'Green Gone Wrong': Can Capitalism Save the Planet?

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at gn.apc.org
Mon Apr 5 07:48:01 BST 2010

Hash: SHA256

A very interesting book given the eco-movement current fretting about the 
post-Copenhagen world...

The book seems to be statin' the bleedin' obvious -- you can't reduce 
ecological impacts without reducing consumption (anyone who's been to one of 
my gigs should know all about that); but also the less obvious ways in which 
the present system enforces damaging consumption as "normal" -- e.g. organic 
farming can never take-over from conventional farming because all those 
regulations on organic certification/labelling put it at an economic 



‘Green Gone Wrong’: Can Capitalism Save the Planet?

David Leonard, new York Times, 2nd April 2010

IT may seem quaint to recall this now, but on the eve of the financial crisis, 
one of the biggest business stories was how large corporations were going to 
save the planet and make billions of dollars for their shareholders at the 
same time.

USA Today wrote glowingly about Wal-Mart’s push to sell environmentally 
friendly light bulbs. Fortune gushed that Goldman Sachs, Continental Airlines 
and DuPont had jumped on the ecological bandwagon.

The global economic collapse pushed the rise of green capitalism off business 
magazine covers, but it will surely resurface. After all, Wal-Mart and G.E. 
are still pushing it. In a recession, they need all the good publicity they 
can get.

Now, along comes Heather Rogers, who warns about the dangers of buying into 
this mind-set with “Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the 
Environmental Revolution” (Scribner, 272 pages, $26). She says green 
capitalism is actually undermining ecological progress.

Ms. Rogers is a muckraking investigative reporter who is also the author of 
“Gone Tomorrow: the Hidden Life of Garbage.” She says corporate America has 
led us into thinking that we can save the earth mainly by buying things like 
compact fluorescent light bulbs, hybrid gas-electric cars and carbon offsets.

“The new green wave, typified by the phrase ‘lazy environmentalism,’ is geared 
toward the masses that aren’t willing to sacrifice,” Ms. Rogers complains. 
“This brand of armchair activism actualizes itself most fully in the realm of 
consumer goods; through buying the right products we can usher our economic 
system into the environmental age.”

Ms. Rogers offers plenty of evidence that consumers who load up their shopping 
carts with organic food, for instance, may be unwittingly subsidizing big farm 
companies that are eradicating forests and defiling the soil in some developing 
countries. She says their governments aren’t as concerned about the 
environment, and well-intentioned nongovernmental organizations don’t have 
much clout.

“Green Gone Wrong,” to be released later this month, doesn’t just go after 
easy targets like big corporations that she says are clearly more interested 
in making money than saving the earth.

She is also critical of fashionably green rock bands like Coldplay, whose 
members fly around the world and think they can erase their sizable carbon 
footprints by planting trees in developing countries. In Coldplay’s case, many 
of the trees died.

Indeed, Ms. Rogers is so scornful of the mainstream environmental movement 
that a lot of her points could be used by its enemies, like Rush Limbaugh and 
Glenn Beck, who are always looking for ammunition.

Even if you don’t agree with all of Ms. Rogers’ assertions — and I don’t — 
they are not so easily dismissed. “Green Gone Wrong” is well-written and 
exhaustively reported. The author went to places like Uruguay, Borneo and 
India to show problems she says the green movement has inadvertently created.

But some of the most poignant moments come when Ms. Rogers visits organic 
farmers in upstate New York. She laments that they can’t make a living because 
it is so expensive for them to comply with the federal certification 
requirements for organic foods. “What isn’t being talked about is that many of 
the small organic producers who are expected to lead the reinvention of the 
food system can barely make ends meet,” she says.

Like many books that depict a crisis, “Green Gone Wrong” falls short when it 
comes to offering solutions. All too predictably, Ms. Rogers calls for higher 
taxes and government spending. That sounds like wishful thinking after the 
Democratic majority on Capitol Hill struggled to pass health care reform.

It would have been better had Ms. Rogers delved more deeply into another of 
her suggestions: instead of buying green, we simply need to buy less stuff. She 
seems reluctant to push this too hard because it’s a truly radical idea that 
flies in the face of capitalism — green or not.

“Around the world, many politicians, the conventional energy sector and 
manufacturers of all kinds oppose any major reduction in consumption,” Ms. 
Rogers writes. “If people start using less, then economies based on 
consumption — such as that of the United States, where buying goods and 
services comprises 70 percent of all economic activity — will be forced to 
undergo a colossal transformation.”

At first, her muted call for a new frugality sounds almost as far-fetched as a 
carbon tax in the United States anytime soon. But it isn’t. This is something 
individuals could do on their own instead of waiting for reluctant politicians 
to act.

If there was ever a time to ponder the long-term consequences of our spending 
habits, it’s in the wake of the worst economic crisis in decades, which was 
fueled by rampant consumer borrowing. Is it possible that we could save the 
planet and restore the economy at the same time? 

- -- 

"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burroughs, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see http://www.fraw.org.uk/ebo/

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Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
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