revolutionary reflections | ‘Green capitalism’: a critical review: part 1

Today, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world have been taking part in climate strikes, demanding action on climate change.

As climate change takes hold, questions of how we should understand the role of capitalism in causing it – and whether capitalism has the capacity to resolve it – become ever more urgent. Stephen Graham dissects the discourses of sustainability, Green capitalism and the Green economy. 

This article is published in three parts. A pdf of the whole article is available here.

Max Ernst, Europa nach dem Regen II.


The severity of our environmental predicament comes more clearly into view with each passing news cycle. Only 12 years remain to act if we are to keep the global average temperature rise below 1.5C as required – yet global action on climate change consistently falls far short of what is needed. The ecological rifts opening up are legion.

Despite the severity of the danger to our ecological and social systems, mainstream political elites have shown themselves completely unwilling or unable to take transformative action. But as sea levels, average temperatures, and the frequency of extreme weather events have risen, so too have levels of public anxiety, anger and resistance. People want to know what it is that is pushing us towards the edge of the abyss. And more and more, people are establishing links between capitalist production and environmental destruction. What is less understood, however, is the way that capital has sought to appropriate the green agenda.

The idea that capitalism can be ‘greened’ is an attractive one for those who seek to maintain capitalist social relations in the midst of an ecological crisis of capitalism’s making. Therefore, efforts oriented towards sustainable transition can only advance by engaging in a thoroughgoing critique of this increasingly prominent concept.

This discussion of green capitalism is divided into three parts. Part I considers the notion of ‘green’ capitalism and examines the contradictions that led to its emergence; it also critiques some of the core theses of Ecological Modernization Theory (EMT) – the body of thought that underpins capitalist green growth narratives.

Part II explores the relationship between capitalism and fossil fuel energy. Discussion focuses on the particular advantages that ‘energy dense’ fossil fuels afford capitalist production, and examines some of the major barriers that impede the transition to a future based on renewable energy sources.

Part III examines debates between advocates of ‘green Keynesian’ approaches and supporters of de-growth. It concludes with a discussion of political strategy and environmentally sustainable transition at a time of acute ecological crisis.

A note on ‘capitalism’

As Marx explained in the opening of Capital, vol. 1, the capitalist mode of production is one in which wealth appears as an ‘immense accumulation of commodities’. Commodities are riven by the core contradiction between their use-value and exchange value.[1] This contradiction is central to understanding what I consider the inherent ecological destructiveness of capitalist production, and key to the potential development of more sustainable alternatives.[2] Money plays a key role in mediating profit-oriented, market-mediated processes of accumulation, and competition drives the dynamic of accumulation.[3] Private property is a crucial factor: the means of production in capitalist social formations are privately owned and controlled, and they are set in motion by the labouring activity of workers who do not own the means of production but who derive income by selling their labour power to capitalist firms.[4]

Following Wright, I understand capitalist social formations to be constituted by both capitalist and non-capitalist elements which, to differing degrees in different contexts, combine and interpenetrate in complex ways.[5] Returning explicitly to ecological concerns, I acknowledge that different capitalist accumulation regimes have different environmental impacts. [6] In certain respects, therefore, referring to capitalism ‘as such’ might appear too ‘abstract’ to be useful.[7] However, by analysing ‘capitalism in general’, we root our discussion of Green Capitalism within the inner logic of capitalist production, with its ‘incessant drive for economic expansion for the sake of class-based profits and accumulation’ – a process in which ‘[n]ature and human labor are exploited to the fullest’.[8]

These forces are at play regardless of the type of capitalist social formation under consideration (whether it purports to be ‘green’ or otherwise). While such an entry point might be limited in terms of comparative evaluations of the ecological impacts of different capital accumulation regimes, it enables us to consider the potential merits of moving beyond capitalist forms of production altogether.

