|By 2100, this is what an exceptionally good growing season could look like in the Midwest|
It is absolutely imperative that we deal with climate change. It is therefore also imperative that we overcome neoliberalism. This is because the actions we need to take in order to put the brakes on climate change are incompatible with neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is therefore a road to climate apocalypse.
To understand this point, we need to understand that the creation of a carbon neutral society requires something along the lines of a Green New Deal which impacts all parts of the economy. The sorts of policies we need (here is one attempt to lay out some of the details) include an overhaul of urban planning and agriculture, intervention into the corporate sector to force the investment of idle capital (which currently exists in the trillions) into green economic development, and a massive spike in public spending to repair and overhaul infrastructure (the US is $2.2 trillion behind just on infrastructure repairs—never mind upgrades).
To clarify: it is not enough to oppose new extraction projects like Keystone XL and fracking (although that is important work). Nor is it enough to implement market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or a carbon tax (although these policies could play a role in a larger framework, they are completely inadequate when it comes to bringing about an overhaul of infrastructure). Although fights against KXL or for some kind of tax on carbon are already difficult ones, the harsh truth is that we need to think much, much bigger. What we need is extremely heavy-handed interventions by the state into the economy, including a massive expansion of the public sector, and coercive intervention into the financial industry, agricultural industry, and manufacturing industry... and so on.
These are measures which would shock the neoliberal conscience. They constitute unthinkable violations of the free market principles which are fundamental to that ideology. To capture the radical nature of the policies required, writers commonly use metaphors of a WWII-style mobilization. FDR's WWII policies involved (e.g.) a ban on the manufacture of private automobiles. In neoliberal America it is simply unthinkable that corporations should suffer such harsh state coercion. But the solution to climate change will involve very harsh state coercion inflicted upon corporations.
And since the financial crash and subsequent depression, the prospects for this kind of government intervention seem to have gotten even worse. The neoliberal elites have responded to economic troubles by doubling down on policies of austerity and intensified corporatization / privatization. These policies of course move us in the opposite direction from a Green New Deal or WWII-style climate mobilization. But so long as neoliberalism continues to be the dominant ideology among the elite, we should expect these policies to continue.
So the bad news is that we will never deal with climate change if we don't end neoliberalism. The good news is that neoliberalism is collapsing, and is begging to be ended. And if we do move beyond neoliberalism in a progressive direction, then we will open up radically new possibilities of climate action. The results of the WWII industrial mobilization stunned observers at the time, but today our productive and technological capacities are far, far greater than they were during WWII. In a post-neoliberal world, they could be mobilized in a transition to a carbon-neutral economy that could take place faster than most of us are currently capable of imagining. Those who are tempted to despair around the issue of climate change (and I know you are out there) should take this to heart.
|This was Detroit. Imagine this, but with wind turbines.|
In future posts I hope to continue to explore the relationship between climate change and the current crisis of neoliberalism. But let this be the moral of the story for now: if neoliberalism is a road to climate apocalypse, then overcoming neoliberalism is our road to climate survival.