In preparation for an exam, I have composed some minor essays. Here is one of them.
This essay will define green capitalism; distinguish green capitalism from industrial capitalism; detail how the former is in important ways identical to the latter; suggest that industrial capitalism is ruinous and should be discarded; suggest that green capitalism, being similar, should suffer a similar fate; discuss what type of world should replace the one left by capitalism; and, finally, explain how green capitalism can serve temporarily as a means to the end of realising this world.
A simple definition of green capitalism is the belief in the existence of natural capital. Natural capital is an extension of the general idea of capital, which refers to things which produce goods and services. A good is any product that can satisfy a human want and which can be privately purchased and owned; a service likewise satisfies a want but cannot be privately owned and may be intangible. For instance, the raw lumber of a forest is a good, while the service a forest provides may be its provision of oxygen (which, though tangible, is a common possession which cannot be bought and sold), or its promotion of biodiversity (which is an intangible value over which it is impossible to have a monopoly). Natural capital, then, refers to non-manufactured, or ecological, things which provide goods and services. Examples of natural capital include fisheries, which provide fish goods, or an entire ecosystem, which might aid tourism services. Depending on how one defines green capitalism beyond this simple belief in natural capital, it both is and is not a contradiction in terms.
Green capitalists argue that maximising profit—the goal of capitalism—is not in conflict with the idea of natural capital. On the contrary, they argue that traditional industrial capitalism is a contradiction in terms, as it invariably and rapaciously consumes that on which it is dependent: natural resources. Ironically, consumption is both the theoretical and literal end of capitalism. But if natural resources, the lifeblood of capitalism, are recognised for what they are—natural capital—capitalism will not eat its own insides and will become sustainable.
Green capitalism has its critics, however, some of whom say that the profit motive subordinates all other concerns and places limits on ecological reform, thus negating the total revaluation of business practice required by green capitalism (Smith 2011). Others suggest that the supposed pragmatism of recognising natural capital, and, consequently, of including additional national capital prices in the sales price of consumer goods, would make these goods prohibitively expensive. For example, are we to incorporate the C02 emissions of imports which have travelled internationally; the C02 released into the atmosphere when crops are reaped; the cost of military installations which ensure political cooperation? Additionally, if Australia but not, say, America, were to include these costs, domestic products would quickly become too expensive and the national economy would collapse (Rogers 2010). The likelihood of economic collapse, and our strong desire to avoid this, reinforces the invocation of the profit motive.
Ultimately, questions of definition are irrelevant. The question of chief importance is, Can green capitalism save the world? It would seem that it cannot. Incorporating natural capital into sales’ prices would lead to a hellishly complex lot of problems which, for at least some populations, would result in a world indistinguishable from that one in which natural capital is depleted, leaving nothing to buy or to sell. A world where there is nothing to buy is, in many ways, functionally identical to the one in which nothing can be bought. As green capitalism and industrial capitalism lead to the same fatal conclusion, capitalism in general should be rejected completely.
However, this is not to suggest that green capitalism can have no part to play in the reclamation of the earth. The idealism of green capitalism can serve as a midway point between the inexorable and destructive profit motive, and the ecologically sustainable and informed use of natural resources which would profoundly extend the lifespan of modern human civilisation. It is important that the central message of green capitalism is heard and understood by producers and consumers alike. Natural resources are non-renewable under modern capitalism; human stewardship of them is necessary if we want to continue to exist at our current standards of living, and if we wish the earth to support as many humans as it does. Due to the aforementioned reasons, stewardship cannot involve incorporating natural capital into sales’ prices. In my ignorance it can only be suggested that, at the very least, we create an awareness of the impending catastrophe. There are many ways to do this.
The language of green capitalism must move away from the commoditisation of nature as capital, and the mindset of economic exchange, and instead stress our intimate ecological interdependence. Climate change activists are already alerting us to the profound influence we exert over the environment; extrapolating from the immediate consequence of climate change to the probable scenario of near-extinction may be an especially tactless way to motivate people to action, but it can be effective. Natural capital can be institutionalised in other ways: for example, forcing ecologically insensitive companies or factories to pay reparation dues for despoiling nature can turn the profit motive against the profit hungry and force a re-evaluation of business practice that benefits the environment. Other ideas, such as creating lease-only products, can make suppliers and producers responsible for repair costs and compel them to create more durable products, ending planned obsolescence and reducing resource use (Rogers 2010).
“Green capitalism” both is and is not a contradiction in words. Though it recognises the invaluable importance of nature, and incorporates natural capital into the capitalist paradigm, nevertheless it is only a temporary and auxiliary solution to the problem of environmental degradation. Ridding the world of capitalism is a step humankind needs to make; however, ridding industrial capitalism is imperative over ridding other types. Green capitalism, though doomed to its own destruction, can do this. Herein lays its importance.
Rogers, H. 2010. ‘The Greening of Capitalism?’ International Socialist Review. URL: < http://www.isreview.org/issues/70/feat-greencapitalism.shtml>. Consulted 8 June 2013.
Smith, R. 2011. ‘Green capitalism: the god that failed’. Real-World Economics Review. Vol. 56: 112-144.