Stopping Climate Change Will Never Be “Good Business”

by Paul Fleckenstein

Failing to understand the systemic character of capitalism and its relation to climate change also leads to the two technologies of change McKibben advocates: the entrepreneurial potential of solar power to remake capitalism’s energy system, and the politics of nonviolent protest, not as a way to take power from rulers but as a way to change their minds.

Falter leads us toward hoped-for green, capitalist solutions. Highlighting that this is “good business,” McKibben forefronts the work of a Harvard graduate and entrepreneur trying to sell investors on small scale solar (with marginal profit margins) in rural Africa: “I’m not a socialist . . .  I don’t think humans are wired that way. But I also think extractive capitalism has run its course.” Solar panels produce usable power directly from the sun, and the technology is getting cheaper and more widely available, and, in the market, can out-compete fossil fuel produced electricity.

Such green-capitalist type proposals strike one as utopian, given that they depend on unwilling and hostile agents, capitalists, changing their behavior and the functioning of the entire system. Marx explained (and Goldman Sachs would agree) that capitalism is a system of perpetual expansion, not because of the ideas of capitalists, but because owners must invest capital, exploit workers for a profit, accumulate more capital than originally invested, and again and again, or they will be outcompeted and eliminated by other capitalists who are able to generate more profits. National and international competition between capitalists imposes a growth imperative on all. It is a system where “grow or die” determines the trajectory of all major economic institutions.

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