Can Capitalism and Mankind Both Survive?
Scientists have for decades recognized climate change as an existential crisis facing mankind, but the US media, hamstrung by a self-inflicted obsession with presenting “both sides” of every story even when there is only one, have only begun recognizing its gravity. And a huge barrier still prevents climate change from being honestly reported.
That barrier is a mainstream journalistic inability to address the central role global capitalism plays in propelling climate change, and to expose the determined, collaborative and usually carefully hidden, role it plays in stymying the profound government actions needed to prevent or at least fend off catastrophe.
We see plenty of heartening news reports in the mass media about companies becoming “greener,” investing in “sustainable” production technologies like solar panels on rooftops or geothermal heating systems, for example. We learn that some tycoons like Bill Gates plan to pour billions of dollars into research on carbon-free energy alternatives. But wholly missing are stories about how economic growth and marketing-driven consumer demand guarantee increased carbon emissions and enhanced global warming that will swamp any such baby steps.
Consider Newsweek’s annual list of America’s Greenest Companies. It includes many financial corporations which produce nothing but paper, and whose greenhouse gas contribution is limited to their office buildings. Look closer, though, and it’s clear that sustainable or not, such companies don’t belong on any “green” list. Case in point: Topping the list’s financial companies are two insurance firms -- Metlife and Aflac Inc. -- followed by that arch-villian of the 2008 Fiscal Crisis, Goldman Sachs. All three financial giants, while perhaps running green offices, invest heavily in industries that contribute massively to climate change. Metlife, for example, is one of the country’s largest institutional investors, with almost half a trillion dollars invested worldwide. The company touts its goal of becoming carbon neutral in its global operations, but says nothing about running a carbon-neutral investment portfolio, and that’s because it does not run one. The same is true of Aflac.
Investment policies aren’t even considered by the compilers of the Newsweek list.
Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, was the 11th-largest global coal-fired power plant investor in 2011, according to a Banktrack report. This top-ranked Newsweek “green” bank isn’t alone; all the biggest US banks are big on coal. A few have started to back away in the past year, but that’s mainly because coal company stocks are falling, largely due to the temporarily increased availability of relatively cheap natural gas and oil, not because of any climate change concerns.