How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

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How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Thu May 09, 2019 2:02 am UTC

All we need to do is build a giant dome around the entire earth, dehumidify the air so there are no clouds, cover the outside with solar panels, and install a thermal regulation system for the air and oceans. Then we can have climate control for the entire planet. Best of all, if we simply privatize the entire thing then it will pay for itself by providing us with electricity!
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby solune » Thu May 09, 2019 9:28 am UTC

Now, the same thing but ON MARS!

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Link » Thu May 09, 2019 2:59 pm UTC

Alternatively, runaway capitalism can result in the death of all blue-collar workers, leaving the oligarchs and corporate fat-cats to fend for themselves, which will be unsustainable once their processed-good stockpiles start to run out. They too will then die off, thereby ending the human race and saving the environment.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby somitomi » Thu May 09, 2019 9:53 pm UTC

Link wrote:Alternatively, runaway capitalism can result in the death of all blue-collar workers, leaving the oligarchs and corporate fat-cats to fend for themselves, which will be unsustainable once their processed-good stockpiles start to run out. They too will then die off, thereby ending the human race and saving the environment.

Alternatively alternatively, runaway climate change can give rise to droughts, dust storms and unpredictable weather, drastically reducing crop yields in both developed and developing nations. The worldwide food shortage results in protests, civil wars and mass migration as governments struggle to keep either themselves or their citizens fed. Amidst the increasingly common disasters caused by extreme weather more and more people attempt to become self-reliant either individually or in small groups, abandoning their former jobs to cultivate land or turn to theft and looting. After industrial supply chains collapse from labour shortage, stockpiles of medications and sterile medical tools run out rapidly leading to epidemics kept in check only by the decline of motorised transportation. The disappearance of fertilisers and fuel for machinery delivers the final blow on the already struggling agriculture, the second famine wiping out all, but a few small, isolated groups spread far apart. They will die out slowly as the continuing increase in global average temperature disrupts most ecosystems and kills more than half of all land-dwelling species. What remains of the environment is now safe.

Man, this is depressing.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby freezeblade » Thu May 09, 2019 11:58 pm UTC

I'd read a book set in this universe. Also, if/when this happens, yall can find me running a back-to-the-land commune somewhere in rural coastal California.

somitomi wrote:
Link wrote:Alternatively, runaway capitalism can result in the death of all blue-collar workers, leaving the oligarchs and corporate fat-cats to fend for themselves, which will be unsustainable once their processed-good stockpiles start to run out. They too will then die off, thereby ending the human race and saving the environment.

Alternatively alternatively, runaway climate change can give rise to droughts, dust storms and unpredictable weather, drastically reducing crop yields in both developed and developing nations. The worldwide food shortage results in protests, civil wars and mass migration as governments struggle to keep either themselves or their citizens fed. Amidst the increasingly common disasters caused by extreme weather more and more people attempt to become self-reliant either individually or in small groups, abandoning their former jobs to cultivate land or turn to theft and looting. After industrial supply chains collapse from labour shortage, stockpiles of medications and sterile medical tools run out rapidly leading to epidemics kept in check only by the decline of motorised transportation. The disappearance of fertilisers and fuel for machinery delivers the final blow on the already struggling agriculture, the second famine wiping out all, but a few small, isolated groups spread far apart. They will die out slowly as the continuing increase in global average temperature disrupts most ecosystems and kills more than half of all land-dwelling species. What remains of the environment is now safe.

Man, this is depressing.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri May 10, 2019 12:22 am UTC

freezeblade wrote:I'd read a book set in this universe. Also, if/when this happens, yall can find me running a back-to-the-land commune somewhere in rural coastal California.

good luck, that's where everybody wants to live and why it's so ridiculously expensive to live there
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby solune » Fri May 10, 2019 3:57 pm UTC

My best hope for the future of the planet has long been a global thermonuclear war.

Pros:
  • No more humans, or at least not enough to pollute the planet very much
  • A global dust layer increases the earth albedo and helps bring down the temperature
  • Wildlife mutates faster, so that biodiversity can come back earlier
Cons:
  • None

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby freezeblade » Fri May 10, 2019 4:02 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
freezeblade wrote:I'd read a book set in this universe. Also, if/when this happens, yall can find me running a back-to-the-land commune somewhere in rural coastal California.

good luck, that's where everybody wants to live and why it's so ridiculously expensive to live there


I'm from there, and it's still mostly empty. Actually though, in that possible future the world will be hotter, so maybe holing up in the lost coast may be a better plan.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby somitomi » Fri May 24, 2019 3:05 pm UTC

freezeblade wrote:I'd read a book set in this universe. Also, if/when this happens, yall can find me running a back-to-the-land commune somewhere in rural coastal California.

I have an idea for a story based on this, but I don't think I can write very well.
solune wrote:My best hope for the future of the planet has long been a global thermonuclear war.

Pros:
  • No more humans, or at least not enough to pollute the planet very much
  • A global dust layer increases the earth albedo and helps bring down the temperature
  • Wildlife mutates faster, so that biodiversity can come back earlier
Cons:
  • None

Cons:
  • Most mutations will likely result in cancer or sterile/non-viable offspring
  • Radioactive fallout may kill a large portion of animals
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Meticulac » Tue May 28, 2019 1:13 am UTC

It seems plausible enough that some business might try using solar mirrors to regulate the Earth's temperature by reflecting light towards/away, while also beaming down power from orbit in the form of microwave beams. I can expect it could easily end up being over-relied on to the point of causing other sever environmental issues. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the mirror system was made highly precise for the sole purpose of blocking sunlight over specific residences and then charging money to allow for sunlight to fall on them. So relatively less mass extinction, but you have to pay for sunlight, which I think is still pretty dystopic.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby ucim » Tue May 28, 2019 2:33 am UTC

Meticulac wrote:...for the sole purpose of blocking sunlight over specific residences
Think about how that could be done. Think about how much that would cost... and for what? Which specific residences would be able to pay the cost of blocking (and would not have other means of retaliation), which is less than the cost of the ransom, for that to be worth while?