A note on growth

Economic growth is typically considered in mainstream political discourse in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Reducing growth to this metric, however, is problematic.[9]

GDP as a measure of economic activity focuses on flows to the exclusion of assets.[10] It fails to incorporate welfare losses due to unequal distribution of income; illegal transactions; and ‘non-market services’ such as domestic labour and voluntary work.[11] GDP treats the sale of natural resources as income but does not subtract for resource depletion or depreciation; neither does this metric account for ‘externalities’ such as environmental degradation or noise pollution (it does, however, account for market-mediated solutions to such problems).[12] Another prominent critique of GDP relates to its inability to account for societal well-being (the so-called Easterlin Paradox).[13]

Despite these inadequacies (or perhaps because of them), economic growth constitutes a key policy objective for capitalist nation states worldwide. This dominance, suggests Dale, rests on the ubiquity of the modern ‘growth paradigm’ – the proposition that economic growth is ‘goodimperative, essentially limitless, and the principal remedy for a litany of social problems’. The notion of growth, Dale suggests, performs a vital ideological function – ranking alongside nationalism as a means to present ‘particular interests as the general interest, and of incorporating the producing classes within the capitalist hegemonic project’.[14]

According to Harvey, long-term growth is a necessary feature of capitalism. He notes that:

…a zero-growth capitalist economy is a logical and exclusionary contradiction. It simply cannot exist. This is why zero-growth defines a condition of crisis for capital. If prolonged, zero growth of the sort that prevailed in much of the world in the 1930s spells the death knell of capitalism.[15]

While some seek to understand the ecologically destructive tendencies of capitalism in terms of an incessant drive for economic growth, others consider the issue instead in terms of capital accumulation (of which growth can be understood as a reconfiguration or fetishized reflection). In capitalist social formations, such accumulation is sought not only by individual capitalists; it constitutes an absolute necessity for the system at large.[16]

Such a focus on accumulation has given rise to debates on the environmentalist left between those calling for ‘de-growth’,[17] and eco-Marxist thinkers demanding instead an emphasis on ‘de-accumulation’.[18] Some ‘de-accumulationists’ have gone so far as to argue that growth could be ‘greened’ in a post-capitalist society ‘if the institutions and dynamics that drive capitalist accumulation were abolished and full democracy was established’.[19] We will return to this important issue below.

Regardless of whether one focuses on growth or accumulation, the historic relationship between capitalist social formations, economic growth, and increasing levels of material/energy throughput is clearly problematic in terms of ecological sustainability. It is this contradiction that the concept of ‘green capitalism’ seeks to address.

Part 1

1.1. ‘Green growth’ and the rise of the ‘green’ economy

The interrelated notions of ‘green growth’ and ‘green economy’ together constitute the foundation on which an already large and ever-growing body of ecological thinking is based. To help us consider the prominence of ‘green’ growth/economy discourses today – as well as the basis of some of the most common arguments against them – I will briefly outline the concept’s historical emergence.

‘Sustainable Development’

The roots of the ‘green’ growth/economy concept can be traced back to the ‘sustainable development’ agenda, the origins of which are in turn located in the economic dislocation and rising levels of ecological consciousness of the 1970s. This decade saw not only the crisis of Fordism and the first and second oil shocks, but also the development of an increased awareness of the environmental limits to capitalist accumulation in advanced capitalist countries. [20]

The notion of sustainable development was popularized – particularly in policy circles – by the publication of the Brundtland Commission’s ‘path breaking’ report on global environment and development in 1987. This report opened the way for the significant involvement of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in environment and development issues.[21] Its publication can be considered a key moment in the general shift that occurred in the 1980s from an approach based on social movement politics towards ‘non-conflictual’, market-based approaches more concerned with environmental taxes and pollution trading.[22]

The Brundtland report prepared the ground for the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.[23] This summit would prove significant for cementing the discourse of sustainable development, with its focus on resource management, and reconciling environmental problems with economic development (for more on ecological modernization, see section 1.2, below).[24]

From ‘sustainable development’ to ‘green growth/economy’

Although rarely heard prior to 2008, the term ‘green growth’ has since moved into the mainstream of international policy discourse.[25]

Like ‘sustainable development’ before it, the concept of ‘green’ growth/economy is sufficiently slippery that there exists no commonly agreed definition. The World Bank considers ‘inclusive green growth’ (rather vaguely) as ‘economic growth that is environmentally sustainable’;[26] for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a green economy is one that ‘results in improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities’.[27] Also like its predecessor, the ‘green growth/economy’ concept is driven by the ‘increasing urgent necessity to deal with environmental scarcity and degradation which is seen to threaten economic growth and development’.[28]

Whether the discourse of ‘green’ growth/economy constitutes a continuation of sustainable development discourse, or whether it is something related but different, remains the subject of debate.[29] For Kenis and Lievens, the green economy ‘project’ emerged from one particular construal of the ‘sustainable development’ agenda. This construal emphasises ‘the capacity of the market to deliver sustainability, and to reconcile economic, environmental, and social goals’.[30]

According to Dale, Mathai and De Olivera, although at first sight this new framework appeared as simply a reprise of the sustainable development paradigm, they suggest it differs from its predecessor in three ways.

