The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Free Market Environmentalism Is Not The Answer

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 29, 2009 @ 09:25

The Privatisation of the Commons really was a Tragedy after all.

The Privatisation of the Commons really was a Tragedy after all.

Yesterday I wrote a post about the complete failure of the political class to be honest with the voting public about the nature of the environmental challenge ahead, and how it is going to radically change the way we live.

Today I’m going to continue on this theme by looking at why the politicians appear to be deceiving us.

The reasoning is slightly deeper than it would appear to the normal cynical observer. It’s not merely about electoral politics. It’s also about a fundmental, but misguided, faith in the free market.

There are many degrees of environmentalist. While most of us think that the greenies are all tree-hugging, not-washing, hemp-wearing (and smoking) Swampys, there are much smarter types, infesting corporate institutions, Whitehall and academia, and you’ll most often find them wearing a tailored suit.

They are the free market environmentalists (FME). They believe that, whatever the nature of the environmental problem, the market will always provide a solution. They are the bastion of capitalists hoping that they will never truly have to change their ways. Such FMEs provide the fig leaf that capitalism craves to continue. Because that is the nature of capitalism. It is neither inherently good or bad. It simply exists, and seeks ways to perpetuate that existence. It is a state of mind as much as it is a financial system.

A FME believes that concepts like emissions trading will enable the environmental cost to be turned into a financial figure, which then will be factored into the supply/demand equations that the market operates on. They believe that privatising the Amazon Rainforest, for example, would provide the necessary incentives for it to be truly managed and protected. They believe that there is no grave need to panic over running out of oil or gas, because the free market will adapt, innovation will prevail, and someone will come up with an solution that will supply alternatives. This will happen when it becomes more economical to use the alternative than buy, say, another barrel of oil.

Most mainstream politicians fall into this category for reasons of convenience. It is extremely easy to say that there is no real problem because we will rely on the genius of future generations to rescue us from the abyss. And we will also rely on future generations to sort out that huge amount of nuclear waste sitting in Sellafield, and all over the planet. Oh, and they can work out how on Earth the Earth is going to cope with all these people.

FME is not an answer. It is a corporate shill. It is a way to buy capitalism the time and credibility to distract us from appreciating the true nature of the problem, beyond the point past which it’s worth us doing anything about it.

Too much faith is placed in the market providing an answer; but capitalism has this wonderful way of making us blind to history. We see it now: one credit crunch, followed by one deep recession. But what lessons have been learned? What has actually changed to stop it from happening again?

Nothing. Nothing at all. How many more economic crises must we be put through to realise that the short termism of capitalism cannot be squared with the long-term reality that is the existence of this planet?

I guess you can conclude that I’m not an optimist about our future prospects…

2 Responses to “Free Market Environmentalism Is Not The Answer”

  1. neil craig said

    I would certainly be enthusiastic about politicians telling the public the truth about “environmentalism – that in Mencken’s words “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” & that eco-fascism is merely the latest hobgoblin.

    Your entire reasoniing behind why free market solutions to environmental problems is because “its a corporate shill”. No attempt to produce fact, just its bad because we say so. In fact if you know any economics at all you will know that your cartoon is exactly why the “trgedy of the commoms” works as it does – that when grass is tended it grows while if everybody uses the same muddy filed all the time the grass gets destroted.

  2. […] Free Market Environmentalism Is Not The Answer […]

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