Glen Barry: Green Deal or Not: Industrial Capitalism Is Assured Death


Richard Moore

New Green Deal or Not: Industrial Capitalism Is Assured Death

A New Green Deal must do more than provide continued employment in the speculative, industrial growth machine that is consuming the Earth’s ecosystems

Global ecological sustainability is imminently threatened by a massive ecological bubble. Global terrestrial, atmospheric, aquatic and marine ecosystems are no longer adequately intact to maintain conditions for life. The mark of progress and an equitable, sustainable economy is not how fast the economy grows at the expense of destroying these ecosystems. It is whether the basic needs and more of all Gaia’s people and creatures are being met, while maintaining forever the ecological sustainability of their shared ecosystem habitats.
Many including US President Barrack Obama, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former US Vice-President Al Gore see it differently. They and many others are calling on the world to use coordinated economic stimulus, deemed necessary to bailout the existing growth obsessed economic system, to achieve “green growth” through development of new technologies that provide “green jobs”.
The web and hallways of power are abuzz with the promise of green technologies to fix the financial system, solve climate change, all while providing jobs. Who can be against green jobs? It has become as American as baseball and apple pie. Yet in this single-minded pursuit of the holy grail of green growth, we are putting all our money and efforts into reforming an economic system whose dysfunction — equating growth based upon ecosystem destruction with progress — is precisely why we find ourselves in twin crises of growing poverty for the formerly affluent, and collapsing global ecosystems.
I am against green jobs, if the emphasis upon jobs includes more economic growth on the back of ecosystem harm. Nothing grows forever. And certainly not industrial and speculative capitalism which kills all it encounters through explosive growth. Economic stimulus is like feeding a cancer cell. There are few new wildernesses to liquidate in order to bump up GDP, and more growth is not the answer to anything but protecting the narrow interests of the ruling elite. Something was lost when capitalism went from providing local markets to exchange surplus, to becoming faceless global corporations pushing growth above all else, and finding all types of speculative tomfoolery to do so.
While there are many activities to protect the environment that would produce jobs, there are probably just as many or more that would be lost with the end of environmentally damaging industries such as coal, the auto industry, ancient forest logging and industrial agriculture. Biocentric environmentalists concerned with sufficient climate solutions must be careful to not oversell green policies as job providers, when the ecological policies must happen regardless if they create or destroy jobs, just to maintain being. There can be no economy without ecology, the former is a small subset of the latter, and it is conservative to conserve liberally.
Global economy and ecology have gotten so bad so quickly because of the inherent instability found in growing systems in positive feedback, which always eventually tear themselves apart. Here is an illustrative example of the rapidity of such exponential growth. A hundred acre pond starts with one patch of lily pads. If they grow exponentially, doubling in extent each day, to cover the entire pond in thirty days, on which day is the pond half covered? A quarter covered? One percent covered? Read this through and see at the end. Here I will further ecologically critique U.N. and member governments’ calls to spend as much as $750 billion a year on a “Green New Deal” to revive the world economy and protect the environment.
Green New Deal or More of the Same Environmentally Destructive Economic Growth?
Worldwide, some $430 billion has been allocated to variously described Green New Deals, although President Barack Obama’s initiative has received the most attention. Such measures seek to address economic, energy and climate issues simultaneously creating, it is hoped, many more jobs than conventional financial stimuli, and ushering in a green technology revolution to provide “the next wave of productivity and innovation”.
It is surmised that investments of one percent of global gross domestic product, or about $750 billion, could bankroll a “Global Green New Deal” inspired by the “New Deal” of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt that arguably helped end the depression of the 1930s. Economic stimulus packages by many nations, ranging from the United States to China, are being tailored to help shift toward greener growth and away from dependence on fossil fuels.
In the United States, some $106 billion (bn), or nearly 14 percent, of the $787bn stimulus package President Barack Obama signed to help revive the economy is for green energy including tax breaks, loan guarantees and incentives. About $18bn of the green investments in the package will help improve mass transit systems. Further funding is provided to insulate domestic and public buildings, and invest in a new electric grid. This generally worthy spending is projected to create 2 million jobs over the next two years, half of the total envisaged by the package.
