Would there have been climate change under socialism?


The idea that, without capitalism, the planet might not face such a severe climate crisis is well established, appearing in works like Naomi Klein’s bestseller It changes everything (2014) and growing ranks of “eco-socialist” activists.

But in this essay, science writer (and committed socialist) Leigh Phillips argues that an all-socialist 20th century would have resulted in global warming at least as bad, if not worse. It describes a counterfactual story in which capitalism is everywhere defeated in 1930, colonialism willfully undone – and industrialization unfolds for everyone, not for the few. “Housing for all, electricity for all, fast and comfortable transportation for all, and yes, even delicious plastic consumer tchotchkes for all,” he wrote. “There would absolutely be a popular Xbox under socialism.”

In this clearly argued and imaginative essay, Phillips admits that, yes, there would have been differences under socialism – and some benefits, once the harms of carbon emissions were realized. But we need to start seeing the climate crisis as the unintended consequence of largely beneficial (albeit uneven) economic development – ​​and a very difficult problem to solve in a single system. What is needed, he says, is not a move towards degrowth, anti-consumerism and other forms of eco-austerity – but a greater role for economic planning.

Written by Leigh Phillips and read by Hugh Smiley.

This article was originally published on newstatesman.com on August 10, 2022. You can read the text version here.

You might also like to listen to The Lonely Decade: How the 1990s Shaped Us by Gavin Jacobson.

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