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Behind the ‘Green Economy’: Profiting from environmental and climate crisis

September 17, 2012

Last week, the organization GRAIN posted an important analysis piece, which critique’s the so-called Green Economy and exposes how the free market system is profiting from current ecological crisis, namely the climate crisis.

The analysis states, “This new area of business has been designated as the “Green Economy.” Previously the concept referred almost exclusively to activities involving the creation of energy from sources other than petrol, but today it is used in a larger sense, permitting the inclusion of a) the commercialization of all goods that nature offers (water, biodiversity, land, scenic beauty, the re-fill of rivers and lakes, climate regularity, even air and in fact, any other natural process that we could potentially sell) and b) all economic activities that create ways to allegedly mitigate climate change and environmental degradation, but are ultimately about adapting to their effects.”

What the authors of this analysis are ultimately describing is free market capitalism, which sees everything as a commodity to make profits from.

The analysis continues by stating:

Corporate and government studies and documents insist that there are many opportunities to make money (to the order of billions of dollars), but they do not explain long term calculations, nor do they specify general figures. At best, they only provide a few examples of cases considered to be successes. Even so, the potential for profit seems enormous. Morgan Stanley, one of the only companies to have given concrete figures, indicated in 2007 that the “clean energy” sector could generate revenues of billions of dollars for the firm in 2030.8 At present, the global carbon market alone generates around 180 billion dollars per year. The entire market of goods and services “with a low carbon footprint” (which only includes one aspect on adaptation) currently surpasses 5.5 billion dollars annually (more than 7 per cent of the global Gross Domestic Product) and it is growing at an incredible speed. 10 This figure is actually insignificant when compared to the scale of the privatization of nature in its entirety. The figure initially given by one of the pioneering promoters of the Green Economy indicates that if everything in nature were to be transformed into commodities, the trade that would result would be equivalent to some two times the global GDP, according to the most conservative of estimates.

The document by GRAIN continues by discussing other aspects of the “Green Economy,” what that means for ecosystems and the role of the state in promoting private sector investments that profit from the climate crisis.

One of the critiques they provide is the idea that not only do we need to find truly renewable forms of energy, we need to make sure it is not left in the hands of the private sector.

There has been a rush by the fossil fuel industry and investment companies to cash in on the energy crisis, not because it is smart, but because it is extremely profitable. Look at what happened in 2007-2008 with the big push for bio-fuels. People in the US were clamoring for ways to be less dependent on oil and said we should be producing more bio-fuels. This led to a significant amount of government subsidies to large corporations to divert corn from food to fuel. Agro-fuels are not only an inefficient use of land, they end up contributing almost as much to global warming as do fossil fuels. To top it off, the race to divert grains to fuels resulted in an increase in basic food prices globally and global hunger.

A Michigan example of the Green Economy

Here in Michigan we saw a recent example of the so-called Green Economy with a $750,000 federal grant going to NextEnergy, a private company that does R&D for companies profiting from alternative energy systems.

Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow just announced this federal grant for NextEnergy and hailed it as a benefit for Michigan because of the jobs it would create. What the Levin and Stabenow announcement doesn’t tell you is that NextEnergy has a history of working for the Department of Defense and has been lobbying since the company was founded to get federal funds for their work.

NextEnergy’s leadership consists of many people who have worked in the for-profit dirty energy sector, with both the CEO and several board members coming from DTE. These people have a profound understanding of how to use the system to make profits, even in the name of clean energy.

Some people might say, “well, I don’t care if they make money from this, as long as the energy is renewable.” Such a sentiment is not only naïve, it misses the bigger point about the problem of profiting from the current climate crisis.

As long as alternative energy remains in the hands of private companies, the public will truly not have a say in environmental policy. Private companies will be able to determine how energy is produced, how it is distributed and how it is consumed. What good will it do us in the end to have wind energy if it means that it powers much of the destructive hyper-consumerist economy that we currently have? We need an energy system and an economy that is truly democratic and sustainable.

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