Externalities Internalized

Economists refer to pollution as an externality of production. Its cost is not captured in the price of the good produced. Instead, those who suffer the pollution pay with diminished quality of life. Capitalism has been an exuberant exercise in externalities, long tolerated by governments which could have put them in check. Now, the U.S. administration is about to show long overdue notice.

A draft report by a federal advisory committee has shucked hesitation to the wind. Whether such candor will make the final cut remains to be seen.

“Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts.

“Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.

“Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.”

Such admission begs a bigger question. The activity that inherently brought humanity to this coming crisis is plutocracy: government subsidizing corporations at the expense of all that live and breath.

Will connecting the dots on climate change lead to something other than business as usual? Not until the crisis, and the prospects of human survival, are long gone.


Justine Gillis, “An alarm in the offing on climate change,” The New York Times (14 January 2013).