As economic decision-makers in a capitalist society, individuals are incentivized to act in their own self-interest as opposed to that of society. This can lead to collective action problems such as climate change. This is where we began our most recent Climate Talk.
Faced with our current situation, people generally propose one of two solutions: either we change the way society thinks and acts within the current system, or abolish the system altogether. Professor Harrison proposed that neither of these are viable solutions to combating climate change. First, people are selfish; we cannot change the habits of enough people quickly enough to make the needed difference. Second, capitalism has won; even if we have the power to change it, we don’t have the time.
However, this doesn't mean that we are out of solutions. Fortunately the capitalist system itself incorporates useful mechanisms to fight climate change, if we can implement them properly. Professor Harrison proposes:
- Constraining markets; accepting capitalism doesn’t mean that it has to run amuck. Decision making needs to be independent and transparent.
- Allowing markets to help solve problems. Pragmatic, market based solutions are essential and may even be at the core of the capitalist ethos (for example the carbon tax or a cap and trade system).
- Always be mindful of social justice. Solutions to climate change tend to impose higher relative costs to those who cannot afford it.
Implementing these solutions will be a difficult battle. It is difficult to elect officials who will make responsible decisions in the name of climate action and it is even more difficult to call on individuals to act in common interest. Ultimately, since we are stuck with markets, we may as well make the best of them.