The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won't Save the Planet (Hardcover)

The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won't Save the Planet By Brett Christophers Cover Image

The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won't Save the Planet (Hardcover)


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"Standard theories of the causes of climate breakdown will not survive this book. Readers will be all the wiser."
—Andreas Malm, author of How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Why the market will never solve the climate crisis

What if our understanding of capitalism and climate is back to front? What if the problem is not that transitioning to renewables is too expensive, but that saving the planet is not sufficiently profitable?

This is Brett Christophers' claim. The global economy is moving too slowly toward sustainability because the return on green investment is too low.

Today's consensus is that the key to curbing climate change is to produce green electricity and electrify everything possible. The main economic barrier in that project has seemingly been removed. But while prices of solar and wind power have tumbled, the golden era of renewables has yet to materialize.

The problem is that investment is driven by profit, not price, and operating solar and wind farms remains a marginal business, dependent everywhere on the state's financial support.

We cannot expect markets and the private sector to solve the climate crisis while the profits that are their lifeblood remain unappetizing. But there is an alternative to providing surrogate green profits through subsidies: to take energy out of the private sector's hands.

An essential intervention, The Price Is Wrong is as politically far-reaching as it is factually illuminating.
Brett Christophers is a political economist and economic geographer, and the author of Our Lives in Their Portfolios, Rentier Capitalism and The New Enclosure, which won the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize.
Product Details ISBN: 9781804292303
ISBN-10: 1804292303
Publisher: Verso
Publication Date: March 12th, 2024
Pages: 432
Language: English
"[Christophers] turns his sceptical gaze on climate change, and the attempts of western governments to nudge consumers away from fossil fuels ... masterly"
—Jonathan Ford, Financial Times

"The Price Is Wrong rejects the orthodox reasoning that a mix of technological innovation and market wizardry will be enough to save the Earth."
—Randeep Ramesh, Guardian

"Christophers’s provocative yet persuasive thesis posits that the low profitability of renewables is a feature not a bug of our energy systems ... The problem is not that grubby capitalists are growing fat off the free fruits of the land and sea but that there is not enough profit guaranteed in renewables to satisfy investors and, most significantly, bankers."
—Peter Geoghegan, Times Literary Supplement

"All aboard this ride through the hidden abode of electricity production - it is not to be missed! With his signature knowledge of the financial and economic systems that dominate our lives, Brett Christophers here takes on a central paradox of the moment. How is it that investment in fossil fuels continues relentlessly, even though renewables have become cheaper? Standard theories of the causes of climate breakdown will not survive this book. Readers will be all the wiser."
—Andreas Malm

"Despite its simplicity, Christophers's account is a quietly radical one that contravenes the received wisdom of not only the technocrats, mainstream economists and free marketeers who tout the wonders of the market, but also many on the left, for whom the problem with profits is typically their being far too high."
—Adrienne Buller, New Statesman

"[Christophers] turns his sceptical gaze on climate change, and the attempts of western governments to nudge consumers away from fossil fuels ... masterly"
—Jonathan Ford, Financial Times

"Powerful and intuitive ... The book is as much a plea for economists to show humility as much as it is a rallying cry for market reforms and an expanded role for the state."
—Mehreen Khan, Times

"Have we been looking at the energy transition all wrong? In this vital new perspective on the biggest challenge facing humanity, Brett Christophers turns the conventional wisdom on green energy on its head, with profound consequences for policymakers and the public."
—Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News

"This impressive book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand possible drivers of a green transition. Christophers articulates a theoretically and empirically grounded critique of the dominant paradigm in climate economics that relies on the mantra of "getting the prices right." This standard view misses the driving force of capitalism: profits. Firms and financial market actors invest not because of relative prices but because of the anticipated profitability. Green investments are no different in that regard. Recentering from prices to profitability calls for a fundamental reconsideration of climate policy. Should public money be mobilized to create private profitability for green investments? Or should we instead rely on public investments to defy the profitability requirement?"
—Isabella Weber, author of How China Escaped Shock Therapy

"Brett Christophers' argument in The Price is Wrong that capitalism cannot deliver a decarbonised electricity sector based on solar and wind is as incisively made as it is crucially important. This book is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the economic issues around electrification."
—Helen Thompson, University of Cambridge, author of China and the Mortgaging of America (2010)

"One of the most insightful and clarifying books yet written on the relationship between climate change and capitalism. It's one of the simplest but most urgent questions in climate policy: If renewables are now the cheapest form of electricity production, why aren't we building more of them? Why are we still off track for our climate goals? The answer, Brett Christophers argues, is that the price has never mattered that much in the first place. Profit, not price, is what reshapes the world. Too many climate books rest on easy slogans or simplistic answers. Not this one. This is a sophisticated, entertaining study of a huge problem - one that everyone who cares about stopping climate change should understand. If you're an angry activist, a confused politician, an expert wonk, or a skeptical engineer, you should read this book. You will think about power, clean energy, and the climate challenge in a new way."
—Robinson Meyer, Executive Editor, Heatmap

"This is a masterful work of political economy that zeroes in on a major obstacle to addressing the climate crisis in the context of capitalism. As Brett Christophers compellingly and painstakingly demonstrates, in renewable energy sectors, expected profits are low. The corollary is the crucial role of the state in de-risking investments to ensure investor returns-and thus the timely buildout of wind and solar. But the public guarantee of private profits raises the question: why shouldn't the public own and control clean energy sectors in the first place? The Price is Wrong is absolutely essential reading for climate experts, public policymakers, and grassroots activists alike."
—Thea Riofrancos, author of Resource Radicals (Duke University Press, 2020), co-author of A Planet to Win (Verso Books, 2019) and currently writing Extraction: The Frontiers of Green Capitalism (W.W. Norton)

"This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why capitalism poses an such an extraordinary obstacle to real progress against climate breakdown. Don't miss it."
—Jason Hickel, author of Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

"One of the most persuasive and rigorously analytical thinkers of our present age ... [The Price is Wrong] is a work of profound scholarship and the utmost importance."
—Charlie Baker, Spear's Magazine

"Fascinating ... I'd commend The Price is Wrong to anybody interested in energy transition, and more broadly in the dysfunctions of modern capitalism."
—Diane Coyle, Enlightenment Economics

"Christophers ... is the rare academic who can weave references to Italian radical Antonio Gramsci into fine-grained analysis of feed-in tariffs or offshore wind contracts."
—Lee Harris, Financial Times

"Makes a compelling case that renewables may be getting cheaper than fossil fuels, but they're still not profitable enough."
—Pilita Clark, Financial Times

"The Price is Wrong is a brilliant and meticulous study of why [the outlook is not as rosy as many people think] ... a persuasive case for the nationalization of all power generation under statist planning regimes as the centerpiece of a global Green New Deal."
—Garreth Dale, Commonweal

"Highly readable ... essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why the transition away from fossil fuels is so disastrously slow"
—Simon Pirani, Ecologist

"Brett Christophers may be the most interesting commentator on finance and economics based in a university you’ve never heard of."
—Mehreen Khan, Times

"Brett Christophers has developed a rigorous empirical-historical critique of contemporary capitalism...impressive"
—Cédric Durand, New Left Review