Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Warming World:  Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet?

Balcony overlooking power plant (Credit: Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
Is Capitalism the Problem?
... Might it be enough ... to fundamentally change the rules by which the global economy functions?  That is what Canadian bestselling author Naomi Klein is demanding.  The leftist icon's controversial new book, which will be published in Germany next week, is a carefully researched polemic about mankind's collective failure in the face of the greatest challenge it has ever faced.  Klein spells out her thesis in the introduction to her book This Changes Everything:  "We have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis."

In other words, climate protection and capitalism are mutually exclusive.  In order to stop global warming, Klein argues, we have to use fewer resources.  But in order to prevent the collapse of our capitalist economic system, unlimited growth is necessary.  "Only one of these sets of rules can be changed," Klein writes.  "And it's not the laws of nature."
The climate economist argues that Earth's fate hinges largely on whether countries can agree to an appropriate price for CO2.  Of course, the world is far from reaching any agreement, particularly given that Europe is comparatively more environmentally conscientious than other areas of the world and it still hasn't come up with a working model.
Is Germany a Model for the World?
...Two countries could prove decisive in the battle to improve the climate globally.  One is Germany.  As controversial as it is domestically, the "German Energiewende," the shift away from nuclear power and fossil fuels to renewable energies, has become a term that has been picked up internationally.  So far, the Germans have gone further than any other country in seeking to address the very existential question at hand:  can an industrialized nation succeed in entirely transforming its energy production within the scope of a few decades?  And if so, at what price?  Germany has begun this process, but the costs have proven enormous.  German electricity customers are currently paying €23 billion a year in extra costs, billions that are the direct result of the expansion of alternative energies.
Indeed, the rest of the world is directly profiting from Germany's shift.  A study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology and the Berlin think tank Agora Energiewende found that wind and solar energy are becoming the "cheapest way of producing electricity in an increasing number of regions around the world."
And what about the other country that could provide a solution for climate change?

A Bit of Hope
China's wind power capacity has quintupled over the past four years.  Meanwhile, investments in coal, gas and oil power plants declined by 50 percent in China between 2008 and 2012, whereas those in non-fossil energies rose by 40 percent.  In total, around one-third of the electricity produced in China today comes from renewable sources.
Ironically, it is China's boundless pursuit of growth that is now contributing to its efforts to make green energy more affordable and thus competitive.  In order to secure its energy supplies, China has increased manufacturing of solar panels one hundred fold in the past 10 years.  That's one reason that prices for photovoltaic cells have fallen by 80 percent since 2008.  A similar development is happening in the wind industry.  Recently, Australian economists John Mathews and Hao Tan concluded in the science magazine Nature that, in this manner, China is "contributing more than any other country to a climate-change solution."

Whatever the reason or motive behind Beijing's move to reduce coal consumption and increase the share of renewable energies, the rest of the world should accept it because China is officially planning to double both economic output and the per-capita income during each of the next two decades.

Read more at The Warming World:  Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet?

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