Sunday, 24 February 2019

Going to Zero: Economics and Climate Change

Our response to climate change can no longer be about the lack of urgency, or scientific limitations. Certainly, while some people remain to be convinced of the anthropogenic nature of climate change, on the substance of its existence, the majority are convinced. The only challenges preventing us doing something radical and transformative in the face of climate change, then, seem to be political and economic will.

We should ignore the question of political will for now. This reasoning will be elaborated on in due course, but put simply, politics often walks hand in hand with economics, and so by understanding the economic picture, we can consider the political picture in much more nuanced term. From the perspective of economics, there are roadmaps towards tomorrow, and compelling reasons to travel. It is here we should begin.

Let’s be clear, the scale of economic transformation to prevent the worse effects of man-made climate change will be huge. The governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, for example, highlights some 30% of FTSE 100 companies will be directly impacted by climate change due to their close association with our present carbon energy system. As Durand (2018) notes, in order to keep emissions within the IPCC temperature target of a 2oC increase, fossil fuel companies will have to leave unused between two-thirds and four-fifths of their carbon-based energy reserves. In short, massive parts of these companies’ values will become, for the stake of our survival as a species, worthless.

Of course, sometimes it is hard to have sympathy for large organisations, especially those that contribute so greatly to environmental degradation. But it is important to remember that the impact of these companies is not simply environmental. Many millions of ordinary and hard-working people are employed in fossil-fuel related industries, and part of our climate strategy must tackle the question of how do we safeguard these people? Speaking of climate strategy, obviously reducing the amount of carbon we put into the environment can’t just be solved by restricting supply of carbon-based energy; we must also tackle demand.

It is from these two perspectives that much of this piece will revolve. The question of jobs, both now and in the future, will be tackled, prior to and following a discussion of energy demand. As one might expect, such ideas are open to criticism, and criticism should be welcomed. As such, following these ideas, a discussion of present and future difficulties is offered. Finally, we return to the question of political will, illuminated to the economic circumstances of which the question resides, and a tentative answer is offered.

It is important also to recognise what this piece is not. This piece does not consider, for example, the environmental consequences of industries such as food production or rare-mineral extraction, both of which are closely linked to greenhouse gas pollution, environmental degradation and resource scarcity. The omission of these topics is not due to minimise their importance; rather, they simply fall outside the general remit of topics discussed in this piece. Furthermore, while many of those topics may fall into the catch all term of something like a Green New Deal, and while the focus of this piece will largely be focused labour and infrastructure, of which various GNDs concern themselves, this piece is not a critique or analysis of any GND, though ideas have been drawn from and adapted from, for example, Ann Pettifor’s work of a UK Green New Deal. If this piece must serve any relation to such legislative proposals, let this be as a broad and most certainly flawed introduction, rather than a reflection. Finally, it seems important to reference here, due to the lack of reference elsewhere within the text, climate refugees. Climate refugees do not fall in any distinct capacity into the broad categories of labour or infrastructure, and the issue is not discussed here as a result; yet, the consequences of climate change, above all else, will manifest in human form, and it would be questionable to emphasise the urgency of our climate response without any acknowledgement of the human cost of complacency. Similarly, and in what serves as the only major critique of present GNDs offered here, climate refugees should be at the heart of a foreign policy chapter within all future GNDs.

Jobs, part 1

Immediately, we should note, there are effective, radical, rapid and – given enough politicking – political solutions to the question of jobs lost due to the decarbonising of the economy. The old mantra of largely centrist/centre-left politics has been a promise to, say, coal-fire workers redundancy followed by retraining. In practice this is a solution, but it ignores so many real issues, hence why such strategies retain the veneer of condescension.

Many of these workers have been employed in these industries, perhaps doing the exact same job, for several decades. It’s just unrealistic to expect these workers will either a) want to retrain or b) have the necessary skills to learn and transition to a new industry. To some veterans of these industries, such an offer may even be humiliating, as society not only diminishes the value of their work in the present but also seems to blame them for the problems of today and tomorrow. Regardless of all these issues, these people must continue to work for a time, as will many of those employed for shorter periods in these industries. This highlights another problem, which is wage security. What good is retraining if while retraining one can’t earn any money, or available compensation is necessarily low, and the wages associated with alternative roles (potentially skilled work earning a higher level of pay, but, given the challenges outlined previously, likely non-skilled, low-paid work) is also precarious?