Yet the U.S. spending on green measures falls short of the benchmark set in a recent report led by noted economist Nick Stern, which recommended that green measures should account for 20% of global economic recovery plans. It also fails to meet the UN target of 1% of GDP. South Korea devoted two-thirds of its $36bn recovery package, or about 3% of its GDP, to green investment. China allocated about a third of its $580bn recovery plan to green measures, concentrating on energy efficiency. That is much higher than most European countries. While Germany’s green investments account for 19% of its plan, France is spending just 8%. There is no green component whatsoever to Poland’s recovery plan and Italy’s efforts are also negligible.
Besides being entirely inadequate in scale and ambition, what is most disconcerting about these green spending initiatives is the lack of ambitious ecologically based policies to provide context and support for the funding. There is a complete disregard for ecological science and what is known about the immediacy of threats to global ecological sustainability. The simplistic assumption is that simply throwing token money at global ecological crises while fundamentally changing very little else can return us to growth, provide jobs and is simultaneously the best way to save the Earth.
We are not going to grow our way to ecological sustainability. Simply, a Green New Deal that focuses upon economic stimulus to promote more growth without providing the necessary additional supportive policies necessary to rein in consumption, natural resource use and ecosystem destruction will make things worse.
In just over three hundreds years, the world has experienced explosive growth in population, consumption, resource extraction and loss of ecosystems. While heralded as progress by the elite and the temporarily burgeoning middle class, it has meant impoverishment and death for most others — particularly of different colors and religions than the ecological imperialists. For every family able to fleetingly enjoy modern technological comforts, there have been many more that have had their persons violated and seen their land stolen, stripped of its life, and left barren. Billions live in extreme poverty on a dollar or two a day while an equal number panic as their excessive, conspicuous and destructive consumption falters.
Industrial capitalism is based not only upon institutionalizing massive economic inequities; it is also dependent upon the three lies of endless: 1) growth, 2) extraction of resources from, and pollution into, natural ecosystems, and 3) technological innovations. It is supposed that technological solutions exist for any human ecological or social problem, and that we will be able to engineer a biosphere and its attendant ecological services including seasonality, rainfall, pollination and many others. In order to maximize profits for the few, the simple exchange of goods in markets has instead become a massive Ponzi scheme based upon liquidating ecosystems, exploiting others, and development of ever more arcane financial instruments detached from actual sustainable production of social goods.
The house of cards is coming tumbling down. Perhaps by spending trillions to subsidize consumers to spend ever more to buy crap on credit they do not need, and that comes from destroying the Earth, a few more years of growth can be coaxed from further diminishing an exhausted Earth. But now, or in the near future, this ecologically terrible economic system is going to collapse. I have said it before and I repeat, if humanity and the Earth are to survive, it would be much better if the current system collapses sooner rather than later.
Continued industrial and speculative capitalism is assured death. Given continued failure to have prices reflect environmental externalities, including assigning a price to carbon emissions, there is no reason to believe that capitalism’s excesses can be reformed in time to maintain an operable biosphere.
Obama’s tepid climate policies including a cap and trade proposal, and renewable energy investments (while inexplicably continuing coal and tar sands), are being portrayed as allowing us to solve critical ecological issues while continuing to boost economic growth. We can have our cake and eat it too (now that is hope I can believe in)! Obama is doing nothing to change American history of unbridled, aggressive and speculative economic growth at the expense of natural ecosystems, which is precisely what brought us to this world of over-population, inequitable consumption, economic failure and ecosystem collapse in the first place. And he is definitely not acting with a sense of urgency to pursue sufficient policies such as a carbon tax.
Again, please note the patently obvious observation that nothing grows forever, and trying always destroys the growing system and its surroundings. I cannot say it enough: the shared root of humanity’s current ecological and economic crises is our addiction to growth — namely economic, population and consumption on the basis of liquidation of natural capital. There is no indication that calls for a “Green New Deal” are concerned with fundamental, sufficient transformation required to bring human society into a steady state economy required to achieve and maintain global ecological sustainability.