No, that's not gonna happen.

Other dystopic things sure, but not that.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Ranbot » Tue Jun 04, 2019 2:45 pm UTC

This could be a serious discussion, if it wasn't torpedoed with the first post. There are many ways free markets can and currently are helping the environment if you look in the right places. The problem is these things happen slowly, too slowly for the 24/7 news cycle to bother with, so most people aren't aware. It's far easier to sell news stories with flashy headlines about the planet dying than about positive changes now and in the future. Everything is not rosey, of course, but it's not all doom and gloom either. There's no need to be so pessimistic and dystopian about these things, but I understand why people are.

Positive changes that all or mainly driven or implemented by private industry/free markets can include:
- Improved on-site stormwater management (non-point pollution)
- LEED-certified buildings
- Solar and wind power installation
- Electrification of vehicles
- Smart home technology to improve home efficiency.
- Manufacturers reducing waste (waste has costs in raw materials to make it, costs in disposal to get rid of it, and unknown potential for liability)
- Private companies, banks, and insurance place environmental policies to avoid risk/liability
- Brownfields programs and Opportunity Zones that incentivize private companies to clean-up contamination of blighted industrial legacy properties for redevelopment.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Tue Jun 04, 2019 3:00 pm UTC

No, it's happening too slowly and on too small a scale to actually be able to reverse the accelerating decline of the global ecosystem. It's rarely profitable to actually solve the problem.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Ranbot » Tue Jun 04, 2019 4:59 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:No, it's happening too slowly and on too small a scale to actually be able to reverse the accelerating decline of the global ecosystem. It's rarely profitable to actually solve the problem.

I think you are wrong. You don't seem like you have any interest in changing your beliefs though.

For anyone that wants some hope that we are not doomed... the fact is sustainability done right saves money in the long run and businesses recognize that and will unleash the free market on it. Improving efficiency also reduces costs, something the free market is good at, but efficiency happens to also help the environment.

Wal-mart pushes green and sustainable practices down their entire supply chain, because it saves them money. Basically waste has a cost, removing the wastes saves money.

China has the most installed solar panels in the world and it's not because they give a shit about carbon footprints. They crunched the numbers and know it's the most economical [i.e. free-market] long-term solution. Lots of places across the US and Europe are doing the same calculations. That it happens to help the environment is just a side-benefit.

California produces more energy from solar at midday than it can use and the spot prices power companies pay at midday literally goes to zero (i.e. "free" power). However, there is little to no storage built into the grid, so when the sun goes down and demand is highest solar doesn't matter, but that is changing fast. Other states/countries are following suit. There is valuable commodity is essentially free if someone can store it for 4-12 hours and markets will exploit any cheap resource.

All those EU nations that pledged electrify all cars by 2035 to 2050? Those are very safe promises to make because if you follow what's happening with cars the free market is going there anyway. Remember, cheap solar power facilitated by grid storage (see above) has a compounding effect on economic push towards vehicle electrification. Your friendly neighborhood electric utility company with convenient lines built our homes and work is salivating at the opportunity to steal fueling all our cars from those oil and gas companies. Free market.

I will agree with the pessimists that a business will always value the green of dollar bill more than a green environment, but I know that are many examples where the free market satisfies both goals. Sometimes smart regulations are needed to nudge markets in the right direction, but the government is just a very high-level coordinator, the boots-on-the-ground making the changes are almost always the free market in one way or another. For the foreseeable future the free market will continue to be instrumental in tackling these problems.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Tue Jun 04, 2019 5:32 pm UTC

We have until 2035 before we hit a point of no return. Capitalism requires growing consumption, or the entire economy collapses. We cannot allocate resources to cutting costs, because literally our economy is a rent seeking economy and all wealthy people make their money off the costs, not the benefits.

Mass migrations are going to be necessary, no matter what, and capitalism has proven completely incapable of solving any problem that cannot be solved by selling a new product. I mean, fuck the entire goddamned west is literally supporting fascism in Brazil so they can monetize the rainforest, and overthrowing the government in Venezuela so they can privatize the oil. A handful of technologies are not going to be anywhere close to enough to solving the problem, as long as people can profit off of the consumption of natural resources.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Ranbot » Tue Jun 04, 2019 8:16 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:We have until 2035 before we hit a point of no return.

Meaningless until "point of no return" is defined. [definitions aren't needed to make a great headline though]

Thesh wrote:Capitalism requires growing consumption, or the entire economy collapses. We cannot allocate resources to cutting costs, because literally our economy is a rent seeking economy and all wealthy people make their money off the costs, not the benefits.

That says more about your worldview than capitalism or free markets.

Thesh wrote:Mass migrations are going to be necessary, no matter what,

The "no matter what" assertion makes me wonder again what the "point of no return" is you were referring to before. Maybe we are there already? Maybe not? I don't know. Nothing is clear, except your feelings.

Thesh wrote:...and capitalism has proven completely incapable of solving any problem that cannot be solved by selling a new product.

Except when the "product" is the solution. Alternative energy solutions are also products. Sustainable raw materials are a product. Recycling makes a product. A more efficient engine is a product. Cleaning up the environment is a product to the right consumer. (Full disclosure: I am an environmental consultant, so I make a living in a free market by cleaning up the environment.)

Thesh wrote:I mean, fuck the entire goddamned west is literally supporting fascism in Brazil so they can monetize the rainforest, and overthrowing the government in Venezuela so they can privatize the oil. A handful of technologies are not going to be anywhere close to enough to solving the problem, as long as people can profit off of the consumption of natural resources.

The real world is far more nuanced and complicated than your single sentence summaries of these topics. While it might sound good to you and probably others with your same view, these statements are more indicative of of world view (again) than reality.