We have seen with the legacy of the mining towns what happens when industries are allowed to fade away and inadequate support is provided. If, as will be necessary, we need to end the use of coal in our energy network as fast as possible, we will need a radical solution. It is here a simple idea is offered: we guarantee to pay those employed in these industries their annual salary every year until they retire, regardless of whether retrain and get a job, simply get another job, or decide to give up work. The only requirement for such a package would be to accept redundancy at point of request. This would, essentially, be an industry-specific basic income, and it would have several advantages. Firstly, it would allow those who do not want to retrain to simply not have to, without the wage insecurity that would come with such a decision. Secondly, it would support those who would like to retrain to do so and would open retraining opportunities beyond those which the government could provide. For example, a worker to go back to school, or start their own business. Thirdly, it would ensure economic activity in the communities effected by the industry closures. Finally, it would be an economically sensible investment, achieving our aims rapidly in the short-term, while being a relatively small investment in the long-term.

Thinking of this proposal as an investment – which we should acknowledge is, given the urgency of this matter, a rather dubious, cynical and unhelpful exercise – we should be happy to pay individuals several thousands of pounds for the best part of 40 years if that safeguarded the survival of the planet for the next hundred or the next thousand. Compared to the upside, the cost of this scheme is exceptionally good value. Of course, it would need to be funded. A 2015 IMF report into government subsidies of fossil fuel companies found global subsidies totalled around $5.4trn. Even a small portion of these subsidies could be put into a wealth fund, managed to ensure its longevity, and paid out regularly to those covered by the basic income scheme.

New Energy

The economic problem of climate change cannot simply be tackled by ending the supply of fossil fuel energy. While it is so obvious it seems silly to state it, state it we must: our energy systems exist in their current form because they facilitate our present energy demands. Furthermore, the dynamics of energy demand, has two parts, namely how much energy we use, and how we use that energy.

On this latter point we should not linger, partly, and frankly, because this remains our biggest hurdle in tackling climate change, and so there is little that can be said beyond acknowledging this continuous challenge. Yet, it seems appropriate to say something. Solar power, for example, is excellent during the day, but during the night our energy needs must be met by energy stored in batteries, provided, say, we are reliant on solar energy sources. Our energy storage capacities are still insufficient to meet our round-the-clock energy needs quite in the way conventional energy sources do, but as the World Bank (2017) reports, we are getting ever closer to solving this problem.

A more interesting point of consideration is how much energy we use. The narrative of economic growth suggests that human energy consumption will increase ad infinitum as our capacity to consume individually, and the number of us consuming generally, increases. On the topic of population, there is always a risk of facilitating ever more disagreeable discussions, and so it is sufficient to acknowledge that as economies develop, their population expansion seems to decrease, and globally, the rate of population increase appears to be slowing. In terms of mouths to feed, both literally and as a metaphor for energy consumption, there appears to be a maximum number we need to provide for. Thus, then, we should concern ourselves with how much energy we can use. If we each continue to use an ever-increasing amount of energy, it matters little how many of us are alive to do so; energy consumption will still increase.

Or will it? An important observation offered in Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) is that consumption takes two forms, namely consumption over time and materialistic consumption. Consumption over time is a rather simple concept. A person who does not need to work because of their wealth can choose not to work, and thus can spend that time doing something else. For Veblen, this may have been hunting on an estate; in the modern era, this may be holidaying in a foreign country. Again, in the language of Veblen, all consumption that is not necessary to survival compromises of a greater or lesser element of conspicuous consumption; consumption used to demonstrate one’s position or class within society. We all consume conspicuously, but as Veblen noted, there is an absolute limit – and one that is quickly reached – on the amount of time-based conspicuous consumption any one person is capable of. We all experience the passage of time equally, and on average we all have access to a broadly similar amount of time, in which part is spent working, part necessarily consuming and part conspicuously consuming. Ergo, for some, the capacity to ‘spend,’ their time (interestingly, perhaps where the turn of phrase, “spend time,” is derived) is insufficient to demonstrate their wealth, power and thus status within society.

