Capitalism, Socialism, and the Environment

Capitalism, Socialism, and the Environment

Capitalism, Socialism, and the Environment

Capitalism, Socialism, and the Environment

Excerpt

People can't change the way they use resources without changing their relations with one another. For example there are dozens of ways to economize energy: some would stop the rich wasting it, others would freeze the poor to death. Forests or beaches or country landscapes can be conserved to be enjoyed by many, by few or by nobody. Rich and poor can be made to contribute very fairly or very unfairly to the costs of reducing pollution. Old city streets and neighborhoods can be conserved for the people who live in them, or they can be conserved by methods which drive those people out, bring richer people in and make speculative fortunes for a few richer still. How to conserve is usually a harder question than whether, or what, to conserve.

So however urgent it may be to wake people up to physical and ecological dangers, environmental reformers also need political philosophies. They need them for quite practical purposes. Besides being less or more effective in technical ways environmental reform will usually also have to be Right, Left or otherwise contentious in a social way. Until the citizens know exactly which way they may not vote for much of it. Rhetoric about universal benefits for everybody fools scarcely anybody these days.

At the same time there are reasons for expecting intensified conflicts about inequalities. Distributive justice is the heart of the new problems of inflation. Those, and rising environmental costs, are making distributive justice once again a central concern of the Left. It should certainly concern environmental reformers. Tactically their programs will succeed or fail by the gains and losses they offer not so much to 'humanity' as to powerful parties and classes of it. Historically, particular inequalities have had crucial effects on the form and timing of agrarian and industrial revolutions. Environmentalists want another economic revolution. What roles are inequalities expected to play in it?

It is rarely helpful to isolate environmental problems or to argue (as many environmentalists do) that they are so urgent that they should replace the traditional concerns of government. In fact they tangle . . .

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