Also, you are not proposing any solutions (not so far). This is a venting session for you and a few others above. I get it you are angry at the world and probably with some good reasons (I'm certainly not 100% pleased either), so you don't want to bother with nice reasoned discussion of complicated issues with a rando online. I don't really need this "discussion" either and I don't expect to change your mind, but know that I am someone who cares about climate change too. I do not deny what's happening and we need to act swiftly. At the end of the day I'm on your side I just have a different view of how the problem can be addressed. All I ask is that you don't let your opposition to free markets blind you to opportunities to apply this powerful tool to do the right thing in the world, because we're going to need to use every tool possible to deal with what's coming.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Tue Jun 04, 2019 8:21 pm UTC

Ranbot wrote:Also, you are not proposing any solutions (not so far).


You haven't proposed a solution, either, just stated that the markets will solve it with tech. You haven't provided projections showing how your tech is going to work. Actual solutions to our problems are easy - live within our limits - the problem is purely political, and the political problems exist because of capitalism.

Ranbot wrote:This is a venting session for you and a few others above.


No shit, so can you go rationalize committing mass murder for money somewhere else?
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Flumble » Tue Jun 04, 2019 9:22 pm UTC

May a "capitalist free market" involve subsidies, regulations, bans, tariffs and the like?


Ranbot wrote:China has the most installed solar panels in the world and it's not because they give a shit about carbon footprints. They crunched the numbers and know it's the most economical [i.e. free-market] long-term solution. Lots of places across the US and Europe are doing the same calculations. That it happens to help the environment is just a side-benefit.

If that's true, then why are there so many subsidies?

And most recycling needs subsidies (or "fresh" production needs regulations or tariffs) because it's cheaper to refine materials from a pit mine or a forest than to get it out of waste. (When it's cheaper to recycle/reuse materials in your production process, you'd be an idiot to throw it away and buy new stuff.) Like, here in the Netherlands it'd be much cheaper to burn our plastic packaging at the waste treatment (yay, free energy) and produce new bags from (even imported!) oil than to separate our plastics and recycle them (which, by the way, takes a lot of time and energy, which is still >90% coal power; hopefully there's a report out there comparing the processes), but waste separation is encouraged and subsidized, so we do it anyway.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Ranbot » Tue Jun 04, 2019 9:47 pm UTC

Flumble wrote:May a "capitalist free market" involve subsidies, regulations, bans, tariffs and the like?

Yes. That is the way the real world operates. I'm not into armchair discussions of theory when work needs to be done in the real world.

Is China or other countries subsidizing solar or are they investing in solar? Realistically, the difference between those words is not great.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jun 05, 2019 5:45 am UTC

Ranbot wrote:Meaningless until "point of no return" is defined. [definitions aren't needed to make a great headline though]
Here's the study. It defines "Point of No Return" thusly:
Here we calculate by what year, at the latest, one has to take action to keep global warming below the 2 K target (relative to pre-industrial levels) at the year 2100 with a 67 % probability; we call this the point of no return (PNR).
On the off-chance you don't grasp why PNR is important (or what its relevance is), here's an introduction (from wikipedia) to the idea of "tipping points" in climate change:
Self-reinforcing feedbacks in the carbon cycle and planetary reflectivity could trigger a cascading set of tipping points that lead the world into a hothouse climate state.
I can summarize. Just keep in mind, I'm a layman:

Right now, humans are the largest contributors to climate change (through the emission of greenhouse gases). If we stop emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, climate change will cease. But if we wait a few decades? Whether or not we stop emitting greenhouse gases won't necessarily matter, because climate change can continue via self-sustaining feedback loops.

For example: there is a lot of methane gas (a potent greenhouse gas) currently frozen in the arctic. If we keep emitting greenhouse gases, that frost will melt -- releasing more greenhouse gases (which will raise temperatures, which will melt more frost, which will release more greenhouse gases, which will raise temperatures, which will melt more frost, which will...).

We currently have the ability to prevent a radical increase in global temperatures. But if we keep going in the direction we're going? We won't. There will come a point when a radical increase in global temperatures will cease to be a possibility and become an inevitability.

A capitalistic approach won't work here. Capitalism is good at addressing problems that drastically impact profitability -- but by the time global warming drastically impacts profitability, it'll be too late to stop any of this.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby somitomi » Wed Jun 05, 2019 8:20 am UTC

Flumble wrote:And most recycling needs subsidies (or "fresh" production needs regulations or tariffs) because it's cheaper to refine materials from a pit mine or a forest than to get it out of waste. (When it's cheaper to recycle/reuse materials in your production process, you'd be an idiot to throw it away and buy new stuff.) Like, here in the Netherlands it'd be much cheaper to burn our plastic packaging at the waste treatment (yay, free energy) and produce new bags from (even imported!) oil than to separate our plastics and recycle them (which, by the way, takes a lot of time and energy, which is still >90% coal power; hopefully there's a report out there comparing the processes), but waste separation is encouraged and subsidized, so we do it anyway.

Even recycling easily reusable materials is kind of a hassle when the waste shows up at the consumer rather than in some industrial facility. Aluminium cans end up in communal waste all the time, because the people throwing it away don't directly see the benefit of reusing aluminium (which is a lot cheaper to reuse than to produce from alumina) or don't give a toss about it. Some places actually pay people for scrap aluminium, so you can sometimes see homeless people collecting cans out of bins in the street, which kind of gets us back to subsidies. Glass has that problem too and on top of that, containers made from glass are heavy, so overall the benefits of recycling glass might be outweighed by the reduced net weight/gross weight ratio making transportation less efficient. You could even reuse glass without melting it down, but the logistics of collecting different types of containers used by various companies are kind of a nightmare and empty jars/bottles fill space rather inefficiently on top of being heavy. Somewhere you run into the problem of trying to relate the impact of emitting greenhouse gases versus dumping waste in order to determine the net enviromental benefit of recycling. Good luck with that.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Wed Jun 05, 2019 2:58 pm UTC

The grocery store needs it's own bottling room so that the customers just have to transport the glass back and forth.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Ranbot » Wed Jun 05, 2019 5:13 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Ranbot wrote:Meaningless until "point of no return" is defined. [definitions aren't needed to make a great headline though]
Here's the study. It defines "Point of No Return" thusly:
Here we calculate by what year, at the latest, one has to take action to keep global warming below the 2 K target (relative to pre-industrial levels) at the year 2100 with a 67 % probability; we call this the point of no return (PNR).
On the off-chance you don't grasp why PNR is important... I can summarize....

