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“Green” Economy, Greed Economy

By Omar Rashid Chowdhury

08 August, 2012

The ecological crisis overwhelming our planet is unparalleled in human history. The crisis threatens the very existence of all forms of life on the Earth as well as stands proof to the utter incompetence of the dominant economic system. Ripples of a deep economic crisis of the system are worsening the global employment situation, which is a reflection of the crisis. Efforts are there to get rid of these crises in the name of so-called “green” economy and “green” jobs.

“In an ideal state of affairs,” according to UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC, “a green economy is one that does not generate pollution or waste and is hyper-efficient in its use of energy, water, and materials”, (Green Jobs: Towards decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world, Sept. 2008). Green jobs, the report said, are “those that contribute appreciably to maintaining or restoring environmental quality and avoiding future damage to the Earth’s ecosystems.” Avid promoters of “green” economy represent it as an entirely new concept though the fact is quite the opposite. The idea of intersection of environment and economic growth has been proposed since the Brundtland Commission Report (Manu V. Mathai, “Green Economy And Growth: Fiddling While Rome Burns?”, Countercurrents.org , Jan. 26, 2012).

The true face of the so-called “green” economy is hidden behind high hopes and talks of “energy efficient technology”, “clean and green energy”, “renewable energy plants”, “eco-efficiency”, “double dividend”, etc. These are nothing but subtly designed farces. Far from sustaining the ecology, “green” economy only widens the reach of the system that runs on increasing accumulation, expansion and appropriation. As the dominant economic system finds itself at odds with an ecological crisis borne of the system’s own doing, it finds refuge in “green” economy.

Factually, the system is profiteering from a crisis of its own making! It is plundering and exploiting nature. Now it is “going to fully incorporate nature as part of capital” and “identifying specific functions of ecosystems and biodiversity that can be priced and then brought into a global market as ‘Natural Capital’” (Pablo Solon, “‘Green economy’ versus the rights of nature”, Monthly Review, June 7, 2012). The “pundits” playing the fiddle of green economy propose to exploit “clean water, flood protection, fertile lands, clean air, pollination, disease control”— functions and processes of nature and “label them environmental services, put a price on them and bring them into the market” (ibid.).
Saintly sounding programs in the name of green economy turn out to be providing “offsets”, polluting permits to rich countries and large corporations. As example, the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation can be cited. The REDD program, Solon mentions, one of “green” solutions, “is to isolate one function of forests, their ability to capture and store carbon, and then measure how much CO2 it can capture.” The program estimates the value of the potential carbon storage of a forest and issues carbon credits which are sold to “rich countries and big corporations.” These countries and corporations use the credits to “buy and sell polluting permits in the carbon markets”. It is in essence a form of bribe to a country for not deforesting. The fact that “only countries that reduce their deforestation will be able to put carbon credits in the REDD market” is increasing the amount of deforestation. “[I]n some parts of Brazil […] in order to be prepared for REDD, trees are being cut with the purpose of increasing the deforestation, so that, tomorrow, the reduction of the ‘deforestation’ will be higher and the amount of carbon credits that can go into the market will be bigger” (Solon, op. cit.). The situation gets worse as carbon credits “endow” the rich with rights to emit the same amount of carbon that they have paid for. Carbon credits, a much muttered mantra of the green economy reduces to mere mockery!

Promoters of the so-called green economy represent it as a “green” package of solar panels, wind turbines, biofuels — a complete set of said renewables. It seems salvation from ecological crisis lies in transformation to renewable energy sources. The question remains, are renewables actually renewable? Take solar power. Though sunlight will remain renewable for at least another four billion years, the photo-voltaic panels and ground water used in solar power installations are far from renewable. Turbines for generating wind power contains pounds of neodymium and dysprosium — “rare earth metals that are rare because they’re found in scattered deposits, rather than in concentrated ores, and are difficult to extract” (Dawn Stover, “The myth of renewable energy”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov. 22, 2011). “Although biofuels may produce less greenhouse gas than petroleum, their aggregate impact — in terms of air and water pollution, soil degradation, and food prices — may be more severe” (Fred Magdoff, “The Political Economy and Ecology of Biofuels,” Monthly Review, Vol. 60, no. 3, July-August 2008 cited in Victor Wallis, “Capitalist and Socialist Responses to the Ecological Crisis”, Monthly Review, Vol. 60, Issue 06, Aug. 6, 2012).

The advocates of green economy, according to Wallis, “pick up on the popular call for renewable energy, but accompany it with a vision of undiminished proliferation of industrial products. In so doing, they overlook the complexity of the environmental crisis, which has to do not only with the burning of fossil fuels but with assaults on the earth’s resource-base as a whole, including for example the paving over of green space, the raw-material and energy costs of producing solar collectors and wind-turbines, the encroachment on natural habitats (not only by buildings and pavement but also by dams, wind-turbines, etc.), the toxins associated with high-tech commodities, and the increasingly critical problem of waste disposal — in short, the routine spinoffs from capital’s unqualified prioritization of economic growth.”

The myth of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies are ever presented with a prophetic prediction of growth of green employment. “Given rapidly rising interest in energy alternatives, future years may well see worldwide employment soar”, said the UNEP report. But, now in 2012, the high hopes of growth of green jobs seem to be crashing. The fabled “green” economy has already started to look, well, not so green! In fact “there’s little difference between a green economy and the regular economy”, found a recent study by the Employment Security Department of Washington (“Third green-jobs report: economy taking a toll, but still little difference between green and ‘regular’ economy”, June 25, 2012). The study conducted a survey of industrial units in the US. “[A]mong the industries that were surveyed in both 2009 and 2011, green jobs declined by an estimated 18,300 or 18 percent” and “[t]o date, studies in Washington and across the nation have not identified any new industries that are uniquely green” (ibid.). One cannot but hide a grin!

Questions arise. Why is there a fall in so called “green” jobs? Why the system is failing to differentiate between “green” economy and “regular” economy? There is no difference. The former is just a representation of the latter with new wrappings and graver effects. As long as the inherent contradictions i.e. accumulation, expansion and profiteering of the system exist, it is incapable of resolving its crisis. The fall in green jobs and the increasingly bleaker employment scenario are just manifestations of that irresolvable crisis. The definition of green economy appears meaningless as it ensnares the last remnants of ecological processes.

The very concept of “green” economy, as is designed and propagated, is a clever way to intensify profiteering. The system, severely suffering from crises of its own making, seeks a way out through “green” economy. Assurances of generation of “green” jobs, and containing the ecological crisis are simply sweet sounds spoken to sell it. The system intends to resolve the ecological crisis borne of unchecked growth and over exploitation only by more growth and exploitation. It is “a contradiction in terms — the one pole referring to a complexly evolving equilibrium encompassing the ensemble of species-life, and the other, to the unchecked or cancerous growth of one of its particular components” (John McMurtry, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, Pluto Press, 1999 cited in Wallis, op.cit. ).

Our planet faces a two-fold crisis. The dominating system itself is a crisis to the planet and in its throes of survival the system is creating more crises. “Green” economy, the model now being sold by the mainstream, is one of many “survival techniques” of the system. Conditions of “green” economy’s own structural existence limit its capability to resolve the ecological and employment crises. We need a new system with conditions controlling unchecked accumulation, exploitation and expansion.

Omar Rashid Chowdhury is a student of Civil Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka



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