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To Stop Climate Collapse, We Must End Capitalism

In November 2020 we restaged our sold-out debate on the same motion from January of the same year online.

The original debate on the same motion, from January 2020, can be found here.

Last January, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, Intelligence Squared staged a sold-out debate on whether we need a truly radical new economic system to deal with the looming climate catastrophe. While Covid-19 has dominated the headlines for most of the ensuing months, averting ecological disaster remains the single most important issue we face. We are therefore restaging the debate online to give all of you who were unable to attend the in-person event a chance to hear the arguments, ask questions live and cast your vote.

Capitalism is driving us to disaster and our economic system is responsible, argue the anti-capitalists. The defining characteristic of capitalism is perpetual economic growth. And while capitalism has brought us wonderful benefits, including improved health, wealth and opportunities to travel the world, ever-increasing production and consumption – inherent in capitalism – are an existential threat to life on our planet. The more we produce and consume, the more energy we need – and renewables can’t keep pace. The only significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions in modern history took place this year when the global economy ground to a halt because of lockdown. But even so, CO2 concentrations are still expected to rise in 2020 overall. If we are to avert the collapse in human civilisation which some scientists are predicting could happen by 2050, we need to take drastic action now and end capitalism before it’s too late.

That’s the argument of the radical eco-warriors. But while it’s undeniable that capitalism has contributed to our current climate crisis, its defenders argue that it has also proven to be history’s most effective way of solving our problems. There is almost no challenge capitalism hasn’t met, they argue. It has helped defeat disease and has lifted billions out of poverty – and there’s no reason why the dynamism of the marketplace can’t be harnessed to bring our carbon emissions down to zero. For example, until recently solar panels were impossibly expensive; now they are cheap and helping us transition away from fossil fuels. Our system of competitive, open markets gives strong incentives for the world’s brightest minds to find creative solutions to climate change. So don’t listen to the doomsayers who want to rip up our economic system. Capitalism is not the problem; it’s the solution.

Who’s right and who’s wrong?


For the motion

Ann Pettifor


Economist best known for her prediction of the financial crisis in her book The Coming First World Debt Crisis, which was published in 2006.  In 2008 she co-authored The Green New Deal and in 2017 she published The Production of Money on the nature of money, debt and the finance sector. She is the author of The Case for The Green New Deal which was published in 2019. She is a Council member of the Progressive Economy Forum and director of PRIME economics – a network of Keynesian macroeconomists. 

Farhana Yamin

International environmental lawyer and leading activist in the Extinction Rebellion protests

Leading activist in the Extinction Rebellion protests. She is also an international environmental lawyer and expert on climate change policy, and has worked on several international treaties over the past three decades, including the Paris climate agreement. In April, she was arrested after gluing herself to Shell’s headquarters. She is one of the co-authors of This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook.
Against the motion

Jesse Norman

Politician and author

Jesse Norman is Conservative MP for Hereford. He is the author of numerous books, most recently a biography of Edmund Burke, and has written for The Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Spectator. His book Compassionate Conservatism has been called the “intellectual guidebook to Cameronism” by the Sunday Times, while the follow-up Compassionate Economics was described as “the most intelligent political tract of 2009, and the best analysis of the credit crunch”. He has been described in the Sunday Telegraph as “As talented as any Tory backbencher is ever likely to be.”

Adair Turner

Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission

Chair of Energy Transitions Commission, he was formerly Chair of the UK Financial Services Authority, first Chair of the UK Climate Change Committee, and Director-General of the CBI. He played a leading role in the redesign of global banking regulation following the 2008 financial crisis. The author of Between Debt and the Devil: Money, Credit, and Fixing Global Finance, Lord Turner has been described by The Economist as “as a man for all policy crises”.

Edward Lucas

Columnist at The Times and National Security Expert

Columnist for The Times and consultant specialising in European and transatlantic security. Formerly a senior editor at The Economist, he is now a senior vice-president at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He has written several books including The New Cold War, a prescient account of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Deception, an investigative account of East-West espionage, and Cyberphobia, about the phenomenon of cybercrime. He is an advocate for Magnitsky Law sanctions against Chinese officials.


Speakers are subject to change.