Green Capitalism - a solution to climate breakdown?


One of the areas of study & debate for the Climate Activist summer course is ways to resolve the climate crisis. What kind of economic system can make it possible to reduce emissions enough to avoid an escalating climate breakdown? In the light of the recent IPCC report, this is now a very urgent discussion to have.

Is Green capitalism a good alternative to the present system?

Here is Beth Cunninghams take on this!

The idea of Green Capitalism

Green capitalism is contradictory by nature and is inherently unsustainable. Also called market-economy, it purports to create wealth and, spur innovation and efficiency through competition.

Its proponents argue that the chronic failure to realise its apparent benefits are in fact due to too much market regulation. It is an economic model which consistently fails to materialise in reality. Yet those powerful few who have benefited exponentially have convincingly sold the idea that any other economic framework or ideology is entirely misguided and utopian.

Thus, when we try to deliver ‘Green Capitalism’, we will undoubtedly face the same fundamental impasse. The logic gap is even wider in this instance: it is touted as a framework which can meaningfully address climate change and the much wider ecological breakdown - the very crises its grey predecessor has brought about.

The most basic contradiction is clear: capitalism requires infinite growth in a world with finite resources. ‘Green capitalism’ puts forth the idea that current market processes and interventions can be expanded to apply to our natural world. Here, massive pollution, unsustainable exploitation of resources and incredible human suffering can be reduced to ‘negative externalities’ which all can be justified, traded and neutralised at the right price.

The economic system is not supposed to change beyond superficial reforms – influenced and paid for by the same powerful lobbyists who have stalled environmental action for decades.  ‘Natural capital’ such as forests and rivers can provide a new market for investors and capital owners to monopolise. This system may sustain enough life for the super-rich 1% to maintain a relatively unblemished existence, but even this is not certain. There is such a crucial interdependence between every aspect of our global ecological system, that a path of ‘business-as-usual’ would likely set off a chain towards total human destruction. Even if this is not the case and the wealthy Global North can survive some decades of inaction, as Jorgen Randers forecasts, this is the very best scenario which ‘green capitalism’ could provide.

Deprivation in the Global South caused by overconsumption in the Global North

The dynamics of the ecological breakdown follows the pattern of how the world has been divided by colonialism. It is the overconsumption and concentrated power in the Global North which has caused sustained deprivation in the Global South. Resource imperialism by the US has intentionally prevented stability in countries throughout the world. Foreign aid tied to trade guarantees or as loans, tax evasion of multinational corporations, colonial legacies of monoculture farming are just some examples.

There needs to be a goal of social and economic structures which truly centre on human flourishing. Emerging models such as ‘Degrowth’ and ‘Doughnut economics’ outline alternative economic frameworks which reject the idea of perpetual growth as a useful indicator of meaningful social development. Both these models also seek to maximise the utility of humans, but they assume that this relies on conditions far more complex than what free-market capitalism can provide. Shared factors include: the satisfaction of basic human needs (shelter, food, education, healthcare etc.) for all individuals; meaningful connection within a community; engaging work or hobbies; and the values of redistributive justice, accountability and democratisation of institutions.

Degrowth, particularly, emphasises the need to redress global imbalances created, and entrenched by the Global North.

The 1% controls the resources

We could prevent ecological breakdown and alleviate the suffering of millions if not billions of people right now. But the power and resources needed are concentrated in the hands of a few hundred people. They have flourished under capitalism through the flagrant exploitation of people and the natural earth.

The market economy breeds monopolisation. Billionaires have no need to consider the consequence of their actions in such a system – everything and everyone can be reduced to some dollar-value ‘negative externality’. But the natural earth cannot be bound by this and will not be paid off. Capitalism, no matter how ‘green’, is a disease burning through our earth. We must either be part of the cure, or burn with it.


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Tuesday, 26 September 2023