Red isn't green

At last year’s People’s Climate Change march in New York City, someone carried a banner saying “CLIMATE CHANGE is the symptom, CAPITALISM is the disease, SOCIALISM is the cure”. While that particular individual may not wield wide influence, the general sentiment that capitalism is bad for the environment and socialism is better seems to pop up quite a bit on the left. Naomi Klein recently published a book called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. She has a decent amount of influence on the left, for better or for worse. The same basic sentiment, that capitalism is inherently unfriendly to the environment, and socialism inherently friendlier, can be seen popping up in this forum with decent frequency as well.

Of course, if state-controlled economies were going to solve our environmental problems, they’ve had plenty of time in which to do so. The Soviet Union, for instance, was founded almost a century ago. During its seven-decade existence, it gave us the biggest environmental disaster of all times, at Chernobyl. It gave us the “Door to Hell”, when Soviet engineers decided to burn off excess natural gas at a well in Turkmenistan in 1971, and started a massive fire that’s still burning today. It gave us countless environmental disasters whose results still scar the landscape and threaten human health today. An excellent comparison of environmental effects came with the reunification of Germany. Ecologists in West Germany ranked rivers from Class I (“little or no pollution”) to Class IV (“excessive pollution”). Once they started looking at East German rivers, they had to create Class V (“ecological total destruction”). Thankfully after 25 years of greater economic freedom, rivers such as the Elbe have been restored and are now safe to swim in.

Okay, so perhaps the Soviet Empire was a bad apple, but other centrally planned economies have great environmental records? Not quite. China has been in the news a lot lately for its horrible air quality in major cities, probably the worst on the planet. China also leads the world in greenhouse emissions, and plans to build plenty of new coal-burning power plants over the coming decades. And China has huge problems with river pollution and habitat destruction.

Okay, so perhaps the folks holding “destroy capitalism” signs at climate change rallies don’t want to go with whole-hog communism, but just want a more moderate, socialist approach to industries where there’s a high environmental toll. That’s been tried of course. Some Americans may not be aware that BP and Shell started their existence in government but were later privatized. We’ve still got plenty of state-run oil industries on this planet: in Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, Mexico and other places. Of course all the nations on that list are known for human rights abuses, but would anybody list them as excellent environmental stewards either? Where’s the evidence that destroying capitalism and bringing in the government can save the day for the environment?

Yeah, I think you’ll find most mainstream climatologists and economists reject that idea wholeheartedly, in favor of the idea that “greening” our society will actually improve productivity and create jobs. This is a fringe position, and a fairly stupid one at that. In theory, it’s great, but so is everything about a dictatorship, and it immediately falls apart in practice.

If you’re going to list communism’s ecological disasters, it’s only fair to list capitalism’s, too. The Centralia mine fire started in 1962, and is still burning. The Cuyahoga River has caught on fire. 13 times. We’ve been doing better for the last 40 years or so, but it wasn’t pure capitalism that drove the improvements. The government has to represent those who aren’t directly involved in the market, but who would suffer its consequences; like those who live downstream from factories.

And I would call the attention given to that one using that sign in the protest rally a perfect example of “nut picking”

Yep. When Nixon created the EPA in 1970, the federal government did quite a lot to clean up the environment. I’m old enough to remember the days before Iron Eyes Cody and the Ecology movement. I shudder to think of how this country would look today, if the companies that became regulated had been left unchecked.

One very important thing to take into account:

As the environmentalist in the interview implies, there is really no call among the experts that we should end free enterprise and also that jobs will be lost because the environment is taken into account.

In practice we are already seeing how China and India are losing a lot of resources (and jobs too) thanks to contamination and a virtual lack of environmental protection regulations or enforcement of the rules.

Ah, but that wasn’t REAL Socialism!

( :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: )

Rolleyes notwithstanding, I’m willing to bet my last nickel that neither the protesters nor Ms. Klein are advocating socialism in the mold of the USSR.

Aren’t they touring with Green Day?

I am pretty sure that Red is Green.

No need for the roll-eyes. Indeed it wasn’t, or if it was, it wasn’t socialism of the tendency that Klein, the holder of the sign mentioned, and others (like me) support. What it was depends on whom you ask. Trotskyists/Trotskyites, for example, use terms like “Degenerated/Deformed Workers’ State.” There are many others.

You’re quite right. A great many different tendencies fall under the umbrella term “socialism.”

Once again, buried in all those words in the OP lies the central assumption:

“Naomi Klein recently published a book called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. She has a decent amount of influence on the left, for better or for worse. The same basic sentiment, that capitalism is inherently unfriendly to the environment, and socialism inherently friendlier, can be seen popping up in this forum with decent frequency as well.”

Emphasis added. I’d like to see a cite for that before we launch off into a debate about a strawman. And lets also keep in mind that the term "socialism’ can vary in meaning widely depending on the context. It means one thing when Americans use it, but something rather different in Europe. Kinda like “liberal”.

Forgive my cynicism, but too many people use the word “Socialism” to mean the fantasy of eliminating the profit motive and having a society where the common good is everyone’s goal as we all join hands and sing “Kumbaya”. One can imagine anything working and being an unqualified good if you handwave the details and ignore history, up to and including the triumph of the Master Race. By the same token, “Capitalism” is often used as a shorthand for a sort of demonized caricature of free-market industrialism, such as depicted on The Simpsons.

If this isn’t what the OP intended, my apologies; but the words “Capitalism”, “Socialism”, and “Communism” have been used by so many people to mean so many different things that they’re near-useless without a detailed qualifying statement of just what exactly the user intends them to mean.

I am virtually certain that Klein provides something like that qualifying statement, given that she’s pretty far from the politically-ignorant situation you describe in the first paragraph.

The USA has learned that cleaning up pollution is more expensive than not creating the pollution. Unfortunately, other nations haven’t learned that, and must go through the learning process.

While true, I’m not sure that many haven’t learned that reducing pollution in general is a worthwhile goal.

The Great Satan to modern movement conservatives isn’t the Kremlin, it’s the EPA. It’s regulation, it’s government itself.

The EPA is why there have been fewer extinctions in North America than there would otherwise be, why acid rain has diminished, why rivers rarely catch fire now. And to the GOP, that’s terrible.

In the political language of the USA today, “Capitalism” EXACTLY means environmental destruction and worse public health, and “Socialism” EXACTLY means health and environmental regulation.

Now, wait, you say, foolsguinea, those aren’t exact identities. You’re hurting your argument by creating a straw man.

Eh, no. I’m from GOP country. When they complain about government and regulation, it’s environmental laws that really get some of them going. To these clowns, freedom means doing what they want, damn the consequences.

So Uncle Joe’s “Red” might not have been Green, but in the USA today, what is called socialist is pretty much Green.

While foolsguinea might be exaggerating a bit, I will note that my Representative to Congress ® sent out an end-of-year bragging letter in which two of his biggest claims were that he took action to defend the purity of the Great Lakes and that he helped defund the EPA to its pre-2000 level.
The Cognitive Dissonance is strong with this one.

It’s not just that it’s about demonizing Capitalism, it’s also that there are a number of misconceptions about economics that are very popularly-held.

For example that economic growth is just a requirement of greedy tycoons, and that a growing economy necessarily involves more harm to the environment.

Under these kinds of premises, and, as you allude, not thinking too hard about what socialism would actually mean, the argument would make a kind of sense.

Not necessarily. Without knowing specifically what was defunded, how can one determine whether it was detrimental or not? You seem to be assuming that any and all funding of the EPA is necessary and good. Knowing government (or any large organization, for that matter), I would be shocked if there wasn’t fat that couldn’t be cut.