It is often suggested that a ‘free market,’ or lots of investment (say within a developmentalist framework), will produce the technologies we need. To me, this seems like baseless propaganda which is harmful to our future.
Technology is not a whim
Firstly, Technology does not come along simply because we need it, would like it, or there is a market for it. There are physical limits to what can be achieved, at a certain level of technical development, at a feasible cost, and within a relatively short time frame. There are plenty of technologies which we need and which there would be a market for, that we don’t have: for example fusion energy or Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) which works at a level which makes a difference.
CCS is a perfect example of this, as we need it, it would lower the levels of emissions from fossil fuels, and enable drawdown and storage of CO2 from the atmosphere. There is a market for it, as it would make Fossil fuel companies happy as they would not have to face competition from renewables, it would make governments happy as they don’t have to do anything or fight powerful corporations, and it would allow everyone to keep on doing what they are doing now. The trouble with CCS is that despite 50 years or so of corporate and government investment, it basically does not work, at the levels we need it to work, and there is no evidence of any breakthroughs.
Despite recent minor breakthroughs fusion energy also seems to be a long way off being useful. It cannot be relied upon to save us in the time frame we need it to be available.
Markets are political
Secondly, any market, or form of development, involves politics and the likelihood of capture by existing power bases. Fossil Fuel companies will keep providing fossil fuels until it get uneconomic to provide them. To make them economic they will obstruct attempts to move out of fossil fuels: they will buy politicians, they will buy regulations, they will buy think-tanks to justify the use of fossil fuels and attack action on climate change. This is how markets work. Paradoxically, the ‘freer’ the market the more it seems to get constrained by those who are successful in the market, and the more society becomes plutocratic. So a capitalist free market (which is what people usually mean by ‘free markets’) is likely to be a destructive market, as NOT offloading costs from poisoning, pollution and eco-destruction involves a reduction of profit, and that is bad.
Finitude is important
Thirdly, the world is a relatively closed system for humans, with the exception of energy coming from the sun. We simply cannot keep extracting, over-extracting and polluting for ever without facing severe challenges, whether this extraction comes from business or from state controlled development. Sure we may get planetary colonies in the next 50 years, but that will not save most (or even many) people. and off-planetary environments will be even more hostile to humans than destroyed planetary ecologies. Space colonies will not save the world if we keep on destroying it in order to build them. Capitalist free markets, and development, seem to require growth, increasing extraction, increasing energy, and increasing profits to keep functioning. If this is the case, then capitalism and developmentalism will eventually destroy nearly everything, because of the effective closure of the system, even if they did produce useful technology that delayed the end point.
These factors, along with the idea that the market will produce whatever technology we need, seems to be why capitalist and developmentalist states have spent the last 30 years talking about climate change, and doing nothing.
The ideology has helped the capitalist elites to win, at the cost of you and your children’s future.
This means that if we want to survive,
- We have to act locally where we have input; local renewable energy now. Preferably controlled by communities looking out for the communities, and providing local resilience for when climate change damage hits.
- We have to campaign nationally and support climate action and ending eco-destruction, and phaseout of fossil fuels despite the problems that will generate
- We have to realise that, as they are now, capitalism and developmentalism are not our steadfast friends. Those systems need changing.