Ronald Bailey explains at why those who fear humanity’s impact on the climate ought to embrace capitalism.

Climate Strike protests are supposed to bring attention to the science showing that human-made global warming is becoming a problem. Fair enough. But some participants see climate change as pretext for destroying a market system that they have always hated.

Naomi Klein made this point crystal clear in her 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. …

… Global warming is a classic example of what happens in an open-access commons. The atmosphere is unowned, so no one has an incentive to protect and conserve it. Instead, people overexploit and pollute it. Historically this happened with sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and smoke. In the United States, cities initially implemented regulations to cut back on noxious air pollutants. (For example, the first smoke abatement regulations were enacted by Chicago and Cincinnati in 1881.) Eventually federal regulations and market mechanisms were adopted. As a result, since 1980 air pollutants have collectively declined by 68 percent while the economy grew by 175 percent.

Scientists call this the environmental Kuznets curve. Environmental commons tend to deteriorate as countries begin to develop economically—but once per-capita income reaches a certain level, the public starts to demand a cleanup. It’s a U-shaped pattern: Economic growth initially hurts the environment, but after a point it makes things cleaner. By then, slowing or stopping economic growth will delay environmental improvement, including efforts to mitigate the problem of man-made global warming.