Climate Justice beyond Green Capitalism

Some time ago I posted 20 thesis agains green capitalism here. Now I want to give this space to the 6 anti-theses – for a more realistic approach. As with the 20 Theses, it is more a collection of 6 paragraphs than logical „Theses“. However, I made my comment behind every „these“.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater: Climate Justice beyond Green Capitalism

6 antitheses to Alexis Passadakis and Tadzio Müller

Some time ago, Alexis Passadakis and Tadzio Müller published “20 theses against green capitalism”. While we welcome starting a debate about the link between the financial and the ecological crisis, we do not share their conclusions. Indeed, the current financial crisis can be interpreted as a situation with great opportunities to build a more just and sustainable world. But it is crucial not to mix up the evils of capitalism with progressive answers Putting it bluntly, now going blind to „capitalism‘s exposed jugular“ would underestimate the stability and mutability of the capitalist system. A Green New Deal could offer way more than a green semblance of neo-liberal capitalism.

1. Climate change definitely is a justice issue. Millions of people are already suffering from rising sea levels, floods and droughts or extreme weather events – mostly the ones that haven‘t contributed substantially to the emission of greenhouse gases yet. But even the ones starting to be „polluters“ themselves are facing enormous ecological debts of the industrialized countries. These need to be repaid by financing adaptation and mitigation of climate change in the developing world. We are in the need of a massive financial transfer from north to south.

Yes, but is this an anti-thesis?

2. Climate change is definitely a capitalism issue since it is mainly caused by the extraction of fossil fuels and the industrialization of agriculture. This development model being spread all over the entire  planet in the course of neo-liberal globalization has severely increased global warming. The World Bank Group, for example, is still a major donor for the extraction of fossil fuels. The liberalization of agriculture markets promotes its industrialization. And the emissions from cargo shipping now exceed those of the entire African continent. Driven by financial markets that strive for short-term profit maximization, neo-liberal globalization is subverting the goal of climate justice.

The connection between unsustainable profit-striving (capitalism) and the eco-crisis is not made clear enough. but the point is right nevertheless.

3. Luckily, with the actual turmoil in the world economy, there is a window of opportunity to put current capitalism into question. The neo-liberal economic system is about to come to an end. Most striking in this regard is the decline of investment banks as the main drivers of financial markets. We stand at historic crossroads, and the situation is open. As well as there are huge opportunities for a new regulation of capitalism (a Green New Deal, for example), there is a similar chance that an authoritarian post-neo-liberal consensus will emerge and prevent progressive changes (Sarkozy with
his state monopoly capitalist ideas being an instructive example). This is why any intervention in the current debate on the future of capitalism has to provide a potential for discursive hegemony.

Unfortunately, the neo-liberal system is not about to fall. As Marx was wrong so are today’s extreme left: the system is stronger than you think! :(  But it is correct that a discursive hegemony, a „thing“ that can create a drive and get to people, is necessary.

4. Though, simply opposing a green capitalism as a strategy falls short of being capable for hegemony. We agree that an unregulated green capitalism is not an option (however, we do not understand why it would necessarily have to be authoritarian). But mixing up all possible reactions to the bio-crisis that remain within capitalism and subsuming them under the term green capitalism virtually means to be against everything, since for sure there will be a reaction of some kind. Especially equating a Green New Deal (GND) to green capitalism reduces it to a simple green investment program. This neglects the tight economic and social regulations that were part of the historic blueprint of the New Deal. A Green New Deal would not only mean to establish a green field of accumulation by stimulating an ecologic modernization. It would also challenge (not in discourse, but in effect) the still dominant logic of an unregulated capitalism through tight economic and social regulation. A New Deal also contains strictly controlling financial markets, expanding social infrastructure, a cut in working hours, rising wages, restricting free trade – i.e. most prerequisites to confine the logic of neo-liberalism. Hence, a GND, by linking social, economic and ecological issues, makes a progressive difference. Furthermore, it is one of the few remaining strategies to mobilize sufficient resources for an ecological modernization just in time.

Again, I agree. But do not be too optimistic! The GND is being used by the old forces of yesterday’s failures and they are trying to greenwash their system. We have to stay critical.

5. Of course, we cannot take for sure that a GND will be put in place as promising as outlined above. As every other hegemonic struggle the concept of a GND runs the risk to end up being a placebo. But if looking at the discourse, signs are not too bad (e.g. the Green New Deal paper from NEF). And at the moment, a GND seems to be the most promising strategic option in this situation of urgency of action present in public discourse. It is therefore a too good chance for a good deal to simply reject it together with green capitalism. It would open up a hegemonic intervention beyond simple anti- capitalism. Hence, the task for movements is to fight for these social and economic regulations to become part of a New Deal. Particularly, it is necessary to add growth controversy to the agenda by discussing carefully, which sectors of the economy shall grow and which shall shrink. For example, renewable energies have to get a severe boost. The car industry, on the other side, has to shrink, because even green cars cannot stop the ecological collapse.


6. In a globalized world, a Green New Deal cannot exist without strong international agreements. This is why we definitely think that the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol (and Post-Kyoto) is not an option.  Undoubtful, the Kyoto Protocol is ineffective; the Clean Development Mechanism is more likely to be a greenwash mechanism for the north; national emission reductions do not automatically follow the
ratification of a protocol. Nonetheless, there is no alternative to an international agreement tackling the global justice issues in climate change. Which other institution shall organize resource transfer
from North to South? Moreover, will fighting Kyoto as such (one of the few approaches of climate protection at all) prevent the national governments from doing insufficient climate policy? In line with
this, it is inadequate to put the UNFCCC on a level with the WTO. The WTO creates unregulated markets while Kyoto strives to regulate them. Although it creates a carbon market, this market, if
implemented consistently, is notwithstanding a restriction on the use of fossil fuels – it hence does the opposite than a free trade agreement. However, not only by their substance it is wrong to equalize
both institutions. Also in their public perception they are far from being the same. This is why an anti- Kyoto strategy is doomed to fail. This is not to say that one should not mobilise to Copenhagen but to
do this with the demand for a strong international agreement.

It is correct that the anti-Kyoto coalition, even though their critizisms are understandable and just, has to be aware that there is NO silver lining on the horizon! There is an alternative (I disagree strongly with Thatchers TINA!), but this is so far away and the urgency of the matter of climate change is so close that we have to get into the only rescue ship in the harbour – which would be COP15 – and try to overthrown the captain once we’re onboard. Otherwise we’ll drown in our own selfrigheousness.

by Max Bank, Jesko Eisgruber, Chris Methmann, 26.01.09

Über GYGeorg

Global. Young. Green. Drei Eigenschaften von Georg, der lange u.a. bei den Global Young Greens (GYG) aktiv war und mittlerweile für den Kohleausstieg in Deutschland kämpft.

Veröffentlicht am März 30, 2009 in Climate Action, Climate Policy und mit , , getaggt. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink. Hinterlasse einen Kommentar.

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