No need to summarize and I've read articles about that 2018 study, methane, melting glaciers, storms etc. Let's be clear, I am not a climate change denier. I do trust the scientists. I fully support any actions we take now to avoid or at least reduce the impact of climate change.

The fundamental problem with any long-term prediction no matter what field you are in is you cannot predict what technologies will be available with any surety. It's incredibly hard to predict where science and tech will be more than 20 years into the future, and even 10 years is hard, but that study is making predictions to 2100. If anyone says they can accurately predict what technology we will have in 2030, 2040, 2050, ect. that person is overestimating their abilities or outright lying. The science is good and sound based on what we know today, but it can't predict the unknown. We don't know what we don't know. That's a terribly boring news story, though, so you rarely hear that stated.

A milkman in 1900 would be shocked that by 1925 their horses would be replaced a truck, and by the 1950's grocery stores would make the milkman job disappear entirely. Did anyone in 1900 accurately predict 2000?

In 1961 who would predict that in 20 years IBM would release the first PC (1981)? That people would be sending emails on Blackberry phones by 2001? Or that smartphones would become be everywhere by 2011?

Still this doesn't mean you don't act on what you do know. As I said above I fully support any actions we take now to avoid or reduce the impact of climate change. I'm just not into the sky is falling attitude because I am more positive about the unknowns of the future.

The Great Hippo wrote:A capitalistic approach won't work here. Capitalism is good at addressing problems that drastically impact profitability -- but by the time global warming drastically impacts profitability, it'll be too late to stop any of this.

I agree that climate problem certainly won't be solved by laissez-faire or libertarian sort of capitalism, but that's not the world we live in. People are being a little narrow in their view of capitalist free market, which I hinted at in my response to Flumble above. There's a tendency to argue over definitions from an armchair [or create strawman], but the actual reality is capitalist "free" markets respond to all pressures applied including, but not limited to, consumer demand, surpluses, shortages, banks, war, natural disasters, and last but not least government regulations and/or spending. I challenge anyone to find any time in history where some ruling class, religious leader, conqueror, government, etc. wasn't applying some sort of pressure to a "free" market. It's an utter waste of time to think of a capitalist free market as independent to regulations or even in opposition to them, the market is just there and it reacts. The government can and does create or expand markets for private capital to "freely" compete within when they need to. We've been doing that for a long time in many other fields (space programs, health care, Cash for Clunkers, EPA Superfund clean-ups, aviation, etc.). We can put the free market to work on climate change too if we pull the right levers.
Last edited by Ranbot on Wed Jun 05, 2019 6:35 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Wed Jun 05, 2019 5:22 pm UTC

If you can't predict the future, then you go with caution not "well, things could work out, we don't know everything."
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jun 05, 2019 8:03 pm UTC

Ranbot wrote:No need to summarize and I've read articles about that 2018 study, methane, melting glaciers, storms etc. Let's be clear, I am not a climate change denier. I do trust the scientists. I fully support any actions we take now to avoid or at least reduce the impact of climate change.
Then why did you say that PNR is meaningless until it's defined? Anyone familiar with the 2018 study would be aware that PNR is well-defined.
Ranbot wrote:The fundamental problem with any long-term prediction no matter what field you are in is you cannot predict what technologies will be available with any surety. It's incredibly hard to predict where science and tech will be more than 20 years into the future, and even 10 years is hard, but that study is making predictions to 2100. If anyone says they can accurately predict what technology we will have in 2030, 2040, 2050, ect. that person is overestimating their abilities or outright lying. The science is good and sound based on what we know today, but it can't predict the unknown. We don't know what we don't know. That's a terribly boring news story, though, so you rarely hear that stated.

A milkman in 1900 would be shocked that by 1925 their horses would be replaced a truck, and by the 1950's grocery stores would make the milkman job disappear entirely. Did anyone in 1900 accurately predict 2000?

In 1961 who would predict that in 20 years IBM would release the first PC (1981)? That people would be sending emails on Blackberry phones by 2001? Or that smartphones would become be everywhere by 2011?
I get that you're "pro-doing-something", but even talking about the possibility of some last-minute piece of technology that saves our butts is inappropriate and irresponsible. Too many people already think that climate change will go down like Independence Day -- we're on the verge of doom up until Jeff Goldblum magically invents a super-virus that destabilizes all the greenhouse gases long enough for Randy Quaid and the President to blow them up with fighter jets. Will Smith punches carbon dioxide in the face, says "Welcome to URRF" -- roll credits.

But life isn't a movie; scientists aren't going to save us. This is a problem we can only solve by rolling up our sleeves, making some big sacrifices, and doing a lot of hard, ugly work. Don't talk about how technology is unpredictable, or how we might invent our way out of this problem. That sort of talk is what enables the lazy "Science-Will-Fix-It" attitude that got us here in the first place. It's an abdication of responsibility.

The sky is falling. This is a looming catastrophe. We are talking about an ecological disaster on an unfathomable scale. If global warming doesn't keep you up at night, then that just means you don't understand global warming.
Ranbot wrote:I agree that climate problem certainly won't be solved by laissez-faire or libertarian sort of capitalism, but that's not the world we live in. People are being a little narrow in their view of capitalist free market, which I hinted at in my response to Flumble above. There's a tendency to argue over definitions from an armchair [or create strawman], but the actual reality is capitalist "free" markets respond to all pressures applied including, but not limited to, consumer demand, surpluses, shortages, banks, war, natural disasters, and last but not least government regulations and/or spending. I challenge anyone to find any time in history where some ruling class, religious leader, conqueror, government, etc. wasn't applying some sort of pressure to a "free" market. It's an utter waste of time to think of a capitalist free market as independent to regulations or even in opposition to them, the market is just there and it reacts. The government can and does create or expand markets for private capital to "freely" compete within when they need to. We've been doing that for a long time in many other fields (space programs, health care, Cash for Clunkers, EPA Superfund clean-ups, aviation, etc.). We can put the free market to work on climate change too if we pull the right levers.
This is woefully, catastrophically naive. Capitalism treats regulatory pressure the same way the internet treats attempts to censor it: As an obstacle to overcome.

