Capitalism Needs to Fight Climate Change

Saturday’s issue of the Globe and Mail abounds with stories and editorials on environmentalism. If nothing else, you can’t accuse the Globe of not taking a stand on issues like climate change, or of failing to raise awareness.

The best of the bunch is an editorial by Thomas Homer-Dixen called Unleash Canada’s capitalist creativity on global warming. Homer-Dixen starts by reminding us of the impact of climate change in global terms — the melting of the Greenland ice caps — and then zeros in on one example of how the problem is directly impacting Canadians, specifically in the form of the horrible mountain pine bark beetle infestation that is leaving entire western towns stripped of their beautiful trees. This, he suggests, is proof that climate change is not merely a moral or theoretical concern for Canadians, but a daily practical problem.

Homer-Dixen then goes on to question the ability of loosely regulated financial markets to deal with a problem of this sort, where everyone needs to cooperate together to make sacrifices, rather than attempt to benefit personally in the short term while leaving the consequences to others.

Touching on the same topics as I wrote about a couple blog entries ago, he sees a coming conflict between conservative economics and the huge changes we need to make in order to properly address climate change. The inadequacy of the recent Clean Air Act is highlighted, and Homer-Dixen makes the valid and now familiar point that for such an advanced nation of thinking people, many Canadians are missing out on great economic opportunities to capitalize on green technology by instead fighting change in a doomed attempt to protect old ways.

Meanwhile, Margaret Wente offers a column titled Tiptoeing through a moral minefield, which outlines in somewhat glib terms the very real dilemmas faced by consumers who wish to make morally sound and environmentally sustainable decisions. While Wente is often maligned by environmentalists for driving an SUV and questioning the practicality of things like public transit and cycling, I think her views have to be considered important because they represent those of many so-called “average” Canadians.

Sure, we’d like to be sustainable, but most busy people are only able to endure so much inconvenience in their lives, and if better options aren’t plentiful and available, it’s unreasonable to expect them to be chosen often. This highlights the folly of letting corporations off the hook for providing un-green products and services by instead blaming the consumers who purchase them. Bottom up change can only go so far; at some point, large-scale change needs to be mandated from above, which usually means strong and enforced government policies.

A final Globe article called Extremes get worse in wild-weather future outlines the predictions of various computer climate models that predict more extreme weather events in the future as a result of climate change.

I do cringe, though, when I see a casual reference to “longer growing seasons,” which is the sort of thing that has been twisted in the past by some people to help convince the masses that climate change can be good as well as bad — an admittedly alluring concept in a country where many of us endure long bitter winters. The truth is that many other negative factors such as extreme weather, pests and diseases spreading to new climates, water shortages, and sea level changes will likely more than cancel out any of these potential “benefits”, especially in a world as globally linked as ours is today.

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