The Delusion of the Green Economy
The idea of success has always played an important role in human society; putting food on the table, finding a compatible mate, acquiring the means to protect one’s self from severe weather, maintaining good relations with one’s neighbours and receiving respect and admiration for attributes and accomplishments such as being a good tool-maker, weaver, story-teller, singer, artist, healer, planner or negotiator. An aspect of success that should be an integral part of our sense of what it is to live a meaningful life is the effort we make towards leaving the biosphere a more diverse and healthier place than it was when we each become a short-term resident.
Outside of sports and the arts the meaning of success that society most embraces is illustrated by the case of the CEOs of large corporations receiving millions in annual bonuses, in addition to high salaries, for increasing the financial wealth of their company whilst the environmental damage done and the impoverishment caused to communities whose livelihood is dependent on the health of these ecosystems is ignored. In this all too common facet of the international economic order the harm done to people and planet is called development and is celebrated. Reinforcing this perverse view of success the CEOs are more likely to receive a state honour than a school teacher or a nurse.
As measured by the success – failure scale used by society, people are hailed successful if they are prolific consumers as in living in a large house, drive an expensive vehicle, or two or three, and take more than a few aviation-based holidays a year. By way of contrast the person who by circumstance or choice lives in a small house, uses public transport and holidays in nearby locations is considered mediocre on the consumption scale. I am sure we have all observed that the mega consumer driving a luxury vehicle and wearing expensive brand clothes receives admiring looks but not the person wearing tatty clothes and cycling to their destination. That the latter person has a considerably less negative impact on the biosphere than the former is considered unworthy of comment. In a society living by an inverse set of values people who avoid causing irreversible harm to the environment and impoverishing others would be commended.
The prevailing widespread view of success has to change if we are to make the necessary rapid transition to an ecologically sustainable society. This not only means achieving zero net emissions of greenhouse warming gases but also zero emission of pollutants, the burning, dumping and landfilling of ‘waste’ as well as protecting what biodiversity remains and healing degraded habitat. Regardless of what governments say most of the above cannot be done without a major reduction in our consumption of meat and diary products.
It is a tragedy that in spite of more and more local councils and governments declaring a climate emergency there are no signs of a substantial shift in society’s understanding of success. Perhaps this is because the model of a “new green society” proffered is based on the norms and structures of our ecologically failed one. This is no better illustrated than the drive to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
Given climate breakdown there is no doubting the need to cease using fossil fuels as quickly as possible. What, however, is not questioned is consumerism and the enabling material infrastructure that the new forms of energy will fuel. In the utopia of non-fossil fuel electrification, for which corporations and governments have drawn-up a blueprint, adults will still have their own car, be able to fly to near and distant destinations, eat as much meat and dairy as they like and be encouraged to buy the latest technological devices not to mention clothes and beauty merchandise. Given that there are close to 7.9 billion people on the planet there are simply not enough resources to enable this to happen, certainly not enough to sustain unlimited consumption for an indefinite period of time. At present the rich world uses 50 per cent more bio- resources each year than the Earth produces. If the blueprint for the “green economy” were presented to early-year primary school pupils in the form of a story they would understand it as fantasy.
The fantasy nature of the new green society is underscored by the case that the materials essential for it such as cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, lithium and platinum have to be mined and as Thea Riofrancos informs us in The Guardian, 14 June 2021, mining causes enormous environmental damage:
“extractive activities like mining, are responsible for 90% of biodiversity loss and more than half of carbon emissions. One report estimates that the mining sector produces 100bn tons of waste every year. Extraction and processing are typically water-and energy-intensive, and contaminate waterways and soil. Alongside these dramatic changes to the natural environment, mining is linked to human rights abuses, respiratory ailments, dispossession of indigenous territory and labour exploitation. “
The “green society” as envisaged by governments and corporation, and which mainstream media accept without question, is incompatible with an equitable, ecologically sustainable society. Some of the reasons include the following:
– The environmental devastation that will be caused by mining on the gigantic scale necessary to fuel and sustain it.
– The additional trillions of litres of fresh water needed annually for the industrial processes in a period of increasing worldwide droughts.
– Mining of the minerals can emit more tons of carbon than the mined minerals. (*1)
– The environmental problems associated with disposing of trillions of defunct batteries. (*2)
– The industrialization of hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of land and sea.
– The plethora of economic injustices and human rights abuses that will underpin the drive for low costs.
With regard to the industrialization of the countryside The Economist, 12 June 2021, reports that in the United States the land occupied by solar and wind installations by 2030 might well measure 61,000 square miles. This is approximately twice the size of Ireland. Similar amounts of land and sea will be required in other parts of the world. (*3) In the envisaged clean energy utopia the idea of success will, as at present, be judged by how much we consume, the material wealth we have accumulated and the power and influence that goes with this. In other words the blueprint put forward by governments and corporations for an ecologically sustainable society is delusionary.
(*1) Austin Price, The Rush for White Gold, Earth Island Journal, Summer 2021.
(*2) Millions of electric cars are coming. What happens to all the dead batteries? Ian Morse, Science, 20 May 2021.
(*3) Environmental minister rules huge renewable energy hub in WA ‘clearly unacceptable’, Adam Morton, Guardian, 21 June 2021.