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?
Speakers are subject to change.