Capitalism and Climate Change

They came out by the thousands, the tens of thousands and the hundreds of thousands. What happens next? Nothing.

Friday they rallied in cities across the globe calling in leaders to do more to address the issue of climate change. Many teenagers took, or were given, the day off school to let their voices be heard.

It was an impressive sight, but I doubt they made much of an impression, despite their numbers. Western politicians are already addressing the issue. They may not be moving fast enough for some, but they live in the real world, not fantasyland. They know people will not stand for drastic change that hits them in the  pocketbook.

I am not a cynic. I was impressed at the enthusiasm and the desire to do good of the protesters I saw in downtown Ottawa. They are concerned about our planet’s future. That’s good.

But as a veteran protester I know how little attention those with power pay to rallies. Because they know how easy it is to show up and wave a placard or “like” an issue on Facebook. When you talk about hard choices and sacrifice, that is another issue. The protesters don’t always stand by their beliefs.

In Ottawa Friday I saw demonstrators who drove to the protest, others who took public transit. Why didn’t they walk? Too far to walk? Maybe if you are really serious about reducing carbon emissions you have to decide to stay in your neighborhood. I know that isn’t practical for most people, but if the crisis is real, then drastic measures are necessary.

Are people willing to take those drastic measures? I wonder. How sincere is your commitment if it means higher prices, higher taxes and restrictions on your freedom of movement. Some, I am sure, are quite happy to pay that price – but I doubt it is a majority. Which makes tackling climate change a challenge for our leaders, no matter their political stripe.

What started my ruminations was seeing placards decrying capitalism, blaming it for ruining the environment. And I am sure many people could come up with examples of environmental damage caused by the capitalist system. However, that is far from the whole story.

Capitalism and free markets respond to pressure. It is not in business’s interests to pollute the planet – it would cut into the profit margin. Green companies can be rewarded by consumers; those that pollute will lose business. Seems simple to me.

Automatically labeling an economic system as evil doesn’t make sense – you can argue pros and cons for all of them. A strong case can be made that capitalism’s benefits far outweigh its excesses. I was amused at watching children of privilege, beneficiaries of capitalism, waving signs denouncing the system that allows them to live in comfort.

That said, I am not wedded to capitalism if there is something better out there. But those calling for the  elimination of our current system might want to give some thought to what they want to replace it with. Are their ideas workable? Or are they like communism, which seems good on paper, but fails horribly when there are people involved.

Oh, and a tip to the protesters: if you actually want to see change, get involved in politics. Join a political party, get involved at the grassroots level, run for office or volunteer. Maybe do all of those.

You can protest all you want, but for change to happen you need to learn how to use the system and become part of the solution. Otherwise all your demonstrations are just so much hot air, another greenhouse gas we don’t need.

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