Capitalism, like evolution, is a greedy optimization algorithm. It takes the path of least resistance. Regulations are obeyed only so long as defying them costs more than abiding by them. But capitalism also works to develop methods to circumvent those regulations -- and even take control of the very apparatus by which those regulations are written and enforced (this is what lobbying is). Capitalism pursues profit; its only concern is that bottom line. And no king, no queen, no government -- absolutely no one -- can actually control where that bottom line falls.

To presume capitalism can be our ally in this fight is to presume that hungry sharks will protect us from piranhas. Yes -- maybe if we regulate those sharks very closely, every minute of every day, they might eat those piranhas instead of us. But the instant we let our guard down? They're going to fucking devour us.

Global warming is not an episode of Shark Tank. Capitalism got us into this mess; it's not getting us out of it.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jun 05, 2019 9:30 pm UTC

Being back in the midst of a days-long anxiety attack (not provoked by this thread), this thread is reminding me of thoughts I've been having lately on optimism and pessimism. Being pessimistic is more useful for making sure that things actually get better or at least not worse in the future, but being optimistic is more useful for finding the strength to carry on in the face of dangers we may or may not (ourselves) have the power to do anything about. As relates to climate change, I find myself pessimistic for the reasons that Thesh et al lay out here, and I exercise whatever tiny power I have over the political process toward mitigating the threats that that pessimism is about. But, having so very little power to actually affect any change myself (and that change itself being something to feel pessimistic about, if my and future generations end up having to accept a quality of life lower than my parents or grandparents if they want to have any life at all), I find myself turning to the kind of technological progress than Ranbot is on about for a tiny glimmer of hope that maybe we're not all either doomed (to an uninhabitable planet) or just semi-doomed (to a preindustrial standard of living). I need to have that glimmer of hope if I'm going to sleep at night (which I literally haven't been lately), and I need to sleep at night if I'm going to be functional enough to do anything useful or productive in the day.

FWIW I get the impression that that is also Ranbot's general stance: we should definitely do whatever we can to mitigate climate change with current methods, but also, we can probably reasonably hope that the advance of technology will give us new tools with which to more effectively save ourselves in the future.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Wed Jun 05, 2019 9:53 pm UTC

I'm pessimistic about the future, and think capitalism has completely failed at allocating resources for the sake of human well-being. Even if technology can solve the problem, it will not happen quickly enough without a limit on the consumption of natural resources and a regreening of the Earth, and technology is still the only solution capitalism offers for things like starvation when we already produce enough food to feed the world half over.

What I am optimistic about is that I don't think people will accept capitalism for much longer, and I think we can fix the distribution problems while restoring the ecosystem. We need to put our optimism into activitist movements like Extinction Rebellion as well as building parallel power structures that allow us to work around the capitalist system so that we can build self-sufficient communities.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jun 05, 2019 10:36 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:FWIW I get the impression that that is also Ranbot's general stance: we should definitely do whatever we can to mitigate climate change with current methods, but also, we can probably reasonably hope that the advance of technology will give us new tools with which to more effectively save ourselves in the future.
I hadn't considered this. If the point of hoping for a science-based solution is not to abdicate responsibility, but rather, to find the strength to persevere in the face of a seemingly insurmountable problem, then yeah -- I can see it. Sometimes, it helps to imagine there might be pillows at the bottom of that waterfall you're careening toward to work up enough energy to start paddling upstream.

I do feel like this needs to be balanced with the more "cynical" understanding that we can't expect science to bail us out of this one, though. It's really easy to look at a problem like this, throw your hands up, and say "It's too big to solve -- our only hope is that Science-Man will swoop in to save the day". It's really easy to use "SCIENCE WILL SAVE US!" as an excuse to just stop fighting and let the current take us over the edge.

But it's not too big to solve. People will keep saying "It's too big to solve" until it actually becomes too big to solve -- then, they'll smugly proclaim their self-fulfilling prophecy came true. Fuck that, and fuck them. We can fix this. We just need to strap on our big-boy pants and stop acting like the strip-mining supervillain from an episode of Captain Planet.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Ranbot » Wed Jun 05, 2019 10:54 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:I get that you're "pro-doing-something", but even talking about the possibility of some last-minute piece of technology that saves our butts is inappropriate and irresponsible. Too many people already think that climate change will go down like Independence Day -- we're on the verge of doom up until Jeff Goldblum magically invents a super-virus that destabilizes all the greenhouse gases long enough for Randy Quaid and the President to blow them up with fighter jets. Will Smith punches carbon dioxide in the face, says "Welcome to URRF" -- roll credits.
.
.
...Global warming is not an episode of Shark Tank.

You're making me into a straw man and it's insulting. I didn't do it to you. If you want to talk about dumb fucking movies and shows as if they are relevant to anything then go here: viewforum.php?f=22 (<-that's an insult, I can stop when you do)
EDIT: Retracted... see post below.


The Great Hippo wrote:...scientists aren't going to save us. This is a problem we can only solve by rolling up our sleeves, making some big sacrifices, and doing a lot of hard, ugly work.

It's not that it will save us, it's that it's that new science and tech will invariably play a role in the solutions, but we don't know what that is yet. Keep in mind that science and technology has saved us from a lot in the past... disease, starvation, improved crops, sanitation, pasteurization, safer work places, etc. We need to roll up sleeves and make sacrifices too, but don't remove science from the equation either.

The Great Hippo wrote:Don't talk about how technology is unpredictable, or how we might invent our way out of this problem. That sort of talk is what enables the lazy "Science-Will-Fix-It" attitude that got us here in the first place. It's an abdication of responsibility.

