Brett Christophers: “The Price Is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won’t Save The Planet”

Recorded on March 12, 2024, this video features a lecture by Brett Christophers, Professor of Human Geography at Uppsala University’s Institute for Housing and Urban Research. The talk was delivered as part of the BESI Climate Seminar, presented by the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative (BESI).


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.

Core reading: Brett Christophers. 2022. Fossilised Capital: Price and Profit in the Energy Transition, New Political Economy, 27:1, 146-159, DOI: 10.1080/13563467.2021.1926957.

Recommended reading: Brett Christophers. 2024. The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet. New York: Verso Books.

About The Speaker

Brett Christophers is professor of human geography at Uppsala University’s Institute for Housing and Urban Research. Christophers is interested in various aspects of Western capitalism, both today and historically. His recent publications include books published by Verso, The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain (2018), Rentier Capitalism: Who Owns the Economy, and Who Pays for It? (2020), and Our Lives in Their Portfolios: Why Asset Managers Own the World (2023).

About the BESI Climate Seminar

The Climate Seminar at the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative (BESI) brings leading scholars of the political economy of climate change to UC Berkeley for hybrid talks and conversations. The Seminar is co-sponsored by the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2, and organized by Daniel Aldana Cohen. In Spring 2024, we will have three events, all from 12:00-1:30pm PT. Each event will be moderated by Daniel Aldana Cohen, Assistant Professor of Sociology and the Director of (SC)2, UC Berkeley.

Learn more about the Climate Seminar Series.