For these individuals, and for those for whom price mechanisms prevent time-based consumption, the alternative, material form of consumption, becomes the means of expression of one’s access to resource. But here, too, there is a limit. We see it circumstantially during financial crises, where concerns over financial stability cause many to become unnecessarily frugal. But we also see it in accumulation, and in turn indebtedness. For those tremendously wealthy individuals who, by virtue of their wealth, dominate corporate and political narratives, there is literally nothing which they could purchase to adequately demonstrate their wealth. Indeed, the frequent beguilement of many to the desperation of the few to make just a little more money demonstrates both ours and their inability to grasp the sheer level of wealth controlled by these people, and the relative insignificance of any subsequent gain (or loss).

We need not linger on wealth either; again, while an obvious statement, a person’s ability to consume is limited by their ability to afford to consume. This, more than above, is key when thinking about climate change, and humanity’s capacity to use energy. For many, the limit of what a human could theoretically consume, either in time or material, is less than they could afford to consume. Even then, wealth, while crucial, is not the only factor impacting consumption; there is also desire. We should, therefore, also appreciate the role of diminishing marginal utility. As such, there may be a natural, if economically determined, limit to the amount of energy any individual could utilise. Considerations of the wealthy only further contribute to this idea; if billionaires are to serve as natural experiments in the essential de-limiting of one’s capacity to consume, we can see such an experiment would fail. Rich people cannot consume all the wealth they accumulate.

Returning to our demand for energy, it may be the case that in the long-term as economic growth enables more avenues for consumption, the individual’s demand for energy will increase, but in the short-term we might assume a plateau. And, in a rare example of where the urgency of climate change is a good thing, we are only interested in the short-term. Furthermore, an assumption of long-term increase need not be the case if a revolution in the mindset of human consumption is successful. For example, the society demands from those who contribute to growth that said growth be carbon neutral or even carbon-reducing. In other words, if the in-vogue thing is to produce products that are environmentally friendly – which some companies have endeavoured for many years to do – we may see a shift in mindset to one that places production method and origin at the forefront of consumer decision making. Finally, as organisations such as Degrowth and other elements of the economic pluralist movement advocate, we might even abandon economic systems built on perpetual growth and replace (or incorporate) such standards with alternative, ecologically minded metrics.

Thus, then, the question of dealing with energy demand need not necessarily demand reduced energy consumption per se, and to do so would be dangerous, not only from the perspective of restricting people’s liberty, but because it would associate climate change action with economic stagnation or decline. The transition away from fossil fuels will be accelerated, not hindered, by a strategy that promotes it as a driver of economic prosperity, whether prosperity is classical economic growth, some more nuanced re-alignment of economic language, or simply the promise and prospect of higher wages and better employment opportunities. So let us set the question of curbing energy consumption to one side, assume that we simply need to reach a short-term energy demand, and think about how we can champion such economic prosperity as part of a green agenda.

Jobs, part 2

As Ann Pettifor (2018) reports, the consistently low investment in UK housing stock has left many properties woefully energy inefficient: “the UK ranked eleventh out of fifteen European countries in terms of housing energy performance” (Pettifor in McDonnell, 2018: 49). Similarly, in the US, figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA, 2013) for 2009 show that 47.7% of household energy use was from space heating and cooling. Better household insulation, the encouragement of the development of temperature regulation technologies and legislating for proper insulation to be fitted to new homes, or when homes are bought, would reduce household energy use massively, with savings being passed to occupants. In fact, the EIA reports that household energy use for heating and cooling is down 9.9% from 1993, in part due to better insulation and more efficient home technologies.