Firstly, the various ‘green’ economy projects assert in stronger terms than sustainable development discourses that environmental sustainability is not only compatible with, but dependent on, the market system – hence the centrality of ecological entrepreneurs, banks and corporations in ‘green’ economic activities. Secondly, green growth strategies reconceptualise nature as a specific type of capital which must be measured, conserved, produced and accumulated. Thirdly, whilst sustainable development discourses tended to foreground social justice issues, green growth projects tend to overlook them.[31]

However one conceives the relationship between ‘sustainable development’ and ‘green’ growth/economy, Wanner makes a powerful case for considering the latter as ultimately concerned not with the sustainability of planetary resources, but of neoliberal capitalism.[32]

The (so-called) Global Financial Crisis and the Green New Deal(s)

The very future of neoliberal capitalism was thrown seriously into doubt by the Great Recession of 2008. In the aftermath of this crisis, the concept of ‘green growth’  – pursued through a variety of ‘Green New Deal’ strategies – emerged as a potential long-term ‘exit strategy’ from the ‘triple crisis’ of finance, energy, and environment.[33]

Indeed, the ‘triple crisis’ provided international institutions (e.g. World Bank, IMF, the UN) with the opportunity both to ‘upgrade their environmental credentials and to point to new fields of economic activity… which could relaunch the global market’.[34] This presented a ‘unique moment in history in which major environmental and economic challenges could be tackled simultaneously’.[35] Within months of the official acknowledgement of the global financial crisis, public figures such as former US Vice President Al Gore and then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, worked to convince governments that economic recovery strategies had to be ‘green’. In December 2008, Ban Ki-moon, stated that:

…Together, we face two crises: climate change and the global economy. But these crises present us with a great opportunity—an opportunity to address both challenges simultaneously. Managing the global financial crisis requires massive global stimulus. A big part of that spending should be an investment—an investment in a green future. An investment that fights climate change, creates millions of green jobs and spurs green growth. We need a Green New Deal… [36]

A surge of policy documents soon followed. For example, in 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released the Global Green New Deal report, which set out a mix of policy actions that would ‘stimulate economic recovery and at the same time improve the sustainability of the world economy’. Specifically, it called on governments to allocate stimulus funding to green sectors, which aimed to promote economic recovery, poverty eradication and carbon reduction.

Soon after came the OECD’s Interim Report of the Green Growth Strategy (2010), then the European Commission’s Roadmap for Moving to a Low Carbon Economy in 2050 (2011), the World Economic Forum’s More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency (2012) and the World Bank’s Inclusive Green Growth report (2012).

Indeed, so influential had the notion of the ‘green economy’ become that, two decades after the Rio Earth Summit, the Rio +20 conference on Sustainable Development, called The Future We Want (2012), was entirely dedicated to this issue. A means by which to incorporate increasingly public ecological concerns into the dominant political-economic paradigm, it continues to form a key plank of mainstream ecological-economic thinking today (see below).

Resistance to the green economy

The ‘green’ economy’s rise to dominance has not gone uncontested, however. Alongside attempts by corporate interests to thwart its development and implementation, there has also been marked resistance from grassroots political organisations, civil society groups and global networks. As Goodman and Saleh note, this was much in evidence at the fringes of the Rio +20 summit when a counter-hegemonic force of environmentalists, socialists, feminists, peasants and indigenous peoples formed an oppositional alliance’ at the ‘People’s Summit’ to voice concerns regarding pathways based on green growth. The Rio+20 conference, Goodman and Salleh suggest, highlighted the new political struggle between two clearly delineated global forces which introduced ‘a new chapter in the history of class conflict’.[37]

Other notable examples of ‘bottom-up’ resistance to the development of the neoliberal green economy can be found among initiatives associated with the Vivir Bien movement in Latin America, and within alternative agricultural movements such as Harvali project in India, community-supported agriculture schemes in the UK, and the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (Landless Workers Movement, or MST) in Brazil.[38] Trenchant critiques of the concept have also come from de-growth proponents and advocates of eco-Marxism.[39]

It must be noted that, despite the initial fervour that surrounded the green economy following the economic crisis, the green stimulus packages championed in its immediate aftermath failed in any meaningful sense to materialise.

