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Inclusive green growth or extractive greenwashed decay

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By Patrick Bond.

The debate over the Green Economy rages on next month in Rio de Janeiro, at the International Society for Ecological Economics meetings, the Cupulo dos Povos alternative people’s summit, and the UN’s Rio+20 Earth Summit. Proponents and critics of ‘green growth’ capitalism will butt heads using narratives about valuations of nature and the efficacy of markets.

Boiling down a complex argument from her book Eco-Sufficiency & Global Justice, University of Sydney-based political ecologist Ariel Salleh observes how a triple externalization of costs ‘takes the form of an extraction of surpluses, both economic and thermodynamic: 1) a social debt to inadequately paid workers; 2) an embodied debt to women family caregivers; and 3) an ecological debt drawn on nature at large.’

At minimum, addressing these problems requires full-fledged re-accounting to toss out the fatally-flawed GDP indicator, and to internalize environment and society in the ways we assess costs and benefits. This exercise would logically both precede and catalyze a full-fledged transformation of financing, extraction, production, transport and distribution, consumption and disposal systems.

But it is only in the struggle for transformation that we learn how institutions of power hold fast to their privileges, and why genuine change won’t happen through mere tampering with national income accounts: ‘torturing the data until they confess’, the old economists’ adage.

The World Bank is one such institution, in part because the man taking charge next month,Jim Yong Kim, is a progressive medic and anthropologist. It’s fair to predict that he’ll add style to the Bank’s ‘talk left, walk right’ break-dance repertoire, spinning out arguments that will make our heads spin, while business continues more or less as usual.

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