[Marxism] Cooling a fevered planet

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jul 8 10:00:36 MDT 2008

Cooling a Fevered Planet
Economics, policy, and vision for fighting global warming

July, 01 2008 By Gar Lipow

Nobody, except for a small lunatic fringe, still disputes that 
human-caused climate chaos endangers all of us. Further, most serious 
scientific and technical groups who have looked at the question have 
concluded that we have the technological capability today to replace 
greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels with efficiency improvements and 
clean energy—usually at a maximum cost of around the current worldwide 
military budget, probably much less. The question therefore is: what's 
stopping us?

To answer that we need to look at the causes of global warming—not the 
physical causes, but the economic and political flaws in our system that 
have prevented solutions from being implemented long after the problem 
was known.

One driver is inequality and the maintenance of power that keeps 
inequality in place produces perverse incentives in resource use. An 
example of this is a usual economic suspect behind global warming, the 
lack of full social pricing. Fossil fuel use imposes all sorts of costs 
on others. A tax that recovered some of these costs would reduce 
emissions, though how much is arguable. Arthur Cecil Pigou invented the 
idea of this type of taxation back in 1912. Since most of the direct 
cost would fall on consumers, it is puzzling at first glance that big 
corporations and the very rich have never had any great enthusiasm for 
the idea. The answer lies in inequality. Lack of social pricing means we 
all pay some of the expenses generated by others. But due to inequality, 
the very rich and the big corporations are able to impose many times the 
costs on others that others can impose on them—an advantage they don't 
want to lose.

A second obstacle is deliberate obstruction by various bad guys in both 
business and government. These are not trivial. Ross Gelbspan has spent 
most of the past decade documenting the successful efforts of coal, oil, 
and automakers to thwart regulation of greenhouse gases.

But the flaws that cause continuing resource waste extend far beyond low 
prices and bad guys. While a portion of the clean replacement technology 
would cost more than our current system (if you don't count human life), 
much of it is less expensive. Experts widely agree that substantial 
savings are available at lower costs than fossil fuels. A majority of 
these same experts agree that efficiency improvements using existing 
technology could reduce consumption by at least 40 percent, at a cost 
less than the price of fossil fuels. Similarly there is widespread 
agreement that existing renewable sources, such as wind power and solar 
space and water heating, could replace 20 to 30 percent of remaining 
demand at a similar savings. That means that over half of emissions 
could have been eliminated at a profit. A substantial minority, 
including Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute and Dr. Friedrich 
Schmidt-Bleek of the Factor 10 Institute, believe that potential 
efficiency improvements are much greater than 40 percent, substantial 
enough to pay the remaining cost of all other emissions reduction.

But even the lower number forces us to look beyond too-low pricing and 
deliberate obstruction. Why does a market based system ignore chances to 
make large profits? The answer is that there are other side-effects of 
inequality that also lead to resource waste.

full: http://www.zcommunications.org/zmag/viewArticle/18060

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