Thursday, February 25, 2010

Environmentalism vs. Capitalism?

This semester, I am taking both an environmental policy studies course, as well as one on international business practice. In my e.p.s. class, economics are actually brought up quite frequently. Many people feel that environmentalism and capitalism are conflicting ideals, and therefore stand in the way of the other's progress...

...Or do they?

The trouble is that capitalism is often automatically subconsciously linked with "dirty" industrialism. This is no longer the case, as air & land quality standards have increased dramatically over the last century. While the industrial sector is still not a "clean" field, it is no longer spewing deadly toxins over our children. However, the subconscious link is still there because many people see capitalists as apathetic about environmental issues. True, the primary goal of a capitalist entity is to earn profit and many environmental ventures are not profitable...But perhaps that is where to start.

The "Green" movement has been the icon of the unspoken partnership between capitalists and environmentalists. From household cleaning supplies to environmentally-friendly hybrid cars, there has been a mass of technological advances which have proven profitable AND represent a step towards a healthier Earth. The trouble is that many environmental-tech proposals for various industries simply aren't profitable, and so they won't bother with development. Many folks are quick to demonize the corporate heads for this, but those folks should (and must) accept that a company has to earn profit in order to survive in the global economy. Instead of proposing large-scale environmental overhauls, environmentalists should focus on ventures that will not only secure the local environment, but will also create jobs/profit. The PurGen One Project is a perfect example of this (Visit for more information. Also, see for some oppositional views). The overall goal of the plant is to create jobs, earn a profit for SCS Energy, and help reduce the air pollution that still haunts the Greater NY area. Despite having some legitimate flaws which can be studied and improved, it's a step in the right direction for all of us. Until we can learn to make solar/wind energy systems more efficient, we must work with the resources we have. We cannot rely on empty standards set by the U.N. for emissions in respective countries. This is completely unfeasible in countries like India and China, who are in a sort of mini-industrial age and are economically developing at an incredibly fast rate. Instead, we should focus on aiding ALL sectors of national infrastructure, not just one or the other.

In studying this, we can see that environmentalism and capitalism do not have to remain "fields of opposition". There are numerous proposals which might not be perfect, but nonetheless stand to improve not just the quality of our wallet space, but also the very air we breathe.


  1. The PurGen One coal plant proposed for Linden. N.J. will invest $6 billion but will only create 150 full-time jobs. The economic viability of the project depends upon producing 1.3 million tons of urea fertilizer each year -- but the global ecosystem is already massively damaged by such fertilizer.
    The Linden region -- including Staten Island, N.Y., just a stone's thrown downwind -- already fails to meet federal air quality standards for fine particles (soot) and for ground-level ozone. To this unhealthy mix, PurGen One will add another 4 million pounds of air pollution each year, according to their application for a New Jersey air permit. There may not a conflict between capitalism and a healthy environment, but the PurGen One proposal does not provide any evidence to bolster such a claim.

  2. I am certainly no expert on environmental engineering, nor would I claim to be. As I said, there are a number of flaws with the design. The point I was making is contained in the rest of my article: that capitalism and environmentalism can coexist. While the PurGen project has a number of serious issues, at least SCS Energy is attempting a realistic energy alternative. Most other proposals for alternative energy are quite unfeasible (especially wind farms), as they generate very little profit and are just as energy-inefficient as the PurGen proposal.

    If you know of any environmentally-friendly energy alternatives in the works that are more economically viable, PLEASE post them here. I am curious, being a student, and would love to learn more!