As Tienhaara notes, it was not long before the New Deal symbolism was quietly dropped. Stimulus packages tended to be wound down.[40] As political attention in many countries turned instead to austerity programmes, interest in the GND waned (albeit temporarily – as we will discuss below, the concept has risen to prominence once again, particularly in the US.

The notion of green growth, however, has continued to play a key role within mainstream political circles as hegemonic actors have sought to incorporate growing public demands for a response to the ecological crises into their policy repertoire.[41]

If one accepts the criticisms of the concept of green growth, then these examples support the arguments of those who claim that green growth constitutes a ‘tranquilising dispositive’ – a way to incorporate environmental issues into the mode of production and living in highly selective ways beneficial for capitalist development, yet limited in terms of ecological protection potential.[42]

As we will see below, this is not to reject outright the notion of ecologically sensitive growth. However, the foregoing does raise questions regarding the very possibility of a meaningfully green capitalist regime. To explore this theme further, it is necessary to look more closely at the theoretical foundations of the concept ‘green growth’.

1.2. ‘Green’ growth and Ecological Modernization Theory (EMT)

As Pellow and Brehm suggest, to a lesser, greater – and sometimes total – extent, ‘green’ growth strategies are based on technological innovation. Through the development of ever more efficient productive technologies, the argument goes, society can become more sustainable while economic expansion continues apace. Indeed, ‘strong’ interpretations of this view claim that such a transformation is only possible through such productive innovation.[43]

Such a view lies at the heart of the Ecological Modernization (EM) thesis, which – alongside political ‘modernization’, corporate innovation and changes in environmental governance – advocates the adoption of ‘cleaner technologies that increase the efficiency with which societies use natural resources’.[44]

Tracing the roots of EMT

Ecological Modernization Theory originated in Europe during the 1980s, and in its initial form can be considered as the ‘social scientific elaboration and formalisation of the underlying philosophy concerning environmental change articulated in the Brundtland report’.[45]

EM theorists sought to structurally anchor environmental concerns within the market. To do so, Mol, Spaargaren and Sonnenfeld note that it was necessary to:

…leave behind prior tendencies within organised environmentalism that favoured vitriolic critiques of capitalism and industrialism and focussed on making a fundamental break with modernity.

To bring about environmental reform, they argue that such a:

…romantic yearning to revert to an agrarian past premised on ‘small is beautiful’ ideals had to be replaced by a more pragmatic posture that created space for dialogue and negotiation between professionalised environmental movements, expanding and diversifying environmental states, and increasingly engaged private sector actors.

In this process, ‘environmental futures’, they suggest:

…were not to be imported ‘from the outside’, but instead developed progressively from within the existing constellation of modernity in a way that reconstructed and redefined extant institutions so that environmental risks and side effects were addressed in a structural manner. During this process of deliberation, it was inevitable that ‘ecology loses its influence’ because the incorporation of environmental concerns by mainstream economic actors is possible only when environmental criteria, instruments and concepts are reformulated to mesh with the logics of modern markets. [46]

Huber, a key EM thinker, suggests that confrontation between environmental movements and industry was unavoidable during the 1960s-80s. However, more recently such conflict has become unnecessary as, when it comes to ecological degradation, apparently, ‘the elites have got the message’. With the elites on board, Huber suggests that future activity can focus on ‘cooperation with research, industries and government in favour of ecological modernization’. The question of putting the environmental question on the political agenda, he suggests, has been fulfilled. Therefore:

Now the race is about ecological modernization: working out integrated solutions to environmental problems and developing innovative technologies to ensure that ongoing societal modernization will pursue a sustainable path to the future. [47]

EMT in its early form had its roots in Europe, but from the mid-1990s on, by engaging with the work of sociologists such as Giddens, Beck Castells, Urry and others on globalization, EM thinkers such as Maartin Hajer, Arthur Mol, Fred Buttel and Gert Spaargaren have sought to move beyond the ‘methodological nationalism’ of its original Eurocentric focus. While much work has been done to develop a global broadening of EMT, its theorists have remained committed to ‘ecologising’ the economy and the pursuit of technological solutions to environmental problems. At its core, EMT remains focussed on ‘redirecting and transforming “free market Capitalism” in such a way that it less and less obstructs, and increasingly contributes to, the preservation of society’s sustenance base in a fundamental/structural way’.[48]

