Monday, December 10, 2007

"Green capitalism is a self-contradiction"

At the climate change march on Saturday, it was most amusing to walk past the Porsch showroom in Mayfair, whose plateglass windows displayed the latest expensive fuel guzzlers.Unlike the rest of the route it was guarded by a line of police protecting these windows from the perceived wrath of climate radicals.

But there was no such trouble. About 3-4000 people braved the rain and wind in the corner of Grosvener Square opposite the US embassy, to hear speeches from all shades of the political spectrum pledging to tackle the burning issue.

But only one speech told the truth - as hard to bear for some as it is - that no sustainability is possible with a capitalist system that is predicated on continuous growth.

George Monbiot began this speech by saying that the only sensible form of carbon storage is to leave the fossil fuels in the ground.

He recounted a direct action he took part in near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales last Wednesday at the site of the largest open cast coal mine being constructed in Europe, which protestors closed for the day by chaining themselves to diggers.

He then explained that capitalism is based on lending money at interest. Interest requires either inflation or further economic activity to create more wealth. This wealth itself requires exploitation of nature's resources to fuel it.

Economists predict that the amount of weath to be created in the next 20 years by this method will double the amount of such resource use, not over the last twenty years but over the whole of mankind's lifetime.

That is, we will be causing as much pollution and despoilation of the environment in the next twenty years if we carry on at this rate as in the last million years.

Although we may tinker with increasing 'resource efficiency', and 'decoupling growth from carbon use', other forms of resource exploitation are still totally unsustainable.

Therefore there is a fundamental contradiction in the phrase 'green capitalism'.

He therefore urged all listeners to go out and take direct action against fossil fuel drilling and mining to protect our future, and urged the creation of a new kind of economics.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

His new economics wouldn't be socialism would it?

Upwards of 60 million 20th century deaths show that the socialist approach to economics is "slightly" flawed.

Source:
http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat1.htm

Having seen socialist planning first hand - an aluminium works sited near a source of labour - not the raw materials or cheap/renewable energy needed, I think that Mr Monbiot is, as ever, talking nonsense.

When you stop selling your books (etc) at a profit then come and lecture us about capitalism.

Digs aside, the other main argument against socialism is that it restricts innovation - so if you have an ipod or, since you're using the web to publish your thoughts, you'll appreciate the inherent tragedy of your comments.

Low Carbon Kid said...

Hows old fashioned you are. Is the alternative to black always white? There are a million other colours. Can we learn from the past? Maybe. George takes great pains to maintain his independence. He is not aligned to any ideology. Neither am I. Whatever gets us through this night is what I support. Wha's clear is that constant growth is going to lead us straight to total disaster.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head - fashion, it's very fashionable to be green - the new black. I was very green (in both senses) in the 90s.

Fundamentally though you'll come to learn that there aren't other colours, only shades between black and white which represent compromised and confusing clashes of ideology. Third ways lead to mis-directed interventions that waste billions of pounds and more importantly people's hopes.

As for the Growth=Disaster, well you can get into a Malthusian, Limits to Growth-type echochondria or you can accept that we all want to live - look at the World Bank's report on the New Wealth of Nations, Google Kuznets Curves, see how growth is not always linked to resources and how things can/do get better, then play with gapfinder (again via google) show how wealth creates health and many other benefits. Ask why China is going up and Africa going down?

The world is not as bleak as those who retreat to Wales to chastise us actually think. (I'm thinking more of George here than you.)

Finally, have a read of some criticism of deep green - ask how many died as a result of the Silent Spring induced ban on DDT. Read Small is Stupid - see that there is an intellectual debate as well as the emotional one. Complex value judgements, not simple appeals to fashion, are needed. Why do we fret about food miles and not computer miles, playstation miles or handbag miles? Google Engel's Law to find out.

Sustainable Development is the real self-contradiction!

Low Carbon Kid said...

Hmmm, is Schwarzenegger a socialist? is he black or white? What of the Spanish, way out front in the European race to cut emissions?

China is growing - it's a command economy, with no regard for human rights or the environment - is that ok?

Africa struggles because of its debts and the reluctance of the banks to cancel them, a legacy of Thatcherite monetarism - and because of corruption.

The '70s Limits to Growth Club of Rome report was an early attempt to quantify the world's resources and was inaccurate. It's hardly surprising - nowadays data is far more accurate, and available from a wide variety of sources such as the Worldwatch Institute and the UN.

For Monbiot's way out of the crisis, read his book, Heat.