Disagree. It's acknowledging a reality we don't know and understand completely, but reality regardless. If people read that as abdicating responsibility they aren't reading it correctly or cherry-picking.

The Great Hippo wrote:The sky is falling. This is a looming catastrophe. We are talking about an ecological disaster on an unfathomable scale. If global warming doesn't keep you up at night, then that just means you don't understand global warming.

We'll have to agree to disagree.

The Great Hippo wrote:Capitalism, like evolution, is a greedy optimization algorithm. It takes the path of least resistance. Regulations are obeyed only so long as defying them costs more than abiding by them. But capitalism also works to develop methods to circumvent those regulations -- and even take control of the very apparatus by which those regulations are written and enforced (this is what lobbying is). Capitalism pursues profit; its only concern is that bottom line. And no king, no queen, no government -- absolutely no one -- can actually control where that bottom line falls.

Disagree. I see contrary evidence all around me. I'm an environmental consultant and I see first-hand how laws and legal judgements have ripple effects through business, government, and society in general that have made our environment cleaner. One of the most stark examples is prior to environmental regulations being enforced in the mid-80's the Cayahoga River in Ohio was one of the most polluted waterways in the world. The river literally caught on fire at least 13 times that are documented. Nothing could live in the water. Today there are fish in the River you can catch and eat. The Hudson River in NY has a similar story. The return of California Condors and Peregrine Falcons and the US ban on DDT is another story. It is absolutely possible to create a market that does the right thing, because the proof is all around us. This can and I'm sure will be part of the solution to climate change too.

The Great Hippo wrote:Capitalism got us into this mess...

You sure of that? Because communism and dictatorships have awful environmental track records and contributed plenty the climate problem too.

What if we got into this mess because of people?

The Great Hippo wrote:...it's not getting us out of it.

Capitalist systems have proven themselves to be the most efficient means to move resources around to do all the great and terrible things people want to do. Like it or not we'll need that to fight climate change.

Pfhorrest wrote:this thread is reminding me of thoughts I've been having lately on optimism and pessimism. Being pessimistic is more useful for making sure that things actually get better or at least not worse in the future, but being optimistic is more useful for finding the strength to carry on in the face of dangers we may or may not (ourselves) have the power to do anything about.

Yes. We do need both types working on this problem. There's an really interesting podcast that talks directly to this in far more detail. http://freakonomics.com/podcast/two-tot ... net_radio/

I think the pessimistic view gets a lot more attention than the optimism. It makes flashier headlines, understandably. Maybe that's for the best to avoid the abdication effect as Hippo said, but too much pessimism can create apathy and hopelessness that can be just as bad, and deadly to all of us.

Pfhorrest wrote:FWIW I get the impression that that is also Ranbot's general stance: we should definitely do whatever we can to mitigate climate change with current methods, but also, we can probably reasonably hope that the advance of technology will give us new tools with which to more effectively save ourselves in the future.

Yes.

The arguments about capitalist free markets are probably a philosophical distraction that we could all fight about until the earth burns up (dark humor, sorry), but it's hard to avoid when it's in the subject line of the discussion.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Ranbot » Wed Jun 05, 2019 11:02 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:FWIW I get the impression that that is also Ranbot's general stance: we should definitely do whatever we can to mitigate climate change with current methods, but also, we can probably reasonably hope that the advance of technology will give us new tools with which to more effectively save ourselves in the future.
I hadn't considered this. If the point of hoping for a science-based solution is not to abdicate responsibility, but rather, to find the strength to persevere in the face of a seemingly insurmountable problem, then yeah -- I can see it. Sometimes, it helps to imagine there might be pillows at the bottom of that waterfall you're careening toward to work up enough energy to start paddling upstream.

I do feel like this needs to be balanced with the more "cynical" understanding that we can't expect science to bail us out of this one, though. It's really easy to look at a problem like this, throw your hands up, and say "It's too big to solve -- our only hope is that Science-Man will swoop in to save the day". It's really easy to use "SCIENCE WILL SAVE US!" as an excuse to just stop fighting and let the current take us over the edge.

But it's not too big to solve. People will keep saying "It's too big to solve" until it actually becomes too big to solve -- then, they'll smugly proclaim their self-fulfilling prophecy came true. Fuck that, and fuck them. We can fix this. We just need to strap on our big-boy pants and stop acting like the strip-mining supervillain from an episode of Captain Planet.

Ranbot wrote:
The Great Hippo wrote:I get that you're "pro-doing-something", but even talking about the possibility of some last-minute piece of technology that saves our butts is inappropriate and irresponsible. Too many people already think that climate change will go down like Independence Day -- we're on the verge of doom up until Jeff Goldblum magically invents a super-virus that destabilizes all the greenhouse gases long enough for Randy Quaid and the President to blow them up with fighter jets. Will Smith punches carbon dioxide in the face, says "Welcome to URRF" -- roll credits.
.
.
...Global warming is not an episode of Shark Tank.

You're making me into a straw man and it's insulting. I didn't do it to you. If you want to talk about dumb fucking movies and shows as if they are relevant to anything then go here: viewforum.php?f=22 (<-that's an insult, I can stop when you do)

Hippo, I missed your last message before I posted this. I take it back the insult. You do have an understanding where I am coming from.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jun 05, 2019 11:59 pm UTC

Ranbot wrote:You're making me into a straw man and it's insulting. I didn't do it to you. If you want to talk about dumb fucking movies and shows as if they are relevant to anything then go here: viewforum.php?f=22 (<-that's an insult, I can stop when you do)
EDIT: Retracted... see post below.
I understand you retracted this, but I want to point out that my comments weren't intended to say that you think of this like Independence Day. I took you at your word when you said that you're for doing something. Rather, I wanted to point out that other people will take this rhetoric as an excuse to justify not doing anything at all ("Don't Worry; Science Will Save Us!").
Ranbot wrote:
The Great Hippo wrote:The sky is falling. This is a looming catastrophe. We are talking about an ecological disaster on an unfathomable scale. If global warming doesn't keep you up at night, then that just means you don't understand global warming.

