Richard Smith, Green Capitalism: The God That Failed
Paperback, 172 pages
World Economic Association Books
This book deals with the prime threat to human life on earth: the tendency of global capitalist economic development to develop us to death, to drive us off the cliff to ecological collapse. It begins with a review of the origins of this economic dynamic in the transition to capitalism in England and Europe and with an analysis of the ecological implications of capitalist economics as revealed in the work of its founding theorist Adam Smith. I argue that, once installed, the requirements of reproduction under capitalism – the pressure of competition, the imperative need to innovate and develop the forces of production to beat the competition, the need to constantly grow production and expand the market and so on, induced an expansive logic that has driven economic development, and now overdevelopment, down to our day.
In successive chapters I explicate and criticize the two leading mainstream approaches to dealing with the ecological consequences of this overdevelopmental dynamic – décroisance or “degrowth,” and “green capitalism”. I show that the theorists and proponents of no-growth or de-growth like Herman Daly or Tim Jackson are correct in arguing that infinite economic growth is not possible on a finite planet but that they’re wrong to imagine that capitalism can be refashioned as a kind of “steady state” economy, let alone actually “degrow” without provoking economic collapse. There are further problems with this model, which I also investigate. I show that the theorists and proponents of “green capitalism” such as Paul Hawkin, Lester Brown and Frances Cairncross are wrong to think that tech miracles, “dematerialization,” new efficiencies, recycling and the like will permit us to growth the global economy more or less forever without consuming and polluting ourselves to death. I show that while we’re all better off with organic groceries, energy-efficient lightbulbs and appliances, recycling and the like, such developments do not fundamentally alter the eco-suicidal tendencies of capitalist development because infinite growth, even green growth, is just not possible on a finite planet.
In the final chapters I argue that since capitalism can only drive us to ecological collapse, we have no choice but to try to cashier this system and replace it with an entirely different economy and mode of life based on minimizing not maximizing resource consumption, based on public ownership of most, though not all of the economy, on large-scale economic planning and international coordination, and on a global “contraction and convergence” between the North and the South around a lower but hopefully satisfactory level of material consumption for all the world’s peoples. Whether we can pull off such a transition is another question. We may very well fail to overthrow capitalism and replace it with a viable alternative. That may be our fate. But around the world, in thousands of locations, people are organizing and fighting against corporate power, against land grabs, against extreme extraction, against the incessant commodification of our lives. Here and there, as in Greece and China, ruling classes are on the defensive. All these fights have a common demand: bottom-up democracy, popular power. In this lies our best hope. This little book is intended as more ammunition for that fight.