Again, this is something we can do, and something which national executives can do with greater efficiency and long-term benefits than individuals may be able to. Workers will be needed to retrofit buildings or build new properties where those deemed financially unsustainable are demolished. These jobs should form part of a work package that is offered to those made unemployed by the loss of jobs in this decarbonisation program. Importantly having guaranteed income for these workers, such jobs do not become stigmatised as degrading and charitable work, but as a genuinely, socially valuable role. But we need not rely solely on those left out-of-work. The nature of work is transforming across the Western world, and many people are stuck in low-paid, insecure service jobs. An ambitious infrastructure plan to retrofit homes and install green energy technology should also include well-paid apprenticeships and training opportunities which allow workers to remain important and skilful members of the workforce long after the initial infrastructure spur has been completed. This returns to the core of what must be our green economic message: no one can be left behind.

But the reform to the labour market cannot stop here. It is hard to imagine, given any technological or social upheaval, what the future of work will look like. However, we would be foolish to not recognise the rise of automation on the one hand, and the consequences of decarbonising our economy on the other, will lead to less or greater demand for existing roles and the demand for new jobs (the question of whether these new jobs will be numerous enough to continue to provide employment to many is beyond the scope of this piece. Equally, it would be an oversight not to acknowledge this concern, and if one is interested, elements of this piece already discussed such as basic income may become a necessary part of our labour force strategy. Similarly, there may be environmental benefits to facilitated unemployment, for example by enabling time-based consumption rather than material consumption to flourish. Additionally, embracing digital consumption practices, which go together with the automation revolution, seems like a potentially environmentally beneficial strategy).

These jobs, from an environmental perspective, may include ecological and conservation experts. The West runs the risk of the failures of past interventions if, via military and economic means, we attempt to co-opt smaller and emerging economies and those of the Global South to embrace environmentally friendly development strategies. Part of an acceptance of the global challenge of climate change must be an acceptance of ourselves as global citizens and our nations as one within a group, rather than dictator and sub-ordinate. Faced with the alarming prospect of climate change, it may appear justified to some to intervene in the development and economic decisions of countries such as Brazil to protect environmental entities (such as the Amazon rainforest) which are not under our control but crucial to our own survival. This will not be justified, however, and will serve only to accelerate us towards one possible future, to borrow a phrase from Peter Frase (2016), that of barbarism. Better it seems to advance solutions to this environmental agency problem which are of mutual benefit to both those with sovereignty over resources, and those with interests in the preservation of those resources.

An educational emphasis on environmental protection, and a technical emphasis on green technology and innovation, would position the West to be fantastically placed to offer, on fair terms, consultation and assistance to emerging and ecologically significant countries, enabling them to leap-frog, as they must, the age of carbon-based industrialisation into a comparable age of green industry. These ideas must surely form part of future international trade institutions, which by their very nature already have an invaluable place in any future green economic agenda, and must – if necessary – be supported via comprehensive foreign aid provisions.

Scepticism and concern

One might at this point, especially given what has just been said, hold a degree of scepticism about the view taken in this piece. Beginning with the most recent suggestion, for it seems the least divisive from a political perspective, one might wonder whether what has been said is not terribly vague and superfluous? To this, we should not deny this charge. It is important that much of the economic response to climate change must be grounded both in the scientific evidence of what is and will mostly likely happen and the technical knowledge of what can be done within the necessary timeframe to achieve our desired outcomes. In short, we should always place an emphasis on utilising tools available in the here and now, on what technology exists today, and on what data exists today, and not on the maybe of tomorrow. In highlighting but not lingering on the problem of battery storage, for example, or recognising it is only short-term consumption which must now be of any analytical concern, this piece has attempted to do so. Alas, then, the question of tomorrow’s jobs and the future’s international relations belongs more so in the realms of futurology than they do in the minds of today’s policy makers. The very nature of their answers existing in the future is the primary contributor to the vague and superfluous nature of the proposal, and this is unavoidable.

