Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bean-Counters Will Not Save the Planet

Derek Wall has a very interesting critique of the Stern Review in this month's Red Pepper. I recommend that you read it.

"Stern’s solution to climate change will make the average economist swoon. Sir Nicholas and his team have reached for their micro economic textbooks in the way that a Midwest preacher would reach for the bible. Economists are not centrally concerned with the ‘end of civilisation’ as we know it, social justice or ecological sustainability. They are out to maximise ‘welfare’. Conventional economics is based on utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number. Costs must be minimised and ‘benefits’ maximised. Costs and benefits are measured in cash terms. Where supply and demand curves meet, overall benefits are maximised.

Viewed in these terms, environmental problems come down to unpaid costs. For example, the motorist pays the private cost of the car, petrol and other expenses of keeping on the road but does not pay for the ecological and social costs of car use. Economists argue that by calculating the monetary costs to society of pollution, congestion and the other ills from car use, and then making the motorist pay, efficiency can be restored.

Stern takes this approach. Climate change costs money, the cost can be measured and added to the price of all the things we do that lead to climate change. If consumers choose to pay and continue wrecking the planet, so be it."

There was a discussion of 'ecosocialism' at the HM conference I went to a few days ago, to mark the launch of the Socialist Register 2007, which, this year, focuses on the (rather pressing!) issue of ecological crisis. One of the the questions the participants addressed was that of whether capitalism could find any solution to the looming environmental crisis. Interestingly the various speakers disagreed about this - at least one, Daniel Buck, suggested that capitalism might well find a 'solution' to the fossil fuel pollution/global warming crisis under the pressure of looming catastrophe (incentive and all that). He did suggest, however, that this solution would come at the cost of the further commodification of the environment, of the further exacerbation of international inequalities and would involve a significantly authoritarian dimension. The other participants disagreed. I'll see if I can write this up more fully in a few days. Really busy at the moment. I've got loads of notes on the Harvey/Glyn/Clarke plenary session on Chinese growth and the global economy (in which Harvey, in particular, was fantastic) which I hope to write up in some detail on this blog when I get a chance. The gist of the Harvey argument was that the rate of over-accumulation and developing over-capacity in China is of huge proportions - in his words it's absolutely 'scary'. He brought in his notion of 'spatial fix' - the idea that capital must continually expand in spatial terms and colonise new territory in order to avert crisis - in a really interesting way.

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