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Monday, April 25, 2005

Green capitalism

Faynights links to this article and this synopsis from the economist about using economic forces to promote environmenalism. If, as I believe and certainly most environmentalists also claim, environmental health has intrinsic value, than correctly valuating it, and correctly assigning costs, will create a powerful incentive to protect the environment, as well as develop the best solutions for environmentally friendly industry. One of the problems in getting there though is environmentalists themselves. It a large degree, environmentalism has become a modern religion with it's dogma and deeply held, even when irrational, beliefs. Of course a major tenet of this sort of environmentalism is that corporations (and some times even humanity itself) are evil and possess no redeming values. This has led them to become totally adversarial with corporations, which have of course reciprocated the relationship:

“Mandate, regulate, litigate.” That has been the green mantra. And it explains the world's top-down, command-and-control approach to environmental policymaking. Slowly, this is changing. Yesterday's failed hopes, today's heavy costs and tomorrow's demanding ambitions have been driving public policy quietly towards market-based approaches. If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”, the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.
This is a pretty serious issue; until more environmentalists change their focus from trying to destroy corporations to actually trying to preserve the environment we won't make as progress as we could. I also believe, although I haven't ran the numbers, that in many things, especially energy efficiency, a lot of the costs are for items is already factored in, propotionally if not absolutely. For example, hybrid cars, which even with the increased cost of oil don't make economic sense to buy. Purchasers will never realize in fuel savings the additional cost of the vehicle versus a comparable non-hybrid vehicle. Since the foundation of our economy is energy, I expect that the 'environmental savings' of a hybrid vehicle also does not equal out over it's lifetime. Hybrid cars cost more for a reason. They have extra parts and require additional steps in assembly. All of this translates pretty directly into having a higher energy cost to build and that correlates rather closely with needing more fossil fuel inputs and hence more pollution. I also expect that an environmentalism focused on efficiency and savings in an economically viable way would have tremendous effects. There are a few factory complexes in Europe where the 'waste' of one factory is the needed raw material for the next, and so on. This translates into a very economically and environmentally friendly production system. If the adversarial relationship between environmentalists and corporations could be altered, tremendous potential could be unleashed.


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