Paltry expenditures of less than 1% of GDP upon relatively ecologically sustainable economic activities, while allowing the other 99% of industrial activity to continue unreformed, will keep the emphasis for economic well-being on unsustainable growth. It will not even make a piddling contribution to stopping the habitat loss, ocean impoverishment, fouling of water, and collapsing atmosphere upon which all life depends.
Indeed, by allowing the technocrats to steal our green rhetoric, the truly ecologically sufficient policies necessary — returning to the land to protect and restore ecosystems, to save being while making an honest living from our hands and minds and surplus natural capital — are put off until after it is almost certainly too late. Doing not enough, diverting from what must be done, is worse than doing nothing.
Plans for green jobs and green stimulus, to simultaneously lift us from economic recession while pursuing climate change and other ecological policies, are doomed to failure if they are not accompanied by some additional fundamental transformations of the social and economic order. We know we must reduce human population and inequitable consumption. There is no future for logging old forests, burning coal or industrial agriculture including biofuels and biochar. And energy efficiency, conservation and renewables — while we immediately end the use of fossil fuels and industrial biofuels — are the only road to keeping the lights on, within a habitable Earth. We can pursue these sufficient ecological policies with a revolutionary spirit of action, or we can roll over and die. We still have the power and time to stop the ecological bubble, but just barely.
The Overselling of Green Jobs
Jobs and green stimulus pursued within the context of continued economic growth, based upon unsustainable resource use and pollution, is not a solution to either global ecological or economic crises. What if it ends up that stopping global warming costs jobs? Policies of a sufficient magnitude to stop this and other global ecological crises, and maintain an operable biosphere, upon which all life and economies depend, will still have to be done.
Renewable energy is about more than jobs. It is about saving a habitable Earth. Unless calls for a Green New Deal are placed within a broader context of transitioning to a steady state economy, and otherwise powering down industrial development based upon natural capital liquidation, green jobs will not help bring the world into a state of global ecological sustainability. They will merely allow an overly consumptive lifestyle to proliferate a bit longer at the expense of fundamental changes necessary now to maintain the global ecosystems required for shared survival.
What if ecological sustainability requires less growth and thus fewer jobs? It must be done anyway. What if the scale of the human enterprise is so large that it can never continue providing jobs while not destroying the Earth? We all want as near full employment as possible. But what if the numbers to be employed, and their desired consumptive lifestyles, are greater than the natural capital and regenerative powers of the Earth to provide? What if climate change solutions are not compatible with an economic recovery, or burning all remaining fossil fuels provides more jobs than renewable energy? We have to choose an operable biosphere and climate over jobs every time.
Green new deal proposals as currently formulated are plans by government to pay for further consumption and growth with our tax dollars, veiled in the stolen rhetoric of the environmental movement. There is something deeply duplicitous in plans to reduce greenhouse gases by restoring the rate of growth of wealth and energy consumption. The public is profoundly detached from the reality of looming ecological limits. Most regularly treat economic growth and ecological sustainability as each being matters of independent debate, displaying profound ecological ignorance, and deep unawareness that both take place in a finite physical world that connects them.
The point is that implementing the requirements for global ecological sustainability, while creating some and losing other jobs, must continue regardless of, and not be conditional or tied to, job expectations. A New Green Deal is just more environmentally destructive economic growth unless wed within a framework of other sufficient ecological policies to address diminishment of forests, oceans, water and the air. Without such measures, New Green Deals are not new or green, they are just more of the economic cancer which has caused the problem in the first place.
We must understand that no amount of green jobs will allow conspicuous consumption to continue. Unless people accept more modest aspirations, no amount of green new deal can make a difference. We need to return to the dream of hard work, saving and making a better life for our kids and grandchildren, and building loving communities of mutual support. The focus must be upon living simply but well, quality rather than quantity, experience and knowledge over consumption, and the welfare of future generations being as important as our own. No one will lead us from these crises. We have to lead ourselves, working together to take care of our family, communities and shared Earth.
