Despite her very obvious sincerity and good intentions, Greta Thunberg in her latest speech has once again demonstrated her political and economic naivety.
climate activists stated, "We demand that at this year's forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions, and governments immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies, and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels…right now"
They go on to say, “The world of finance has a responsibility to the planet, the people, and all other species living on it. In fact, it ought to be in every company and stakeholder's interest to make sure the planet they live on will thrive. But history has not shown the corporate world's willingness to hold themselves accountable. So it falls on us, the children, to do that. Anything less than immediately ceasing these investments in the fossil fuel industry would be a betrayal of life itself," the op-ed concludes. "Today's business as usual is turning into a crime against humanity. We demand that leaders play their part in putting an end to this madness. Our future is at stake, let that be their investment."
Sorry, Greta, a CEO’s primary responsibility is to his or her share-holders. That is the law. And a politician’s responsibility is to defend and promote the interests of his or her country's capitalist class, not the world’s peoples.
The biologist Garret Hardin wrote “Tragedy of the Commons”. Hardin’s basic thesis was seriously flawed. In practice, actually existing Commons do not generally result in serious environmental degradation since they are often quite closely monitored and subject to stringent rules to prevent overuse and destructive exploitation. More to the point, Hardin’s diagnosis of the problem was misplaced. It was not the fact that there was a commons to which the herders could gain free access that was the root cause of the problem of overgrazing. Rather it was the fact that the cattle herds were privately owned by herders in competition with each other that locked them into the destructive logic whereby each herder benefited exclusively from the addition of one more head of cattle to his/her herd but where the environmental costs of each additional head of cattle were externalised and shared by all the commoners. This gave each individual herder a built-in incentive to add to his/her herd resulting in generalised overgrazing.
The same kind of logic applies in the case of tackling climate change. The trillions of dollars needed to tackle climate may well be less than the costs of inaction but as a long as each capitalist state is seeking to externalise the costs of tackling climate change – get others to bear to more of the burden of these costs so as not to impair its own economic prospects in its competition with others – inaction will result. States will only be dragged kicking and screaming into action as things get generally worse and the action they take will probably be too little too late.
That is the tendency of capitalism – to get away with what is minimally required. It is why citing Hardin’s model (but correcting its faulty reasoning) might be a useful approach to encouraging environmentalists to taking more seriously what socialists have to say.