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Articles by Gernot Wagner

Gernot Wagner is the author of But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World. He serves as an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund and teaches at Columbia. He doesn't eat meat, doesn't drive, and knows full well the futility of his personal choices.

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Naomi Klein’s interview in Grist this week is smart, insightful, and half right. Her assessment of the obstacles to solving climate change — from ideology to misplaced faith in green consumerism — are exactly right.  And she’s right that fixing this problem means changing how the world does business.

But Klein is wrong in her more serious assertion, first articulated in her “Capitalism vs. the Climate” article in The Nation, that we can save the planet only if we abandon capitalism:

Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency.

The deeper problem is not that our markets are too free; it’s that they are woefully rigged in favor of pollution. Which is also the main reason the Earth finds itself in peril. (I’m pretty sure Klein would agree with that point.)

Think of it this way: As the system is set up now, my 1-year-old son has less right to grow up breathing clean air than to get his driver’s license and join the polluting masses 15 years hence. The reason is simply that markets are constructed so that few have to pay for the pollution they produce.

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