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Polluters adore net zero targets

from Yanis Varoufakis

It [capitalism] has always gained pace through the incessant commodification of everything, beginning with land, labour and technology before spreading to genetically modified organisms, and even a woman’s womb or an asteroid. As capitalism’s realm spread, price-less goods turned into pricey commodities. The owners of the machinery and the land necessary for the commodification of goods profited, while everyone else progressed from the wretchedness of the 19th century working class to the soothing fantasies of mindless petit-bourgeois consumerism.

Everything that was good was commodified – including much of our humanity. And the bad externalities that the same production process generated were simply released into the atmosphere. To power the capitalist juggernaut, carbon stored for millennia in trees and under the surface was plundered. For two centuries immense wealth – and corresponding human misery – was produced by exploitative processes that depleted “free” natural capital, carbon in particular. Workers around the world are now paying the cost to nature that the capitalist market never bore.

Free-marketeers would like us to believe that business has now yielded to science, and is ready and willing to step into the void of government inaction. We must not believe this for a moment. Yes, Carney is right that the money for the belated green transition is available, and it is ample. Those who possess it will undoubtedly invest it to supply, say, green hydrogen if we, society, pay them to do so. But at the same time, they will not voluntarily cease production processes that continue releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

This is why polluters adore net zero targets: because they are a brilliant cover for not restricting emissions. In exchange for non-verifiable offsets, they are allowed to continue plundering the planet’s remaining stored carbon, until the point arrives when their marginal private cost surpasses their revenue from the last unit sold. By cynically placing net zero at its centre, Cop26 became nothing more than an expensive cover-up for continued toxic emissions. Hiding behind Cop26, the great and the good lie to the young, lie to vulnerable people and even lie to themselves by repeating the truth that the “money is there” to be invested in the planet’s salvation. 


  1. November 11, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    “The failure of Cop26 reflects our failed democracies on both sides of the Atlantic…

    “To earn a shot at rising to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, we must first confront both the funders and the owners of the fossil fuel industries.”

    Read carefully the words of Yanis Varoufakis and see even a rock star style academic ends up exactly where the less eloquent do; the two words that illustrate-dead end thinking are democracy and must. Distilled into one phrase,

    “We must reform failed democracies and they oligarchs that own them.”

    This is pie in the sky mealy mouthed mush ladled out with flourish and well spoken entertainer’s crowd skills— pure poppycock seeking the limelight as the old timers used to say.

    Representative democracy is quite obviously not democracy itself and it is disingenuous for an educated economist to remove the adjective.

    Must do this or that is the kind of thoughts media fame teenagers come up with and is the exact direction of thought which has motivated me to ignore townspeople and concentrate on physical labor.

  2. November 11, 2021 at 2:17 pm

    I usually admire Yanis Varoufakis’ comments and most of this article is quite good. But it fails when he resorts to advocating for the same market approaches and mythology that he criticizes —namely capitalism.

    Carbon taxes for sub-national states/governments might indeed raise money for low income people but that is NOT true for sovereign currency-issuing nations like the USA, Canada, Australia, China, the UK and many others. It is the “pay for” fallacy of the Democrats in Washington. But then, disappointingly, I do not believe that Yanis accepts the lens of the economists advocating MMT.

    And carbon taxes are a failed tool to alter market behaviour significantly. He whinges about commodification of everything and then calls for taxing it. So-called sin taxes — we now would have to add Carbon taxes to that category — have never significantly altered the purchase of alcohol or cigarettes by those determined to indulge in those products. Earlier in the article he correctly called for regulations — shutting down coal and new oil rigs. Indeed regulations have altered smoking and in some places drinking behaviour along with law suits assigning liability to corporations.

    I believe that MMT sees the role of national taxes as extracting excess liquidity from the economy to prevent demand from setting off inflationary effects or to solve other problems such as incentivizing/disincentivizing sectors of the economy. More often than not those attempts feed into black market and other work-arounds.

    He is correct to describe COP 26 as a failure of capitalism. But he contradicted his thesis.

  3. Craig
    November 11, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    Cost and hence ultimate price, for enterprise other than finance, is the problem. So fix that domineering problem by integrating the new paradigm of Gifting into the current monopoly paradigm of Debt Only.

    If you reduce the price at retail with 50% reciprocal discounts and of indebtedness with discounts/debt jubilees at the point of loan signing for “big ticket” and green consumer items you end that monopoly domination and (with two brain cells) can then incentivise ecological sanity.

    Economists miss the problem and the possible solution when they do not focus on the now anti-life monetary and financial paradigm. Economists and economic pundits must wake up, end Finance’s rule with a world wide mass movement and direct industrial policy toward ecological survival.

  4. Ken Zimmerman
    November 23, 2021 at 9:27 am

    Varoufakis gets the problems and history right. The question he doesn’t address, in fact few have addressed is how do we remove money and the accumulation of money from their position as the unquestioned and unquestionable center of life for most current cultures? These are cultural norms over 300 years old. My suggestion is we use some of the now secondary but once primary norms that still influence our societies (love of our children, respect for our parents, politeness and courtesy in daily conversations, etc.) to gradually dethrone money and accumulation. For example, direct conversations between parents and their children on the details and dangers of climate change is beneficial. We might also use historical examples of people working together to solve environmental issues (e.g., acid rain, ozone hole, excessive mercury in ground water and oceans). And then there’s the standard solution, ‘shaming.’ It’s possible that cultural shock may provide some help. For example, stories about the many failures of our current culture in such areas as climate poverty, disease, and food shortages. If all else fails we can recourse to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety. In simple terms creating uncertainty that normal is no longer working and may never work again. Admittedly, a dangerous option as it can also create dystopian results.

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