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Would there have been climate change under socialism? – Audio Long Reads

Often framed as a consequence of capitalism, the crisis might have been worse under a system that delivered for all.

By Leigh Phillips and Hugh Smiley

The idea that, without capitalism, the planet might not be facing so great a climate crisis is well established, appearing in works like Naomi Klein’s bestselling This Changes Everything (2014) and from the growing ranks of “eco-socialist” activists.

But in this essay, the science writer (and committed socialist) Leigh Phillips argues that an entirely socialist 20th century would have resulted in global heating at least as bad, if not worse. He outlines a counterfactual history in which capitalism is vanquished everywhere by 1930, colonialism willingly unravelled – and industrialisation rolled out for everyone, not for the few. “Housing for all, electricity for all, fast and comfortable transport for all, and yes, even delightful plastic consumer tchotchkes for all,” he writes. “There would absolutely be a People’s Xbox under socialism.”

In this clearly argued and imaginative essay, Phillips concedes that, yes, there would have been differences under socialism – and some benefits, once the harms of carbon emissions were realised. But we must start to see the climate crisis as the unintended consequence of largely beneficial (if uneven) economic development – and a problem that is very hard to solve under any single system. What is needed, he says, is not a move towards degrowth, anti-consumerism and other forms of eco-austerity – but a greater role for economic planning.

Written by Leigh Phillips and read by Hugh Smiley.

This article was originally published on the newstatesman.com on 10 August 2022. You can read the text version here.

You might also enjoy listening to The lonely decade: how the 1990s shaped us by Gavin Jacobson.

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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