This viewpoint is strongly opposed by thinkers who consider ecological devastation inseparable from capitalist production. Hoffmann, for example, argues that EMT’s focus on technological change and market-based ecological modernization – at the expense of any consideration of the systemic drivers of environmental degradation – allows for the evasion of ‘tough’ political questions. After all, he suggests: ‘it is much simpler to transform technologies than to change societies and their socio-economic drivers’.[49]

For Foster, Clark and York, nothing short of such fundamental societal transformation will suffice. They argue that EM theorists tend to over-emphasise the technological aspect of future development while claiming that ‘the institutions of capitalist modernity can avert a global environmental crisis without a fundamental restructuring of the social order’.[50]

For Foster, such ‘post-political’, eco-modernist approaches are solely geared to ‘prioritizing accumulation over the interests of people and the planet’. What he demands instead is a ‘frontal assault on the system of capital accumulation’ and the ‘reconstitution of society at large on a more egalitarian and sustainable basis’. In Foster’s view, efforts to protect the planet require:

…immediate reversals in the regime of accumulation. This means opposing the logic of capital, whenever and wherever it seeks to promote the ‘creative destruction’ of the planet. Such a reconstitution of society at large cannot be merely technological, but must transform the human metabolic relation with nature through production, and hence the whole realm of social metabolic reproduction.[51]

It is a sentiment shared by Dale, Mathai and De Olivera. They argue that no amount of ‘techno-economic fixes and improvements in the management of markets will enable the path of endless growth to continue’.[52] To believe that ecological destruction can be curbed while pursuing growth-oriented policies – whether supposedly ‘green’ or otherwise – is, they suggest, ‘utopian folly’.[53] Yet this is precisely what the green growth argument proposes. Central to this view is the concept of ‘decoupling’.

1.2.1. Decoupling

The notion of ‘decoupling’ suggests that economic growth can be ‘delinked’ from environmental degradation, resource over-consumption and pollution.[54]

Decoupling has been promoted by many influential bodies, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2014), the European Union (European Environment Agency, 2017), the Breakthrough Institute (2016) and New Climate Economy (2014).

The economist, UN policy advisor and public intellectual Jeffrey Sachs is a prominent advocate of the decoupling concept. For Sachs, decoupling takes place through various policy instruments, for example ‘corrective taxation’ and public financial support for sustainable technologies. Such ‘progressive’ policy choices, he suggests, can make it possible to ‘achieve growth within planetary boundaries’. Through the process of decoupling, he suggests that:

…growth can continue while pressures on key resources (water, air, land, habitat of other species) and pollution are significantly reduced rather than increased.[55]

The notion of decoupling is indeed an alluring one for those who wish to engage with the problem of ecological destruction without, as Dale, Mathai and De Olivera put it, ‘stray[ing] outside the institutional and normative territory of the current political economic prevalent ideas’.[56] That certain interpretations of the decoupling concept present no fundamental challenges to the pursuit of economic growth so central to the process of capital accumulation undoubtedly accounts for its general appeal.

However, as Hoffmann notes, there are very few examples of where such decoupling has occurred.[57] Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, Fletcher and Rammelt describe the very notion as a ‘neoliberal fantasy’, one that functions to obfuscate the fundamental tensions between profitable activity, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability.[58]

To examine the relationship between decoupling and the ecological impacts of economic growth, it is necessary to differentiate between relative and absolute decoupling. While the former describes a decline in resources/economic impact per unit of economic output over time (rooted in increasing efficiencies in the production of economic goods), the latter concerns a decline in resource use and environmental impact in absolute terms (even with a growing economic output).[59]

Relative decoupling is common in production processes on a micro scale. However, it does nothing to address the problem of overall resource throughput and its detrimental ecological impacts at the macro level. For example, although technological development in ‘advanced’ economies may seemingly lead to efficiencies in production that are environmentally beneficial (as highlighted by the Environmental Kuznets Curve), this fails to account for the way such economies rely on commodities produced in ‘less developed’ economies in other parts of the world.[60]

The EM theorist Sonnenfeld does acknowledge that ‘production is supermaterialising in the South, even if arguably dematerialising in the North’. However, he goes on to suggest that such a global ecological imbalance need not be problematic to the EM view. Indeed, he believes that newly industrialising countries (NICs) have ‘the advantage of being able to use the latest, cleaner technologies from the onset of large-scale, modern manufacturing – ‘leap-frogging’, while benefitting from inexpensive raw materials and wages’.[61]

I have taken this extract from Sonnenfeld as I believe it highlights the neoliberal character of EM theory, and in so doing helps to demonstrate the emptiness of many of its claims regarding environmental and social justice. In it, Sonnenfeld ignores the issue of intellectual property and the fact that the new, efficient infrastructure he calls for in NICs must be financed – often on terms set by institutions in the Global North that reinforce global power dynamics at the expense of ‘less developed’ nations.[62] And when he suggests that Newly Industrialised Countries (as a homogenous entity, it seems) benefit from ‘inexpensive raw materials and wages’, he clearly highlights his disregard for environmental regulations and labour protection laws.

