In fact, to conclude that climate change should mean shackling capitalism would be wrong-headed and damaging. There is an immense value in the vigour, innovation and adaptability that free markets bring to the economies that took shape over that striped century. Market economies are the wells that produce the response climate change requires. Competitive markets properly incentivised, and politicians serving a genuine popular thirst for action, can do more than any other system to limit the warming that can be forestalled and cope with that which cannot.
This special issue of The Economist is not all about the carbonclimate crisis. But articles on the crisis and what can be done about it are to be found across all this week’s sections. In this, our reporting mirrors the world. Whether it is in ensuring a future for the Panama Canal or weaning petrol-head presidents off their refinery habit, climate is never the whole story. Other things matter to Manhattan stockholders and Malawian smallholders. But climate change is an increasingly dangerous context for all their worlds.
To understand that context, it is important to understand all the things that climate change is not. It is not the end of the world. Humankind is not poised teetering on the edge of extinction. The planet itself is not in peril. Earth is a tough old thing and will survive. And though much may be lost, most of the wondrous life that makes Earth unique, as far as astronomers can yet tell, will persist.
Climate change is, though, a dire threat to countless people— one that is planetary in scope if not in its absolute stakes. It will displace tens of millions, at the very least; it will disrupt farms on which billions rely; it will dry up wells and water mains; it will flood low-lying places—and, as time goes by, higher-standing ones, too. True, it will also provide some opportunities, at least in the near term. But the longer humanity takes to curb emissions, the greater the dangers and sparser the benefits—and the larger the risk of some truly catastrophic surprises.