We must all be for green jobs and a new green deal, but only if their implementation is embedded within policies to strip capitalism of its speculative and industrial excesses. Governments have one last chance to reform capitalism into a steady state economy, or the current economic system will have to be destroyed to ensure continued human existence. Economic growth will end regardless, perhaps now, but certainly soon. We must remain primarily concerned with sufficient solutions that maintain an operable Earth System and provide equitably for human and other life’s existence. And we may have to take up arms to fight to save Gaia and our family’s very existence.

Moving Forward Together Towards a New Earth Rising and Shared Survival
The world is in a pre-apocalyptic condition where advocacy and policy is not keeping up with the science and ecosystem collapse. The Earth System is failing as the result of too many people consuming too much. The reality is that the twin financial and climate crises mean things will never be the same. It is hard to envision how we get from here to a solution without apocalyptic collapse. We need to try though — using all necessary means to destroy the global growth machine, even as we put in place the seeds for ecological and social renewal post-collapse. It is our shared responsibility to create not only a sustainable world, but also one that is more equitable, and continues to value freedom.
The reality has been that the American economy, and excessively consumptive way of life now embraced by the world, has long been a house of cards waiting to fall – because of greed, speculation and unsustainability. The unique circumstances we find ourselves in result from the growth economy hitting both the ecological limits of the planet and social limits of exploitation and greed. The problem with the response so far is it clings futilely to the past of high growth and consumption. The growth paradigm at the center of industrial, speculative capitalism is not, nor ever will be, sustainable.
The global economic system has reached a point where the government is using tax money to pay consumers to consume. Is all this money best spent on bailing out immoral and imprudent bankers? What could be done on poverty, water, climate, health, housing and education with even a fraction of these resources? Perhaps something had to be done to stop a global bank collapse, however deserved through decades of conspicuous consumption at the expense of the biosphere. But rescuing troubled bankers when the Earth and her life are dying is both disingenuous and tragically flawed.
Yet the speed and extent of the financial sector’s massive bailout shows what is possible when society perceives a calamitous problem and rises swiftly to the challenge. If fat cat, immoral bankers and mortgage brokers are deserving of massive bailouts, certainly the biosphere and global ecological systems upon which all existence depends are worthy as well. What could be done in terms of water and air, health care and education, and over-population and inequitable consumption with the over 10 trillion dollars the world has thrown down the rabbit hole in bailouts and stimulus? Now this — the destruction of our very being — is a crisis worthy of some serious emergency funding.
It is estimated that a mere $4 trillion financial bailout could substantially protect the environment. Such a biosphere bailout would support up to 8 years of needed greenhouse gas emission reductions, going a long way towards averting abrupt and deadly climate change. Alternatively it could pay for 80 years of forest and biodiversity protection, would be 2-3 times what is necessary to fully protect global ecosystems, or could entirely transition the U.S. away from coal and oil for electricity generation. For “only” a onetime $50 billion investment, access to safe drinking water could be given to the 2.5 billion living without, and for $30 billion a year all future threats of conflicts over food could be averted. The ginormous task of our generation’s environmental movement is to demand such action and expenditures that are commensurate to the ecological threats posed.
In resisting such ecologically based policies to instead pursue the myth of “Green Growth”, the world’s governments have forfeited their right to lead during this time of unparalleled global emergency. There is one chance for their redemption — a strong, equitable and sufficient Copenhagen international climate agreement. It is up to the global ecological sustainability movement to mobilize mass protest to make this happen, while simultaneously laying the foundation for a Stewardship Revolution should governments fail humanity, all species and the Earth at Copenhagen.
A heavier human presence upon already overburdened global ecological systems will not solve economic or ecological problems for long. There is not enough natural capital for needs for growth and desired consumption by all the people that are currently here, much less all those that are expected. If the pattern is set that whenever there is an economic downturn, only modest and inadequate environmental policies are pursued, we can forget about achieving global ecological sustainability and our shared survival.
