Neoliberalism and Climate Change

By Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College and author of numerous books, including The Overworked American (1991), The Overspent American (1997), and True Wealth (2011). From the text of a speech presented at the 45th anniversary celebration for Dollars & Sense, which maintains Triple Crisis blog, on November 14 at the Nonprofit Center in Boston, Mass. Originally published at Triple Crisis

We are in the midst of a terrifying climate emergency. Whether it’s the record-challenging cold of this week, devastating wildfires, Category 5 hurricanes, flooding on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, Mass., when it’s not raining, the permanent disappearance of glaciers, intensifying drought and climate migration, or the relentless upward march of average temperatures, signs of climate disruption are all around us. This is partly due to the power of neoliberal economics.  Naomi Klein has made an interesting observation about the relation between the two, which is that it was bad luck that neoliberalism surged just as we figured out the need to do something about greenhouse gas emissions. I’m not convinced that the fossil fuel industry wouldn’t have done just what it did and been as successful even if we were still, in the famous words of Richard Nixon, “all Keynesians now” but that’s something we’ll never know. In any case, evidence of the ability of a now discredited economic approach (neoliberalism) to hang on long past its sell-by date is all around us.

One sign is last year’s Nobel Prize—starting with the exclusion from the prize of Martin Weitzman, whose work on fat tails (i.e., catastrophic

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