Yet, as a wider consideration which, had we adopted this mindsight several decades or several centuries prior (hindsight continues to prove itself wonderful), would have mitigated the environmental situation we find ourselves in, we should always endeavour to move forward not just with an eye to policy, but with an eye to policy implications. Man-made climate change is the most important issue of our time, but it is not the only issue, and while one might be reluctant to admit as much for fear of diminishing the issue at hand, it would be foolish to not recognise our environmental strategy will inevitably become entangled in, say, the problems of automation or the problems of rising inequality. An eye to the future, even if it is obscured by the distance we still have to travel, is better than no eye at all, and a procession towards an unknown destination.

We should also recognise that the state, as puppet master or financier, plays a crucial role in the ideas outlined here. There is a certain degree of inevitability in the role of the state, being that climate change is a global problem and states are our best example of accountable global actors. As part of a global dialogue, states must and indeed have been the voice of their respective citizens. The role of the state, at least diplomatically, however, does not diminish a question of the function of the state as part of a package to tackle climate change. The promise of basic income, for example, may be best attacked not because of its practical purpose within a wider decarbonising programme but because of the precedent it sets. On this particular issue, however, we should have little concern, and where concern is found, it should be in the branding (basic income) and not in the substance of the policy. For example, such a policy should be funded from subsidies world governments already give to the fossil fuel industries. In terms of the political economy, then, the role of the state changes little; instead of subsidising corporations that are soon to be defunct in a decarbonised world, the state subsidises workers, who will still be capable of making a contribution to society and who will still deserve as much access to our collective future as anyone else.

The defunct nature of fossil fuel corporations is, however, one of contention, and indeed, within this piece, much has been said for the protection of citizens and infrastructure, but not of the protection of corporations which, as stated previously, contribute a significant amount of value to national economies and the global economy. The question, really, is is it right for society to let these companies fail? And, as some will believe, if these companies are not destined to fail due to the power of the free market, is it not the case that the free market, rather than the state apparatus, is sufficient and perhaps preferable?

From a very pure capitalist perspective, one should not shed a tear for the failure of a company if it is unable to compete within an ever-changing marketplace. If, as will soon be the case, large fossil fuel companies find themselves with fossil fuel reserves which are now necessarily worthless, then that is the natural pull of the market, and any exposure is the fault of those within these companies who did not foresee this inevitability. If, on the other hand, they did foresee this inevitability, and these fossil fuel companies endeavoured to transition their business into one of Greentech and renewables research, that would be a market-based adaption, free from the hand of the state, which should be applauded. But not all innovation is fair innovation.

For example, fossil fuel reserves which cannot be extracted for the sake of the environment have a value in what devolves into a hostage like situation. It would be irresponsible, though certainly praised by some, to simply adjust the present subsidies such that fossil fuel companies are paid to not extract the assets they own. Such a strategy may prevent further environmental degradation, but this strategy would also protect the interests of shareholders and capital at the expense of workers, who would no longer be required, and as a result worker communities. Likewise, subsidising fossil fuel investment in Greentech has a certain rationale to it, but it also feels tremendously immoral, an approach that would be tantamount to a protection racket, like paying the arsonist to put out their own fire. This is besides recognising that any such innovation shift, subsidised or otherwise, would likely displace a great many workers presently employed by the fossil fuel companies, and the state would still need to intervene.

On this question in particular, opportunities for the free market do exist, but the result of any route leaves workers exposed. If such an innovation shift occurs naturally within the market, we should offer no objections, but we must focus our efforts on protecting workers, not capital, from the necessary disruptive forces of decarbonisation.

On the question of the free market generally, as with comments made previously, we should not ignore the unknowns of the future. The innovation of the free market, if one believes it more innovative than the state apparatus, may produce in the future some technology which revolutionises our economy, society and relation to energy. This may happen, and as the need for Greentech skyrockets, indeed such advances probably will happen. But, again remembering previous comments, the time horizons to prevent the worse effects of climate change have shortened to the point of requiring action in the short-term. We can remain optimistic about any innovative potential, and probably should, but we must emphasis strategies that can be implemented here and now. As such, it would be foolish to discount the free market as a potential actor in the decarbonisation revolution, but equally, there is too little time for us to rely on it either. Thinking of this another way, Friedrich von Hayek (1960) argued that the free market maximises the number of experiments society can perform in order to find solutions to problems, and as such always produces better solutions faster than, say, the state, which can only attempt one strategy at a time. There are be many rebuttals to this logic, but on the question of climate change, only one rebuttal seems necessary; it is no longer necessary to find the most efficient solution to preventing climate disaster, we simply need to find a solution that works. Only then should we worry about optimisation. This is part of the price we must pay for our prolonged deference on this matter.