Finally we do fret about other miles - a report 10 days ago which I covered showed how IT's eco-footprint is globally 2% and rising fast, on a par with aviation.

Anonymous said...

David

I shouldn't have started - my comment was an irate knee jerk to your green capitalism bit.

Anyhow, the only thing more cowardly than anonymously adding comments is not to come back to you at all.

[Hmmm, is Schwarzenegger a socialist? is he black or white? What of the Spanish, way out front in the European race to cut emissions?]

My take is that politicians chase popularity not principles. Spain's govt -don't know why you raise them. Spain was economically backward (in relative EU terms - high agriculture) for a long time and is nearer the Med/sunshine but I'm still not sure why you think it is a good example. See
http://www.helsinki.fi/iehc2006/papers2/Rubio49.pdf

I don't understand Arnie at all (and I don't just mean his accent) However, California's always been the greenest of the US states in terms of local, acute, emission limit-based policy (e.g. VOCs, low direct emission vehicles), and my guess is that he's tapping into a perceived zeitgeist/ fashion (like David Cameron), perhaps to pre-empt a Gore-ing. I await any serious action from him before commenting further.
But lest you jump down my throat let me also say that I don't understand Bush either - the whole Iraq agenda was plain wrong - statecraft is morally abhorrent to me.

[China is growing - it's a command economy, with no regard for human rights or the environment - is that ok?]

I see China a global demand economy meeting our needs whilst Defra says UK resource intensity is declining. All I can say is that we had no regard for human rights or the environment 200 years ago - again google Kuznets curves - it'll come in China - but I certainly don't agree with public executions and the like. I have also to confess that China is peculiar because of its mixed state/market approach. I don't think anyone can fully understand the potential impacts of sovereign capital (China and Arab states) on the global political/economic scene.
It's also gonna be interesting watching them address Africa as their next source of low cost labour, on which point:

[Africa struggles because of its debts and the reluctance of the banks to cancel them, a legacy of Thatcherite monetarism - and because of corruption.]

Corruption yes but the underlying problems are systemic - lack of property rights and other internal issues like tribalism (think hutu/tutsi). I don't buy the debt idea at all. The resource curse is particularly strong but in essence their problem is governance - for example Nigeria's politicos have syphoned off or misspent an estimated £220Bn. Mugabenomics aren't the solution either.

Re: Thatcherite monetarism, I hope you realise that Brown merely followed the same monetarist policies - in fact his greatest achievement was giving the bank of england control. That was one in the eye for the Tories. However, his current policies (such as I can glean from the myriad of visions and consultations out there) are bringing back a more Keynsian Gordo which is very worrying.

[The '70s Limits to Growth Club of Rome report was an early attempt to quantify the world's resources and was inaccurate. It's hardly surprising - nowadays data is far more accurate, and available from a wide variety of sources such as the Worldwatch Institute and the UN.]

Wasn't critising the Rome report per se - merely a general "sky is falling in" mentality. Humanity is innovative and yet in the same breath you can show that almost everything we've done in the name of progress is an assault or a defence against nature/entropy - housing, clothes, heating, antibiotics, contraception etc etc Any fool with a spreadsheet now can forecast doom and gloom - use gapminder (http://www.gapminder.org/world/) to show children per woman versus GDP - to see how economic progress is actually part of the solution.

[For Monbiot's way out of the crisis, read his book, Heat.]
No thanks - more heat than light in that one. I do enjoy his rants (especially today's in Grauniad) but his solutions are generally only one step away from the formation of the carbon police. "Step away from the light switch".

[Finally we do fret about other miles - a report 10 days ago which I covered showed how IT's eco-footprint is globally 2% and rising fast, on a par with aviation.]

I know you do. I was referring to we as the general population. I don't hear people talking about ipod miles or Dell miles etc. The GAP report was certainly interesting but I can't see any farmer's markets arising for IT, cars, etc. Engel's law i.e food becoming a smaller part of typical household budget plus the Jamie Oliver/River Cottage etc foodies driving this one - a kind of green conspicuous consumption - with a yearning for the good life. As one wag put it "Chickens are the new iPod" - which brings us nicely back to fashion again.

Anyhow, I thought I owed you a response - I'm not keen on blog jousting and won't come back to you on this thread unless you really get my goat.

Keep up the blogging.

Anonymous said...

David

Debt or bad governance?:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uganda/Story/0,,2229909,00.html

MPs back Ugandan president's plea for £24m jet upgrade.

Low Carbon Kid said...

Clutching at straws, aren't we?