“Capitalism is Killing the Planet!” reads the poster pictured below from the streets of Glasgow, Scotland during the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) meetings. It’s telling how out of touch with reality the people are who posted this poster. Some form of capitalism allowed them to have that sign made and some degree of political freedom allowed them to post it.
The name of the game at this 26th UN COP conference is not capitalism kills, thankfully, but rather one of “climate ambition.” Climate ambition is international diplomacy speak for when countries from around the world line up to up the ante on their previous “Nationally Determined Contributions” or NDCs to one-up one another on who can say that they will get to a net zero carbon economy the fastest. It’s a round-robin of one-up-man-ship. Thus is the nature of political ambition.
Don’t get me wrong, global gatherings of countries, businesses and people who are making commitments to strive for a cleaner planet is a good thing, a very good thing. There’s a lot of smart, well-intentioned people here who truly want to make the world a better place and are sincerely trying to save the planet.
The problem is that too often it’s all about prose and pageantry over real progress. None of the G20 countries who made commitments in the original Paris Climate Agreement are meeting their commitments. So to make new and more ambitious commitments seems, well, quite ambitious.
Here’s a thought experiment. What if capitalism could save the planet? What if “climate capitalism” was the name of the game instead of climate ambition? After all, isn’t ambition inherent in capitalism? The idea of striving to win a competition based on merits is in fact very capitalist. And capitalism thrives best in free markets where merits win over cronyism or mandates.
Capitalism, like it or not, is certainly not perfect but is quite necessary for environmental progress. This isn’t opinion or theory but fact. In our recently published report that we are promoting at this conference, we found that free economies are twice as clean as unfree economies.
It’s clear that expanding economic and political freedom around the world leads to greater technological innovation and greater prosperity for both people and our planet. So what is needed is not more ambition but more economic and political freedom, aka capitalism. So to my activist friends, both with posters and all the pageantry, how about we demand real action now? It’s time for the most ambitious of climate actions. It’s time to expand political freedom. It’s time for climate capitalism.