Green Capitalism: The God That Failed

"As soaring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions drove global CO2 concentrations past 400 parts per million in May 2013, shell-shocked climate scientists warned that unless we urgently adopt "radical" measures to suppress GHG emissions (50 percent cuts in emissions by 2020, 90 percent by 2050) we're headed for an average temperature rise of 3 degrees or 4 degrees Celsius before the end of the century.

"Four degrees might not seem like much, but make no mistake: Such an increase will be catastrophic for our species and most others. Humans have never experienced a rise of 4 degrees in average temperatures.

"But our ancestors experienced a four-degree cooler world. That was during the last ice age, the Wisconsin Stage (26,000 to 13,300 years ago). At that time, there were two miles of ice on top of where I'm sitting right now in New York City.

"In a four-degree warmer world "Heat waves of undreamt-of-ferocity will scorch the Earth's surface as the climate becomes hotter than anything humans have ever experienced. ... There will be "no ice at either pole." "Global warming of this magnitude would leave the whole planet without ice for the first time in nearly 40 million years." Sea levels will rise 25 meters - submerging Florida, Bangladesh, New York, Washington DC, London, Shanghai, the coastlines and cities where nearly half the world's people presently live.

"Freshwater aquifiers will dry up; snow caps and glaciers will evaporate - and with them, the rivers that feed the billions of Asia, South America and California. The "wholesale destruction of ecosystems" will bring on the collapse of agriculture around much of the world. "Russia's harsh cold will be a distant memory" as "temperatures in Europe will resemble the Middle East. ... The Sahara will have crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and be working its way north into the heart of Spain and Portugal. ...

"With food supplies crashing, humanity's grip on its future will become ever more tentative." Yet long before the temperature increase hits four degrees, the melting will have begun thawing the permafrost of the Arctic, releasing vast quantities of methane buried under the Arctic seas and the Siberian and North American tundra, accelerating GHG concentrations beyond any human power to stop runaway warming and sealing our fate as a species.(1)"

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Richard Smith argues that the Green Growth strategy has failed completely. I agree that growth is inherently incompatible with sustainability. While growth of the green energy sector is essential, growth overall, i.e. total energy consumption of civilization along with increasing population will lead only to extinction. Unless we can achieve a level population and limit ourselves to green energy, we'll hit the wall. However, I think that some variety of market forces will have to be part of a sustainable economy, just that companies won't be able to externalize their damages any more. New sustainable companies will have to answer directly to society.

... the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers would appear to be right and pro-growth, pro-market environmentalists wrong: Under capitalism, growth and jobs are more often than not at odds with environmental protection. There may be some win-wins here and there. But for the most part, given capitalism, imposing big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions means imposing big job cuts across industrialized economies around the world. That's why, regardless of protests, no capitalist government on the planet will accept mandatory cuts in GHG emissions. Since the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, when environmentalists began to turn to the market, "green growth" theorists and proponents have argued au contraire that "jobs and environment are not opposed," that economic growth is compatible with emissions reduction, that carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade schemes could suppress GHG emissions while "green jobs" in new tech, especially renewable energy, would offset lost jobs in fossil fuel industries. Their strategy has failed completely, yet this remains the dominant view of leading climate scientists, including James Hansen, and of most environmental organizations. All such market-based efforts are doomed to fail, and a sustainable economy is inconceivable without sweeping systemic economic change. The project of sustainable capitalism based on carbon taxes, green marketing, "dematerialization" and so forth was misconceived and doomed from the start because maximizing profit and saving the planet are inherently in conflict and cannot be systematically aligned even if, here and there, they might coincide for a moment. That's because under capitalism, CEOs and corporate boards are not responsible to society; they're responsible to private shareholders.


Thanks for posting this, Joan.

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