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Zero Sum Game Logic in the NY Times

Monday, October 31, 2016 6:33
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The NY Times has published a thought provoking piece on the impacts of climate change.  I will teach this piece by Godoy and Jaffee in my spring Environmental Economics class at USC


“Meanwhile, the most recent International Panel on Climate Change report notes that the poor and marginalized face greater food scarcity and price insecurity, and the threat of violent conflict connected to this instability.

In other words, the first victims are not suffering from the relentless assault of the physical environment alone, but of other humans who leverage their social position to displace wider costs and extract private benefits.

Humans are already divided into different groups or classes, with relative advantages and vulnerabilities. Climate change exacerbates this inequality, and our rhetoric ought to reflect this fact and resist false universalizations. Beyond the inherent injustice of disproportionate and unnecessary suffering, growing environmental inequality tends to the violences of displacement, resource-competition and actual war.

One thing we all share is that we secure existence in and through a relationship with our environment — all living things do. In recognition of this fact, Marx thought of the human body as part of the natural world and called nature an extension of our bodies. Following Marx, contemporary theorists like Jason Moore and John Bellamy Foster describe our changing, and dangerously unstable metabolic relationship with nature. Humans are a unique species in that we form complex relationships to regulate this metabolism as we produce our food, water, shelter and more robust needs.

As these relationships are organized today, and as the climate changes, the affluent can afford an increase in food prices, ship in bottled water during droughts and relocate businesses and homes when the seas rise, while those without access to such privileges have fewer options and disproportionately suffer.


So, note that the authors adopt a zero sum game logic.  There is no discussion of economics here that the real imperative here is:

1. To increase the earnings power of the poor so that they can protect themselves (see the last paragraph that I cite above). Think of the air conditioner. Back in 1950 this was a rare product. Now almost everyone in the US has access to it.

2.  Accelerating technological innovation (which will require more free markets!)

These authors embrace another “Mad Max” (Mel Gibson) world view.    To their credit, they point to serious issues but their “solutions” are not “solutions”.  The key here  is renewed economic growth.


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