What like it’s hard?

TCD Hist wins in a fierce debate against Harvard in: “This house believes capitalism is incompatible with solving climate change”

On Wednesday February 21st, at 7:30 pm, Trinity College Dublin Historical Society sat down with Harvard University to debate the ever-growing problem of climate change. Officially the debate argued: “This house believes capitalism is incompatible with solving climate change.”

The Hist (TCD) began their argument that capitalism is incompatible with creating change with Lisa Basquel describing the state of the world: “Death is upon us.” While this gained a chuckle from the room, her statement was serious. Basquel went on to list the different ways in which the world is essentially preparing to kill us. She argued that capitalism’s aim of maximising profit is incompatible with managing sustainability.  Basquel said: “Production won’t stop until it’s forced to and it won’t be forced to until it’s too late.”

Her argument continued that governments need to intervene with big companies and their excessive and harmful productions. However this intervention goes against the “profit over people” mindset possessed by those running the same systems that would need to be intervening.

Theo Datta – the first debater from Harvard – then took the stand, and like his peers to follow, he began by thanking Hist and TCD for inviting their school to join this debate. 

After the pleasantries, he dived into why capitalism is compatible with solving climate change. 

Beginning his defence, he claimed that picking apart capitalism does not solve climate change, arguing that unless a working alternative is given, the best option is to work with the system that is already encouraging innovation. He further claimed that the “exploitation of resources is a human tendency” regardless of capitalism. In a capitalist system where people are able to thrive and continue in their economic growth and development, “people strive much harder to innovate”. Datta confirmed that the team’s belief is that climate change can be solved within capitalism because capitalism allows space for the innovation of tools to combat the crisis. 

Next on the stand from TCD was Srishti Nautiyal who steadied herself before beginning her time. After a few deep breaths, she was full steam ahead. Nautiyal opened by pointing out the goal of capitalism is production: “Capitalism, even in the best case scenario, only ever saves assets; it never saves the people.” She stated that while there may be perks to maintaining a capitalist system, such as a building economy, she combatted this by stating: “Capitalism might not be the end of the economy but it will be the end of all of us.”

You are solving made-up problems with made-up solutions”

She told the Harvard team: “You are solving made-up problems with made-up solutions.” Nautiyal continued that “capitalism will not save you because it does not care about you.” Since capitalism is based on profit, then there are winners: “if there are winners there are losers. Those losers look a certain way, they talk a certain way and they come from a certain part of the world. If people are making the system money, then they are assets, those are not people.” 

Julia Shepard from Harvard took the stand next, giving her thanks to be here and light-heartedly apologising for the carbon footprint that was left to bring her and her team to Dublin. 

She begins by stating that the inventions created under capitalism save lives. She uses the example that when she was six years old in the hospital she “did not die because [she] had antibiotics, that were created in a capitalist society”. Continuing, Shepard defended her team, clarifying that they were not claiming that capitalism is not responsible for climate change, but rather that the system that created the problem also has the resources and potential to solve the problem.  

Shepard went on to state that with capitalism, “you can have your cake and eat it too”, reinforcing her point that climate change can be solved within a capitalist society while maintaining quality of life as well. She also points out that all of the technology produced to help the environment was made under capitalism. Shepard stated: “What you want is a long term investment in a sustainable future”, thus claiming capitalism is compatible with producing a sustainable future. 

Next, Jack Palmer from TCD took the stand. His debate began by framing the situation with statistics of climate change, and the impact needed from society in order to begin healing what damage has been done. 

We do not have the capability to keep our standard of living and lower the climate crisis”

Palmer mentioned that no inventions can “take carbon back”; the inventions made under capitalism can only reduce what damage has been done. He said: “In a competitive free market, if you are sustainable you will be too costly and not able to maintain sustainability.” Palmer further commented: “We do not have the capability to keep our standard of living and lower the climate crisis.”  

However, he urged the audience to not give up on solving the climate crisis. Rather, “we hit the goals now and save lives”. He continued that this “doesn’t mean we stop acting but live with the consequences.” 

Finally, Daniel Perez representing Harvard began his debate by once again thanking the audience and TCD. Perez noted that climate change is an issue being caused by “8 billion people”, and that yes –  climate change is happening, and yes –  we are living in a capitalist society, but that climate change would exist in any economic system. Under capitalism, he said: “People are encouraged to try and solve the problem.”  Following this, Perez comments that with this level of innovation people will enter a “rat race towards efficiency and cheapness” to solve climate change. 

Perez defended capitalism, claiming it is allowed to solve the bad and that “capitalism is the thing that is enabling shifts in investments towards [sustainability]”. 

After the final speaker took his seat, the judges left the room to discuss the winners of the debate. Once gone, the room voted TCD won the debate with a chorus of “ayes” when voting. Soon after, the judges joined the reception and announced to the room that TCD was the final winner of the debate, but said it had not been not an easy decision to make.