Another major problem for EM thinkers on the issue of (relative) decoupling is the Jevons Paradox. This contradiction in capitalist production is named after the nineteenth-century bourgeois economist William Stanley Jevons, who noted that the more efficient and cost-effective coal consumption became, the more desirable it became as a fuel source. The result, Jevons argued, was that increased efficiency leads to increased resource consumption.[63]

One example of this ‘rebound effect’ is the case of fuel efficiency in private car use in the European Union in recent decades, where the fuel savings of more fuel-efficient cars were outweighed by an increase in overall vehicle numbers and total mileage travelled. While fuel consumption per privately-owned car decreased by around 15% from 1990-2007, total mileage increased by over 40% – consequently, total fuel consumption rose by over 25%.[64]

According to Malm, the Jevons Paradox constantly negates eco-modernist ‘pipe dreams’ of achieving improved environmental sustainability though increased efficiencies in resource use. He notes that global accumulation has outweighed any positive effects of efficiency gains, and that capital migration (most notably to China) has reinforced the underlying rise in fossil fuel consumption in global production.[65]

As Foster, Clark and York point out, efforts by capitalists to make production more efficient is nothing new – indeed, efficiencies in material and energy use have always been integral to capitalist development.[66] However, given the central aim of capitalist production, efficiency gains made in the production process are primarily utilised in the service of further capital accumulation. As Hoffmann notes:

The key dilemma is that efficiency and productivity gains [linked to efficiencies in energy and material resource use] tend to boost economic growth, thus ushering in more physical consumption.[67]

To tackle ecological degradation in a meaningful way, then, absolute decoupling is required – and this needs to be ‘significant, fast, global and permanent’.[68] Yet according to Kallis, absolute decoupling is unlikely in the long term if growth persists. Although one resource might be substituted by an alternative, this only shifts pressure from one area to another.[69]

In capitalist economies, then, breaking the link between increased efficiencies in production and further ecological destruction associated with an ever-growing material throughout appears problematic.

Here, however, we here run up against the limits of the concept of green growth as so far conceived. To move forward, we must more fully consider the relationship between economic growth and ecologically sensitive societal transformation. This will entail 1) a closer examination of the category of growth; and 2) a consideration of growth in relation to political strategy at a time of acute ecological crisis. Ongoing debates between supporters of ‘green Keynesian’ policies and those aligned with the increasingly influential de-growth movement provide a useful entry point for this task. We will return to this issue in Part III. First, however, it is necessary to explore the relationship between capitalist production and fossil fuel energies.

Continue to Part 2.


Notes to Part 1

[1] Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976); Ngai-Ling Sum, Bob Jessop, Towards a Cultural Political Economy: Putting Culture in its Place in Political Economy (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013), p. 237.

[2] John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, Richard York, ‘Capitalism and the curse of energy efficiency’, Monthly Review, 62:6 (2010); Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (Chicago: Haymarket, 2014).

[3] Sum and Jessop, Towards a Cultural Political Economy; Bob Jessop, ‘Revisiting the regulation approach: critical reflections on the contradictions, dilemmas, fixes and crisis dynamics of growth regimes’, Capital & Class, 37:1 (2013), 7.

[4] Erik Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias (London: Verso, 2010), p. 34.

[5] Wright, Envisioning, pp. 34-5; capitalistic features play the dominant role: Bob Jessop, ‘The crisis of the national spatio-temporal fix and the tendential ecological dominance of globalizing capitalism’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24:2 (2000), 323–60.

[6]  For example, I consider neoliberalism to constitute a particularly aggressive and ecologically-destructive form of capitalism, see: Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (London: Penguin, 2014).

[7] Max Koch, Capitalism and Climate Change: Theoretical Discussion, Historical Development and Policy Responses (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), p. 37.

[8] John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, Richard York, ‘Ecology: the moment of truth – an introduction’, Monthly Review, 60:3 (2008).

