profits. This means that the proponents in this industry would wish to see more pennies trickling in rather than being spend. In this case, no money is spent for environmental conservation because doing so would mean reducing profits. At the same time, some simple andshortcut methods of production are employedfor the sake of maximizing profits (Magdoff 2011, p.15). Capitalism in the United Kingdom, for instance, is deeply immersedinto profit maximization to the point that even the factors of production are hardly providedin the required quality and quantity. In the wake of David Cameroon’s famous 19 January speech titled ‘let capitalism RIP’, industrial workers in the UK had gone on strike in protest of the evils of the capitalistic employees. The employees did not want to work owing to meager salary they were paid. In this context, it is evident that such capitalists may not be willing to spend their money on expensive process of environmental conservation. In this sense, environmental conservation means cutting on the energy expenditure polluting the environment. Nonetheless, cutting on energy expenditure in several cases may result in the reduction of production capacity, which is not acceptable in capitalism (Abramovitz 2001, p.21).

Capitalism as a Solution to Global Climate Change

Although capitalism is seen as the problem for climatic change, it is also argued to be the solution to it. A capitalistic regimeis a wealth-creating regime, which every country is aiming at, since the wealth created is essential for the mitigating climatic change (Adger & Kelly 2002, p.325). According to Dolsak (2001, p. 419), mitigating climatic conditions is very expensive. This is because the top down microeconomic approach, the cost of stabilizing carbon dioxide emission of the levels experienced in 1990, would lead to a reduction of 0.5 to 0.6 percentin GDP. It therefore implies that the attempts to mitigate the climatic change need immense wealth of developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Given that capitalism entails wealth creation such regime will be the one that can help in mitigating climate because of their financial muscles (Stephenes 2000, p.552). On the other hand, developing countries like Kenya and South Africa can only contribute in terms of educating their citizens on the importance of conserving the environment through afforestation and careful use of trees.

In capitalistic regime, the rich are in control of the law. This means that they are in a good position to create laws for mitigating climatic change and, at the same time, install legal institution in place to ensure that everything adheres to the laws. For instance, the laws that were drafted in the Kyoto protocol are very important towards the climatic mitigation. On top of that, other countries led by the UK have been implementing laws and penalties to decrease the effects of climatic change. For example, the green tax in the United Kingdom has been implemented to alleviate the effect of climatic change (Policy Network 2009, p.14).

The capitalist countries also hold the key to building a long-lasting consensus for the future with low carbon emission. This was also a part of the global deal in Copenhagen. Through such deals, cash and technology can be transferred to developing economies to aid in mitigating climatic change. At the same time, non-governmental organizations may be included in the long-lasting consensus about low carbon emission deals. Such organizations are backed by capitalist countries, because they have the financial muscles to assist in diminishing climatic changes (Duwe 2001, p.178).

Conclusion: is Capitalism the Problem or the Solution?

From the analysis seen above, capitalism is the main cause of environmental pollution. Capitalistic regime focuses on accumulation of profits using available wealth and due to their operations, it is agreeable that an environmental damage that affects the whole society is abandoned. In contrast, capitalistic regimes have capacity to handle the rigors of global climatic governance through enactment of laws and implementation of modalities for mitigating climatic change through their financial muscles. The world cannot progress without industrialization as propagated by capitalist. This means that we are less likely to stand without capitalist countries since they are agents of environmental damage. Instead, there should be a consensus on global climatic governance. Therefore, the world can borrow a leaf from David Cameron. While tackling the challenges of capitalism, the prime minister did notpropose a completely non-capitalistic economy but rather suggested a balance on the same using popular capitalism. Considering the above comments, the study claims that everyone, both proponents and opponents of capitalism, have equitable share in mitigating climate change as capitalism can comprehensibly be argued both as the problem and as the solution of climatic change.

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