We'll have to agree to disagree.
We're already seeing destructive, aberrant weather patterns -- more, bigger forest fires -- islands sinking under-water -- and an increase in extinction events. This is already costing lives. Every piece of evidence we have indicates that this cost is only going to accelerate over the next hundred years.

Rising waters. Malaria. Drastic, sudden ecological shifts. Old ecosystems collapsing; new ones emerging. Biomes ceasing to support certain types of crops. Flooded nuclear power plants. Flooded refineries. Flooded chemical plants. Flooded toxic waste dumps. And this is all just trivial shit that a layman like me can come up with.

We are half-way through the largest global terraforming project in human history, and people are still arguing over whether or not it's even happening. Even if you don't think global warming represents an existential crisis for the state of humanity, it's not really up for debate that, unmitigated, it will have a death-toll -- and that death-toll will be measured in millions, if not billions, of lives.
Ranbot wrote:Disagree. I see contrary evidence all around me. I'm an environmental consultant and I see first-hand how laws and legal judgements have ripple effects through business, government, and society in general that have made our environment cleaner. One of the most stark examples is prior to environmental regulations being enforced in the mid-80's the Cayahoga River in Ohio was one of the most polluted waterways in the world. The river literally caught on fire at least 13 times that are documented. Nothing could live in the water. Today there are fish in the River you can catch and eat. The Hudson River in NY has a similar story. The return of California Condors and Peregrine Falcons and the US ban on DDT is another story. It is absolutely possible to create a market that does the right thing, because the proof is all around us. This can and I'm sure will be part of the solution to climate change too.
I work in the oil industry, and I see -- first-hand -- every single fucking day -- how we lie, deceive, and ultimately work around people like you.

Environmental cleanups don't happen because of capitalism; they happen despite capitalism. They happen because governments force companies to change their behavior. But every day, the people running those companies are working to develop new ways to either circumvent oversight or get rid of it entirely.

Back when I was a teenager, I worked in a retail chain that sold groceries in poor neighborhoods. We got pegged for selling expired eggs to our customers. You know what management told us to do?

File off the expiration dates.
Ranbot wrote:What if we got into this mess because of people?
"Guns don't kill people, people kill people"?

Yeah, communist dictatorships with lax environmental protections had something to do with this -- but the Soviet Union fell a long time ago, dude. It's 2019; Russia and China are kleptocratic capitalist utopias, now. And over here in America, we still have to deal with ultra-rich old white guys sinking billions into lobbying campaigns and political funding to stop any discussion about climate change from evolving past "Is It Even Real?!".

Why do you think popular PragerU videos continue to insist that climate change isn't happening/isn't important/can't be stopped? Why do you think one of America's two political parties is overwhelmingly "skeptical" about climate change? Why do you think America withdrew from the Paris Agreement? Why is America doing almost nothing to deal with the looming threat of global warming -- and why has it taken this long for us to even start accepting it as a reality?

Could it be... because... it would mean losing money?!

(Yes that's precisely why)
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Thu Jun 06, 2019 12:00 am UTC

Ranbot wrote:You sure of that? Because communism and dictatorships have awful environmental track records and contributed plenty the climate problem too.

What if we got into this mess because of people?


You should probably realize you are talking to anarchists and libertarian socialists. The Soviet Union and China are examples of state capitalism, and have all the same problems as decentralized capitalism: growing wealth and power as the primary objective of civilization.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby The Great Hippo » Thu Jun 06, 2019 12:17 am UTC

Thesh wrote:You should probably realize you are talking to anarchists and libertarian socialists. The Soviet Union and China are examples of state capitalism, and have all the same problems as decentralized capitalism: growing wealth and power as the primary objective of civilization.
There's actually a really great mini-series on HBO called Chernobyl that I recommend for this specific reason. It works as a pretty good analogy for the issues surrounding climate change.

Also, Ranbot, I feel like I should point out that capitalism doesn't actually drive technological innovation -- people don't usually invent stuff because they want money. They do it because they're passionate about something; getting paid is just a neat side-perk.

The only type of innovation capitalism really drives is innovation in how to capitalize things; how to turn something (like technology or labor) into profit. More broadly, capitalism innovates on how to get the maximum amount of profit for the minimum amount of effort.

Think of capitalism like a kind of "greedy' (see: short-range) machine-learning that pursues maximum profit for minimum effort, with no regard for consequences beyond how they impact profit margins -- and suddenly, our situation makes a lot more sense. You can try to "regulate" this algorithm by making behaviors that increase climate change more "costly", but ultimately, the algorithm's only concern is profit -- not the environment. The moment it finds a way to cheat, it will do so. In fact -- in a bizarre way, regulations incentivize cheating.

ETA: Let me also point out that despite being very anti-capitalist, I recognize that we've gotta work with what we've got. We're not going to throw capitalism out the door any time soon, and global warming is coming... so we have to deal with it using what we have. So, sure; carbon taxes, whatever. Just remember: Capitalism is not on our side, here.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Flumble » Thu Jun 06, 2019 12:43 am UTC

Ranbot wrote:Is China or other countries subsidizing solar or are they investing in solar? Realistically, the difference between those words is not great.

The difference between those two is the difference between (government) regulation and the ideal of a free market. (Investment expects more money back in the future, not political independence/goodwill (which is probably the main reason for the subsidies) or a better living standard for the people.)

The free market shows that burning oil and coal is cheaper, whereas the subsdizing/regulated market says solar farms are cheaper. (Because they are subsidized!) ...unless I'm mistaken and somehow oil/coal business gets more subsidies than solar/wind business and that's the reason the big energy companies haven't switched to it.
So it's not the free market that helps environmental progress, it's the regulations that force companies to ban activities, to include their externalities and subsidize more environmentally friendly alternatives. And regardless of the type of market, companies will try to optimize for profit, including reducing your costs. And there it's a matter of what's cheaper: easier production or less waste? (Shall I pay for my leftover lead paint at the waste treatment, or add water until the regulations say it's dilute enough to dump in the river, or put it in an unmarked dumpster and hope no one notices, or buy the more expensive lead-free paint?)
[See also Hippo's paragraph about working in the oil industry. Oof, there's been pages of text since I started this message.]