This lack of optimisation will take many forms and will undoubtedly cause setbacks and the loss of reputational and political capital. One area where we should proceed with caution, for example, is that of inequality. In retrofitting millions of homes to better regulate temperature and with solar panels, we will inevitably encounter the politics of the housing market and accessibility to housing more generally. Resolving this issue is a creature und to itself, but nevertheless, a blinkered approach will not be helpful. Again, the temptation is to emphasise panic and the apocalypse for fear that legitimate emphasis on other concerns would distract from the very real issue of climate change. But part of the real issue must involve answering legitimate questions about housing availability, housing quality and gentrification. Yet, even resolving these problems, the process of retrofitting may still be plagued with the challenge of inequality.

Time is not on our side, and so it pragmatically makes sense to retrofit homes that are the easiest to retrofit first, alongside legislating for high standards of energy performance in all new build properties. Yet the properties that will be easiest to retrofit will be newer properties, and those where the owners have already invested in modernisation and efficiency improvements. This will likely capture more wealthy individuals than those poorer individuals, who frequently occupy lower-standard housing stock, or rent and thus do not have the authority to invest in their accommodation. On this latter point, then, legislation demanding landowners retrofit their accommodation may be a useful tool. But beyond this, the point still remains; the pragmatic approach may lead to investment in wealthy communities before poorer communities, with the benefits of this investment being felt first by those who will benefit less from them. Again, it should be emphasised that such a scenario is the product of our present circumstances, and may be mitigated with intelligent accompanying legislation, or may not even manifest. The advantage of raising such an example now is two-fold: firstly, to acknowledge that the present solutions to climate change are not perfect, but they remain necessary, and thus a lack of perfection while necessary to acknowledge is not a sufficient excuse for inaction; secondly, that we should be honest about the scale of disruption a decarbonisation programme will bring about, and that there will be spill-over effects into different areas of the economy and society we must also be ready to tackle.

These spill-over effects should not, however, be a rallying cry against the political advantage of framing the decarbonisation agenda as one of grand narrative and (inter)national mission, in favour of the technocratic incrementalism which we have had for several decades. As the economist Mark Blyth recently stated, “no one gets excited over a carbon tax.” Equally, as Srnicek and Williams (2015) argue, disaster is not the impetus for enthusiasm. An unspoken essential of the ideas discussed thus far has been one that does not threaten destruction and degradation: redundancy for fossil fuel workers must be transformed into opportunities which return agency to workers and does not infantilise them; infrastructure transformation must be promoted as a great, society-wide investment in our collective future; and international relationships must be approached as a truly global affair that will continue well beyond our present predicament, and will allow all nations to move forward together.

The Next Revolution

This strategy of building the future, rather than simply saving it, is a deeply political one. And it is the reason why we must reject any intransigence for political reasons, and be bold in proposing new economic solutions, even if – as is shown here – those solutions require development. Political intransigence is often excused in the face of seemingly unrealistic economic ideas. Yet there is merit in an economic approach burgeoning on fantasy; indeed, it is often those fantastical ideas that inspire the practical ideas of today and become the practical ideas of tomorrow. But the ideas proposed here are not fanciful, far from it in fact. At the core of any proposals given here is a recognition of the constraints placed on our actions due to climate change, and a rejection of blind faith in the solutions of tomorrow saving us. If the solutions exist today, we should move forward with them, and if better, more practical solutions to climate change emerge during the process of decarbonisation, that is a windfall we should embrace. But we must abandon the idea of paying for inaction today with tomorrow’s windfall; that policy is why we are in this situation to begin with.