We are so addicted, myself included, to comfort, ease and feeling good that we are unwilling to change until it threatens to kill us and is often too late. Well, now is that time, as economic growth at the expense of ecosystems threatens us all with a desolate, uninhabitable Earth. We must make it clear that tackling the recession in a green way is not about producing a game plan to get us back to ecologically depauperate growth, credit binges and wildly escalating house prices as quickly as possible. Better to let the economy collapse and begin the transition to relocalized, bioregion based autonomous eco-villages.
The new green deal as currently formulated, and reformist token environmental initiatives in general, are really more of a manner of drawing out the inevitable. These token reforms will allow us to live excessively a bit longer, but not doing what we know is truly necessary, fast enough, to substantially change the course and inevitable outcome. How terrifying it is to be in an economy that is crashing and will never be the same, even as our ecological systems do likewise. How ridiculous to hear the many growth obsessed technocrats including former climate change nay-sayers now over-hyping “green jobs”. How discomforting it is to see those who have stalled action for so long now being at the forefront of pushing ecological catastrophe as a business growth opportunity.
Governments are scared as they realize they cannot keep the lights on. The world is about to descend into a scramble for survival. It could be different if we mustered the will to pursue cooperative solutions. But it is unlikely to happen. We are determining now with our environmental advocacy whether the world collapses into unruly anarchy, or just changes to a different, simpler way of living. Either way, change is coming. We have to make it as positive as possible. We are all for a green new deal. But let us be clear, sufficient and ambitious climate change policies need to be pursued whether or not they provide jobs. It is a matter of Earth remaining habitable.
By the way, the exponentially growing lily pads cover half the pond on day 29 of 30, a quarter on day 28, and just about 1% between day 23 and 24. Global ecological decline and economic growth are exponentially growing systems deep into positive feedback, and if we wait for definitive proof of their demise it will be way too late. There is barely any time to avert their implosion. Perhaps waging an Earth insurgency to slay the growth machine is our and Gaia’s last best chance?
Join us here next time as we academically talk about what may be necessary to save being — weighing the pros and cons of a “Stewardship Revolution” — an agrarian, decentralized insurgent revolutionary response to averting full ecological collapse and death of humanity. Better yet, write an essay of your own on “Ecological Sustainability, Freedom and the Stewardship Revolution” and submit it for publication here.
In Closing
There will be no continued human social progress, and perhaps not even existence, if we continue an economic system based upon growth from liquidating life giving ecosystems. The only true new green deal is getting people back to the land making something of value from protecting and restoring intact ecosystems. In striking the balance between green and jobs, we have to error on the side of green every time, or there will be NO jobs or anything else for that matter.
I am 100% for a rigorous green new deal that also involves fundamental societal change. But it is my nature as an environmental policy critic to be skeptical of whether we can really pull this off. This is about more than jobs. It is about transforming production and living to ecological sustainability. That is where the green part comes in. The dirty sad truth is there may be a dichotomy between the environment and the economy. Particularly if the only type of economic system you entertain is one based upon impossible growth in everything including population, consumption, resource use, pollution and inequality.
The danger is in overselling the benefits of a green energy and technological innovation in general, at the risk that necessary efforts to maintain ecosystems are jettisoned when not as many jobs are generated as liked, economic growth stops (as it must) and consumption declines. Affluence based upon over-consumption of natural resources from liquidated ecosystems is not a birthright, it is a death wish.
Reasonable expectations must be set if a green new deal and green jobs are to be a positive force for moving human society into global ecological sustainability. Renewable energy and technology in general are not going to save the world, though they are a critical component. It is essential to make the necessary ambitious policy prescriptions on energy, forests, climate and water to accompany the spending.
If expectations are that “green jobs” will allow us to consume and procreate as we have been, then there is no benefit for environmental sustainability. The measure of a new green deal is not primarily the number of jobs created, it is whether global ecological collapse has been averted and the foundation for long-term global ecological sustainability achieved.