Is this a good place to discuss what we plebs can do to combat climate change?

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Thesh » Thu Jun 06, 2019 2:25 am UTC

Sure. What are you looking for? In terms of individual actions, lifestyle choices are mostly obvious, but monkeywrenching is also an effective way to increase the cost of doing business. In terms of community organizing, urban gardening and permaculture projects can help bring food sufficiency, do whatever you can to reduce waste, and figure out whatever local renewable energy sources you can utilize.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby arbiteroftruth » Thu Jun 06, 2019 5:04 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Also, Ranbot, I feel like I should point out that capitalism doesn't actually drive technological innovation -- people don't usually invent stuff because they want money. They do it because they're passionate about something; getting paid is just a neat side-perk.


I'm an electrical engineer in an R&D position. My job is literally to invent things for profit. And we have competitors who are also inventing things for profit, and the competition is about inventing solutions to problems better, or faster, or more cost-efficiently than the other companies. Coming up with an innovative solution that will be hard for competitors to duplicate, or even better, *illegal* for them to duplicate without compensating us (thanks to the government's influence on the free market by way of patent law), is very valuable.

So, yes, capitalism does drive technological innovation. My peers and I have made entire careers out of that fact.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby The Great Hippo » Thu Jun 06, 2019 9:42 pm UTC

arbiteroftruth wrote:I'm an electrical engineer in an R&D position. My job is literally to invent things for profit. And we have competitors who are also inventing things for profit, and the competition is about inventing solutions to problems better, or faster, or more cost-efficiently than the other companies. Coming up with an innovative solution that will be hard for competitors to duplicate, or even better, *illegal* for them to duplicate without compensating us (thanks to the government's influence on the free market by way of patent law), is very valuable.
New and exciting innovations in the realm of "Stopping My Competitors From Profiting Off My Labor" is technically technological innovation, but ultimately, it's really just another example of innovating new ways to capitalize something. Again, capitalism's only interest in technology is in capitalizing it -- it doesn't build "better" toasters. It builds toasters that make one toaster manufacturer more money. A toaster that no one else can duplicate isn't a "better" toaster; its value is only in that it makes you more money. Heck, if capitalism could get away with toasters that mug their customers, that's precisely the type of toaster capitalism would build.

(As you even point out, your job isn't to build better things; it's to build things that make more money. This is why we have markets flooded with such crummy, disposable, environmentally destructive technology; this is why planned obsolescence is a thing. Capitalism is only concerned with quality when quality turns a profit -- and it's much more cost-effective to manufacture the "appearance" of quality than quality itself.)

Patent law as it exists today can also be described as another "innovation" of capitalism: It lets you more effectively capitalize your product.
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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby ucim » Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:05 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:If capitalism could get away with toasters that mug their users, that's precisely the type of toaster capitalism would build.
Why are you bringing Facebook into the issue?

Seriously, how do you define whether a toaster is "better"? There are a lot of things that make something "better", and sometimes "worse but still good enough and cheaper" qualifies.

Really, the issue with capitalism here is its penchant for unloading externalities. This is why regulations are needed. Unrestrained {fill-in}ism isn't a good answer to any problems. Whichever -ism you are working with, it's the appropriate management of that -ism that is important.

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Jun 07, 2019 10:29 am UTC

Seriously, how do you define whether a toaster is "better"?
Lots of ways! But there's only one way capitalism defines "better" -- and that's whether or not it makes you more money. arbiteroftruth's post is particularly illuminating: One way they're defining "better" here is as "harder to duplicate". In other words, we've "improved" the toaster by making it harder for anyone else to build one. This is only an improvement if you define "better" to include forcing everyone to buy their toasters from us.

That's one of the many tricks capitalism plays on us: It convinces us to confuse "innovative" with "profitable".

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Re: How capitalist free markets can be used to save the environment

Postby Zamfir » Fri Jun 07, 2019 1:33 pm UTC

Hippo, I think you are overstating your case here. "Making money for a company" is not the same thing as "making the world a better place", but there is some overlap between the areas. And quite some genuinely valuable innovation came and comes out of that overlap.

That doesn't mean it is a perfect mechanism. Some corporate "innovation" is profitable but not actually an improvement to the world. Other profitable innovation is so profitable, that one can question if the rest of the world is getting much out of it. Many kinds of innovation are struggling or absent, because they are not easily turned into profits. All of that is true.

But at the same time, there is also a goldilocks area where the profits and the wider benefits do line up - and that goldilocks area is super important. In fact, I don't think that we have a true alternative for it. There's a saying in Dutch, do not throw away the child with the dirty bath water. There are parts of capitalism that do work as advertised, even if those are usually surrounded by all the flaws.

In particular, when you say this:
Also, Ranbot, I feel like I should point out that capitalism doesn't actually drive technological innovation -- people don't usually invent stuff because they want money. They do it because they're passionate about something; getting paid is just a neat side-perk.

I think you you are mostly wrong. Some people innovate out of passion, but even those passionate people mostly want a comfortable paycheck as well. Plus a lot of innovation isn't overly passionate at all, not more than other work. And a lot of innovation is not really invention either. A main part of innovation is adoption, scaling (and deciding what is and what is not worth adopting). That is arguably the core strength of capitalism, one that other institutions can't match.

Take universities as comparison - these are a prime example of non-capitalist institutions in our world, and they are pretty good at invention (among other things). Arguably, they are overall better at invention than capitalist firms, or passionate amateurs, or government labs, etc. But they do have a notorious adoption problem. They generate lots of seemingly useful ideas, but they have trouble deciding which ones to push (and when to stop), how to organize the resources for large scale rollouts, how to connect to the wider world. Their organizational structure, the whole mindset they encourage, all of it starts to work against them at some point. It's not uncommon to find academic researchers begging the outer world to make use of their findings.


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