[9] Gareth Dale, ‘The growth paradigm: a critique’, International Socialist Journal, 134 (2012); James Meadway, ‘Degrowth and the roots of neoclassical economics’, in: Gareth Dale, Manu V. Mathai, Jose  Puppim De Olivera (eds.), Green Growth: Ideology, Political Economy and the Alternatives (London: Zed Books, 2016); Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen., Jean-Paul Fitoussi, Report by the Commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress (Paris, 2009). Bonneuil and Fressoz, drawing on Mitchell, suggest that the ‘abandoning of the gold standard in the 1930s… and the invention of GDP for national accounting completed the dematerialization of economic thinking, so that the economy could now be conceived as growing indefinitely without coming up against physical limits’: Christophe Bonneuil, Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us, trans. David Fernbach (London: Verso, 2017), p. 161; Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (London: Verso, 2011).

[10] Dale, ‘Growth paradigm’.

[11] Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (London: Earthscan 2009), pp. 179-89.

[12] Dale, ‘Growth paradigm’.

[13] Giorgos Kallis, ‘Socialism without growth’, Capitalism Nature Socialism (2017), 1-18; Joan Martínez-Alier, ‘Environmental justice and economic degrowth: an alliance between two movements’, Capitalism Nature Socialism 23 (2012), 62; Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone (London: Penguin, 2010).

[14] Dale, ‘Growth paradigm’.

[15] David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2014), p. 232.

[16] Ståle Holgersen, Rikard Warlenius, ‘Destroy what destroys the planet: Steering creative destruction in the dual crisis’, Capital & Class, 40:3 (2016), 518; Marx, Capital, vol. 1.

[17] Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria, Giorgos Kallis (eds.), Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (Oxford: Routledge, 2015); Kallis, ‘Socialism without growth’; Serge Latouche, Farewell to Growth (Cambridge: Polity, 2009).

[18] John Bellamy Foster, ‘Capitalism and Degrowth: an impossibility theorem’, Monthly Review, 62:8 (2011), 26-33.

[19] Leandro Vergara-Camus, ‘Capitalism, democracy, and the degrowth horizon’, Capitalism Nature Socialism (2017).

[20] Bob Jessop, ‘Nicos Poulantzas on political economy, political ecology, and democratic socialism’, Journal of Political Ecology, 24 (2017), 186-99. Indeed, this decade saw the rise of the Catton and Dunlap’s ‘New Ecological Paradigm’ in environmental sociology, the publication of the influential Limits to Growth report by the Club of Rome (1972), the launch of the United Nations’ ‘Stockholm Declaration on the Environment’ (1972), the introduction by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of the ‘polluter pays principle’ (1972), and the publication of the Ecologist’s A Blueprint for Survival (1972).

[21] Michael Redclift, ‘Sustainable development (1987–2005): an oxymoron comes of age’, Sustainable Development, 13:4 (2005), 212–27.

[22] Holgersen, Walrenius, ‘Destroy’, 514; Max Koch, Capitalism and Climate Change: Theoretical Discussion, Historical Development and Policy Responses (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[23]  At this summit, all UN members ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), thereby pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ‘prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’ (United Nations, 1992).

[24] Ulrich Brand, ‘Green economy – the next oxymoron? No lessons learned from failures of implementing sustainable development’, GAIA, 21:1 (2012), 28.

[25] Michael Jacobs, ‘Green growth: economic theory and political discourse’, Centre for Climate Change Economics and Working Paper, 108 (October 2012); Thomas Wanner, ‘The new “Passive Revolution” of the green economy and growth discourse: maintaining the “sustainable development” of neoliberal capitalism’, New Political Economy, 20:1 (2015), 21-41.

[26] World Bank, Inclusive Green Growth: the Pathway to Sustainable Development (2012), p. 24.

[27] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication (2011), p. 16.

[28] Wanner, ‘The new “Passive Revolution”’, p. 26.

[29] Brand, ‘Green economy’; Wanner, ‘The new “Passive Revolution”’.

[30] Anneleen Kenis, Matthias Lievens, ‘Greening the economy or economizing the green project? When environmental concerns are turned into a means to save the market’, Review of Radical Political Economics, 48:2 (2016), 218.

[31] Gareth Dale, Manu V. Mathai, Jose  Puppim De Olivera (eds.), Green Growth: Ideology, Political Economy and the Alternatives (London: Zed Books, 2016), pp. 4-5.

[32] Wanner, ‘The new “Passive Revolution”’.

