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Bolivian President Morales’ Stance on Capitalism too Simplistic

3p Contributor | Wednesday December 15th, 2010 | 10 Comments

Bolivian President Morales at COP16

Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., CEO CO2 IMPACT

“O muere el capitalismo, o muere la Madre Tierra,” Evo Morales proclaimed at the recent UN COP16 in Cancun, Mexico.  The position that either “capitalism dies, or mother earth dies,” is certainly shared by many around the globe.

And with good reason.  It is hard to argue that capitalism and consumerism are not largely to blame for our current climate predicament.  Burning fossil fuels for our frequent travels around the world, to feed our gas guzzling SUVs, to run our factories, and to transport our pesticide and fertilizer-laden foods longer and longer distances have been driving climate change around the globe.

Industry has been overwhelmingly responsible for the growing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere which is contributing to climate change and the vast array of human and planetary impacts climate change has only begun to drive.  So President Morales has a real leg to stand on when suggesting that capitalism is the cause of all this suffering.  He is definitely not alone in this opinion as evidenced by the 35,000 people who attended the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia held in April of this year.

I was one of those 35,000 people, however I do not share their views that capitalism is the root of all evil and must be eliminated to protect the planet.  Generally speaking, most radical extreme right or extreme left views contain some kernels of wisdom but are typically fraught with flawed logic or are lacking in a sense of realism.

This is definitely the case with the Bolivia leader’s stance on climate change and capitalism.  While capitalists got us into this mess, it will, in my humble opinion, largely be capitalists, supported by visionary public and NGO entities, that will get us out of it.

I also had the good fortune to be part of the COP16 in Cancun last week.  I was struck by the emerging business voice who is starting to get impatient with the lack of progress at the multi-lateral level regarding a globally binding treaty to replace or advance the Kyoto Protocol.

Triple Pundit recently published an article by the CEO of the Carbon War Room, Jigar Shah, who was reporting on the War Room’s successful launch of their Gigaton Awards.

The Gigaton Awards were part of the first ever World Climate Summit held as a side event to COP16.  I was again lucky enough to be able to attend the World Climate Summit. Here were some of Capitalism’s biggest stalwarts such as Ted Turner and Richard Branson (the visionary behind the Carbon War Room by the way) leading the charge for a new form of conscience capitalism that takes into account the climate.  But rather than argue the moral reasons for addressing the climate, even if it comes at a loss to corporate profits, the pervasive message at the World Climate Summit as well as other side events such as Greener Solutions, is that companies can mitigate climate change while making as much if not more than they did before.

This “Climate Capitalism” argument has been largely lacking in the business, political and media dialog yet I believe it is the key to solving the climate crisis.  In a recent article published in the Financial Times leading up to COP16, Philip Stephens articulately points out that the conversation needs to switch from a moral imperative to a low-carbon=more profit argument.

The Gigaton Awards and companies like Walmart who expect to save as much as $300m/year from energy efficiency efforts as well as driving low carbon solutions throughout their supply chain, show that low carbon can mean more profits.  If we can get more capitalists on board by showing them the path to more prosperity, we can solve this crisis.  This of course directly contradicts President Morales’ dogged denouncement of capitalism.   His steadfast refusal to consider the role of business led to him being the only leader or government in the world to refuse to sign the Cancun Accords.  Rather than be part of the solution, President Morales is getting in the way of real progress.

Climate Capitalism to the rescue!


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  • http://www.thesocialcartographer.org Maxamed

    There are bad aspects of capitalism and good aspects of capitalism just like there are good aspects of communism and bad aspects of communism. The fundamental thing is not to be a slave to either ideology. Not that you can’t prescribe to one, for example I consider my self a socialist but I think that capitalism (regulated capitalism) has its place.

    I think you put too much faith in business to solve problems especially when the problems are externalities due to their business activity. Of course there are a few business people that will do the right thing (you mention some) because its the right thing. But most will only do them if it will save them money. Its not that I think that business people are bad people, its just the nature of business and capitalism. The whole point is not to provide great service at the lowest cost to society (including externalities such as climate change) but for the companies to maximize their profits, however way they can do it.

    While I agree that business have a role in solving this crisis just like they had a role in creating it (consumers in my mind had a larger role), its unwise and naive to think that business will solve the problem. I don’t think that on things of ecological imperative, that business get a vote, the governments represent the people not business.

    As long as monetary growth and material wealth is more important (in economic and social terms) than social welfare, ecological and spiritual health, then the Earth will always lose out. And what is capitalism without monetary growth and material wealth?

