The Existential Comic's Pessimistic Tweet About Capitalism and Climate Change
On Twitter, I’m impressed with the Existential Comic’s follower count. This tweeter has 357,000 followers and I’d like to speak about one of the Comic’s tweets.
Permit me to quote This tweet by Existential Comics(@existentialcoms)
”Capitalism requires infinite growth or it collapses. It cannot solve climate change, ever. End of discussion.”
The first two sentences are interesting. Note the author’s confidence in two false sentences. The point of this brief post is to unpack them.
“Capitalism requires infinite growth or it collapses.”
Decades ago, Henry Ford was working on the Model T. This early car represented an opportunity to liberate people to give them the freedom to travel where they wanted to go. Yes, the car was costly and it imposed safety risk on the driver and others who might be hit by the car. Life isn’t riskless. Yes, the car runs on gasoline and this contributes to local air pollution and global greenhouse gas emissions.
Fast forward to 2021 and Elon Musk (a capitalist) seeks to replace Ford’s early vision with electric vehicles. Even the modern Ford Motor Company seeks to build no more gasoline vehicles to sell in Europe by 2030!
Elon Musk is building higher quality cars. The Existential Comic misses the nuance that capitalism is about “quantity” and “quality” of consumption. As consumers become richer and more educated and more sophisticated about environmental goals, capitalist firms will cater to them to make profit! The Comic misses this point.
If more and more people purchase electric vehicles that are powered by solar panels, then the transportation sector’s GHG emissions could sharply shrink because of capitalism.
Let’s turn to EC’s second sentence.
“It cannot solve climate change, ever.”
Total Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions = The world’s population*Per-capita income*Greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of income.
Take a close look at these 3 terms. To shrink global greenhouse gas emissions on a planet where more people will be living on and incomes will be rising, our only hope to mitigate the climate change challenge is to reduce emissions per dollar of income.
The good news for the children of the EC is that capitalism is hard at work on shrinking this carbon intensity.
Fake meat, solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles are all capitalist products that are now being developed that will allow EC’s grandchildren to continue to thrive in our hotter future.
EC also downplays the role that capitalism plays in fueling climate change adaptation. I do believe that global greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise because of income growth in the developing world. This creates an imperative to improve our ability to take a punch from Mother Nature. The good news is that capitalism is creating new products each day that enhance our ability to withstand extreme heat, wildfires, sea level rise and drought.
Given concern about PM2.5 from wildfires, here is one example of a self protection product that Amazon now offers due to the profit motive.
My new 2021 Yale University Press book titled “Adapting to Climate Change” explores how capitalism helps us to adapt to the challenge we have unleashed. Unlike the Comic, I am much more confident about the positive role that capitalism plays (through improving the quality of products more and more of us can afford) in protecting us from emerging threats. We are not passive victims here. The demand for solutions creates new opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs. That’s capitalism!