[33] Bob Jessop, ‘Economic and ecological crises: green new deals and no-growth economies’, Development, 55:1 (2012), 17-24.

[34] Anneleen Kenis, Matthias Lievens, The Limits of the Green Economy (London: Routledge, 2015), p. 4.

[35] Kyla Tienhaara, ‘Varieties of green capitalism: economy and environment in the wake of the global financial crisis’, Environmental Politics, 23:2 (2014), 187.

[36] Ban Ki-Moon, Opening statement to the High-Level Segment of the UN Climate Change Conference (11 December 2008).

[37] James Goodman, Ariel Salleh, ‘The “Green Economy”: class hegemony and counter-hegemony’, Globalizations, 10:3 (2013), 412.

[38] Steffen Böhm, Maria Ceci Araujo Misoczky, David Watson, Sanjay Lanka, ‘Alternatives to Green Growth? Possibilities and contradictions of self-managed food production’, in: Dale et al., Green Growth.

[39] Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria, Giorgos Kallis (eds.), Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (Oxford: Routledge, 2015); John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).

[40] Kyla Tienhaara, ‘Governing the global green economy’, Global Policy, 7:4 (2016), 485.

[41] Joel Wainwright, Geoff Mann, Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future (London: Verso, 2018); Wanner, ‘The new “Passive Revolution”’.

[42] Ulrich Brand, ‘Green economy, green capitalism and the imperial mode of living: limits to a prominent strategy, contours of a possible new capitalist formation’, Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences 9:1 (2016), 107–121.

[43] David N. Pellow, Hollie Nyseth Brehm, ‘An environmental sociology for the twenty-first century’, Annual Review of Sociology, 39 (2013), 232.

[44] Thomas K. Rudel, J. Timmons Roberts, JoAnn Carmin, ‘Political Economy of the Environment’, Annual Review of Sociology, 37 (2011), 233.

[45] Arthur P. J. Mol, David A. Sonnenfeld, Gert Spaargaren, (eds.) The Ecological Modernisation Reader: Environmental Reform in Theory and Practice (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 6.

[46] Mol et al. (eds.) Ecological Modernisation, p. 7.

[47] Joseph Huber, ‘Ecological Modernization: Beyond Scarcity’, in Mol et al. (eds.) Ecological Modernisation, p. 54.

[48] Arthur P. J. Mol, Martin Janicke, ‘The origins and theoretical foundations of Ecological Modernisation Theory’, in: Mol et al. (eds.) Ecological Modernisation, p. 24.

[49] Ulrich Hoffmann, ‘Can green growth really work? A reality check that elaborates on the true (socio-) economics of climate change’, in: Dale et al. (eds.), Green Growth, pp. 22-41.

[50] Foster, Clark, York, Ecological Rift, p. 140.

[51] John Bellamy Foster, ‘The long ecological revolution’, Monthly Review, 69:6 (2017).

[52] Dale et al. (eds.), Green Growth, p. 1.

[53] Dale et al. (eds.), Green Growth, p. 10.

[54] Wanner, ‘The new “Passive Revolution”’, 29-30.

[55] Jeremy Sachs, The Age of Sustainable Development (New York: Columbia UP, 2015), p. 217 (emphasis added).

[56] Dale et al. (eds.), Green Growth, p. 1.

[57] Hoffman, ‘Can green growth really work’, p. 27.

[58] Robert Fletcher, Crelis Rammelt, ‘Decoupling: a key fantasy of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda’, Globalizations, 14:3, (2015), 450.

[59] Wanner, ‘The new “Passive Revolution”’, 30.

[60] Dale et al. (eds.), Green Growth, p. 8.

[61] David A. Sonnenfeld, ‘Contradictions of Ecological Modernization: Pulp and paper manufacturing in Couth-East Asia’, in: Mol et al. (eds.) Ecological Modernisation Reader, pp. 386-7 (emphasis added).

[62] Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (London: Verso, 2006); Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (London: Penguin, 2007).

[63] Foster, Clark, York, Ecological Rift, p. 141.

[64] Hoffman, ‘Can green growth really work’, p. 27.

[65] Andreas Malm, Fossil Capitalism: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2016), p. 354.

[66] Foster, Clark, York, ‘Long ecological revolution’.

[67] Hoffman, ‘Can green growth really work’, p. 32.

[68] Hoffman, ‘Can green growth really work’, p. 26.

[69] Giorgos Kallis, ‘Socialism without growth’, Capitalism Nature Socialism, (2017) 1-18.