Capital and Climate Change
A Review and a Debate

by Larry Lohmann

first published 1 September 2012

This essay, published in the March 2011 issue of the journal Development and Change, reviews five recent books, four of them on climate change and one addressing what’s needed to spark the transition away from dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. Included is a September 2012 reply by the authors of one of the books reviewed, Matthew Paterson and Peter Newell, and Larry Lohmann's rejoinder.

This review emphasizes that addressing climate change is a political and not a purely technical issue, particularly given the centrality of coal and oil to capital accumulation for the past 150 years.

Three of the books under review, by Nicholas Stern, Anthony Giddens, and Peter Newell and Matthew Paterson, advocate various business-friendly climate change strategies; while the fourth, by Mike Hulme, questions the premise that climate change is a "problem" waiting for an economic (or technical, scientical, political or ethical) "solution". The fifth, a collected edited by Kolya Abramsky, looks at issues of ownership, labour, land and livelihood in focusing on a possible transition to a decentralised, equitable and ecologically-sensitive energy system oriented toward the commons rather than capital accumulation.

Attentive to the nuances and unexpected shifts of contemporary power conflicts, the Abramsky volume, Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution, addresses the substantial questions of climate change politics in a more focused and responsible way than those by Stern, Giddens, Newell and Paterson. Hulme's Why We Disagree About Climate Change also contains many indispensible insights.