    In all respect, the Earth comes first, the economy is a distant second…or third.

  • http://www.triplepundit.com/author/sldi/ Terry Mock

    Sustainable Land Development Goes Carbon Negative – http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/sldt/0809/#/18

    “Ocean Mountain Ranch is also serving as a pilot program and is expected to achieve carbon negative status through the utilization of low impact development practices, energy efficient buildings, renewable/clean energy systems, distributed waste management systems, biochar production, and other practices…”

    You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring… – http://www.sldi.org/newService/SLDIJune2009.html

    Deepening Perspectives on Sustainable Land Development – http://www.sldi.org/newService/SLDIJan2010.html

  • Aymeric

    Like the first one of these comments, I would say that the author is quite narrow-minded to consider that global warming is the only issue and that money can save the world.
    First, I haven’t really seen the problems with the climate so far (even if I do believe in this IPCC theory), but I see huge problems such as ecosystems being destroyed all over the world, I see people starving to death because their soil has been too badly managed, I see scientists playing with genes whereas they don’t know and they don’t want to know the problems they are going to bring about, I see loads of things of this kind, and that scares me much more than global warming.

    About money, I’m not sure about the power of companies to get in the “green move”, because the only reason for them to do it is to make more money, save more money or sell more things, and the final result is to increase again and again our GDP, which means increase our impact on the ecosystems.

    A recent study by a british government institution (Prosperity without growth) showed that perpetual growth, even with magnificent progress in science, huge efforts by everyone to decrease their consumption (but stil spending more an more, of course…) is ecomically and physically impossible. Of course, you can stand still and say : “Tomorrow will be the day of the great discoveries that will enable us to live like today, without all the impact associated” , but you will just waste more time and miss the point.

    To conclude, I would say that Capitalism is not a simple concept anymore, because everyone can put his own definition to it. For me, capitalism is the power of money on people, and will never feed the whole world, because capitalism itself feeds on inequalities in the world.
    Let’s turn the page of money and speed together, before it’s too late.

  • Avery

    Capitalism isn’t something you “believe in” or “oppose”. It’s a force of nature that simply exists. So it’s not good or evil at all.

    For those who don’t like it. I have to ask, do you have a better idea? As an economic system, communism has caused far far more suffering and environmental damage than capitalism.

    End of debate on that.

    Now, let’s see if we can’t use the inevitable power of capitalism to be less destructive. To focus on services more than consumption, to redefine what we mean as “growth” etc.. etc… that’s the way to get somewhere!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Leon-Kaye/726541285 Leon Kaye

      Amen, December

      Visit regions of the world that suffered under communism for 40 years and you’ve got Exhibit A.

      Market solutions can address the problems we face. Just because it’s a business or market solution doesn’t mean it’s wrong…

  • http://carbonclear.blogspot.com Jamal Gore

    I recall a conversation with an environmental activist a few years ago. She argued that we needed to focus on government and international treaties, because that was the only way to *make* people reduce emissions.

    But when governments lose their resolve, it’s up to us in the private sector to put on our boots and take action ourselves. That’s why we launched Carbon Clear five years ago. More and more people are coming to the same realization.

  • Aymeric

    Hei guys, don’t you think there is anything between capitalism and communism? You’re really american when you show your fear of communism, the kind of american people who say that Obama is a communist. Funny and pathetic people!
    Let’s let the power to money; one day that will be the only thing we’ll have to eat, and we’ll realize it is not edible…

    • Avery

      I think we’re all well aware of something “between” .. No one here is suggesting that pure capitalism is the only way. However, Evo Morales and people like Hugo Chavez are most definitely not the way either.

      I agree with you that people who think Obama is a communist are idoits..but you’re not going to find any of those types here.

  • http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com Nick Palmer

    If the accountants and economists who work out the success or failure of businesses, corporations and countries included the environmental externalities in their various “bottom lines”, which are currently discounted then free market capitalism would fix the environment very quickly – within 15 years. Including the social cost of economic activity too would fix global social problems too. No compulsion, no big government, no legislation – just simple market forces.

    “Capitalism” has got us into a mess simply because the way profit has been worked out previously, didn’t take enough into account.

  • SBG

    I think capitalism has been undeservingly taking the wrap for the societal problems caused by individualism, consumerism and economic fundamentalism.

    When people forgo these idealogies and think ‘sustainably’, that is they think and act for the greater good of humanity now and in the and future, the positive power of capitalism is harnessed.

    Capitalism fails when people think and act for short term self interest.