Yet, the promotion of political intransigence as a hurdle which must be tackled before anything else has a modicum of truth. While it is true that grand economic change cannot occur without first having the political will to enact such a programme, it is also true that offering people hope, and selling policies which directly suggest to the electorate not simply a solution to disaster but an opportunity to thrive, is core to any politician aspiring for power. The submission to the failings of political will is a self-fulfilling prophecy; it is Mark Fisher’s (2009) There is No Alternative (TINA) argument manifest in its most unhelpful and destructive guise. Necessarily, economic vision must precede political action, facilitated by a whole suite of PR strategies to sell that economic vision, and thus enable an effective polity. If those economic policies naturally complement the PR message of hope and opportunity, then we are embracing an effective political policy.

It is worth considering, however, what the alternative political narratives are. As above, there are strategies to decarbonising the economy which should secure favour from right-wing politicians: tax subsidies for Greentech investment, government purchasing of fossil fuel reserves to ensure the asset base of exposed companies, and – in extreme circumstances – the mass closure of damaging (easily rephrased as loss-making following enough carbon taxation) fossil fuel sectors such as coal-fire power plants. As explained above, these policies, respectively, promote turning the arsonists into firefighters, turn fossil fuel reserves into a hostage situation only fixed via socialisation, and risk the devastation and abandonment of workers and their industry-dependent communities. Indeed, the West’s response to the financial crisis of 2008 serves as an excellent example of future potential strategies. And what must also be said, despite the clear criticisms of such policies outlined here, is that these policies are not beyond saleability, but such strategies would involve the demonization of climate refugees and fervent appeals to national security. None of these policies, nor the justifications of them, inspire hope and optimism, but as time runs out, and thus urgency increases, it may be these unequal and socially fragmenting policies which become our adopted solutions. Of course, these not be.

We need not reject these ideas simply on the basis of our dissatisfaction with the world such policies would ultimately create, but because they would be economically unhelpful to the vast majority of people. As above, income inequality, corporatism and access to basic amenities for the poor are important and vocal challenges facing our societies today. This is without the pressing challenge of climate change. Promoting policies that tackle two birds with a single stone – that marry investment with redistribution, that marry retraining with genuine opportunity, that encourage mutual global relations rather than technocratic, corpocratic and class-divisive relations – will deliver prosperity to societies that adopt these policies. And, it must be said, there is no tool better disposed to us for the propagation of an economic and environmental revolution than by demonstrating to both policy makers and peoples the success which might be achieved. Ultimately, this is why at the start of this piece the politics was separated from the economics. We could call on Bill Clinton’s famous political slogan, “it’s the economy, stupid;” though, as we might expect, Keynes put it more elegantly, “look after the unemployment, and the budget looks after itself.”

While both these statements were made in rather different circumstances to our present, the core message rings true: good economic policy will supersede political intransigence. It is for this reason we should, baring a fair appreciation of the challenges which face us, cast aside those who seek to do nothing because they believe nothing can be done, and accept that we can solve the challenge of climate change. Today. Now.


Durand, C (2018) ‘Fictitious Capital’ Verso Books: London

Energy Information Administration (2013) ‘Heating and Cooling No Longer Majority of US Home Use’ [Online] [Date Accessed: 24/02/2019]:

Fisher, M (2009) ‘Capitalist Realism’ Zero Books: London

Frase, P (2016) ‘Four Futures’ Verso Books: London

Hayek, F (1960) ‘The Constitution of Liberty’ Routledge Classics: London

International Monetary Fund (2015) ‘How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies’ [Online] [Date Accessed: 24/02/2019]:

Pettifor, A (2018) ‘To Secure a Future, Britain Needs a Green New Deal’ in McDonnell, J (2018) (eds.) ‘Economics for the Many’ Verso Books: London

Srnicek, N, Williams, A (2015) ‘Inventing the Future’ Verso Books: London

Veblen, T (1899) ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ Renaissance Classics: USA

World Bank (2017) ‘Energy storage can open doors to clean energy solutions in emerging markets’ [Online] [Date Accessed: 24/02/2019]:

Cryptocurrencies and Corpocracies

Cryptocurrencies are not libertarian. To be sure, aspects of cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain technology on which they are built, reso...