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The Limits of Green Capitalism in West Michigan

July 13, 2011

For the past year we have been looking at the limitations of Green Capitalism, particularly as it relates to what is being promoted in West Michigan. We have dissected stories about Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, Kellogg and other corporate claims of being green as well as what the public sector is doing that promotes Green Capitalism.

We subscribe to e-newsletter from MiBiz, which tends to provide plenty of examples of why Green Capitalism not only has limitations, it is deceptive and ultimately unsustainable. The most recent edition from MiBiz is a perfect example of the flawed thinking behind the idea that Capitalism can somehow be sustainable.

The first story worth looking at was about the public/private effort to get electric car charging stations installed throughout West Michigan. The article sites both private and public officials who make claims that providing electric car charging stations will make cities cleaner.

While there will be less air pollution from electric cars than fossil fuel based cars, there are serious limitations to promoting this kind of transportation. If you are using electricity in the Grand Rapids area you are most likely going to be using electricity that was generated from the burning of coal. Not exactly a sustainable energy source. Secondly, there is generally no discussion about the ecologically unsound practice of electric car battery production, which includes mining and all the energy needed to manufacture such items.

Lastly, there is the problem of perpetuating this individual consumer mentality, which says we can purchase our way out of the global warming dilemma. If there is a shift from fossil fuel cars to electric cars, it will mean more mining for materials to build the cars, continual need for road and parking construction and for people to have to spend roughly a quarter of their annual income on the cost of owning a car.  As Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler make clear in their recent book Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism, if we are serious about ecological sustainability then we need to shift from cars to mass transit, bicycling and walking.

A second story that merits some attention was about a “Go Green” golf outing that was being hosted by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF). The golf outing is a fundraiser for education scholarships for future students who want to pursue a career in “sustainable business.” The WMSBF promotes the goal to encourage the adoption and implementation of sustainable development business practices aimed at improving corporate profitability.” The notion that one can be sustainable and profitable is one of the most basic flaws of Green Capitalism in that it is premised on perpetual growth.

In addition to the flawed green capitalism message in this second story the fact that this group is having a fundraiser at a golf course should raise red flags for everyone. Golf courses require a tremendous amount of maintenance, which means the use of fossil fuels for mowing, often pesticides and toxic fertilizers for maintaining the grass and a tremendous amount of water is consumed in order to keep the golf course perfectly green. Plus, golf courses are one of the most inefficient uses of land, land that could be left alone for wildlife habitat or transformed into nature preserves.

The last article worth looking at was about Cascade Engineering and their “sustainable” water filter product. The article talks about the daughter of the company who was in Honduras and how she was able to provide some assistance to people who hand no access to clean water.

Cascade Engineering, which is traditionally an auto parts manufacturer, has now added water filters to their product line. The company made this decision a few years ago when they made a financial partnership with the WindQuest Group, a private investment firm of the DeVos family. Now Cascade and WindQuest can promote their humanitarian efforts around the global. However, this sustainable effort is not so simple.

Nowhere in the article are readers provided with any analysis or historical context to why so many people around the world don’t have access to safe drinking water. Humans have been contaminating water for centuries, but with the onset of industrial capitalism the amount of water contamination has skyrocketed.

Industrial capitalism has contaminated water through mining, deforestation, road building, toxic dumping, pesticide and fossil fuel fertilizer use and the creation of a consumer culture that has brought with it the increase of garbage.

Cascade Engineering has made its money from the production of car & truck parts, one of the most insidious aspects of industrial capitalism and now they want to cash in on trying to make a product that will solve the problem of water contamination…..or are they?

One basic premise of ecological sustainability is to be able to do something that will not harm the ecological integrity of any ecosystem. Providing water filters to people, who live near water systems that are contaminated, is not sustainable. Addressing the root of the problem – the source of the water contamination – would be a sustainable outcome. This might mean the elimination of toxic dumping by factories or the elimination of pesticide and fossil fuel fertilizer use from industrial agriculture. The only problem with these kinds of solutions is that there is no profit to be made. Why stop the problem when you can make a new product and more profits by providing people with what only seems like a solution?

If we are serious about the future of the planet then we cannot afford to support the claims of sustainability that Green Capitalism offers. Green Capitalism simply isn’t sustainable.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Y.B. Ordinary permalink
    July 14, 2011 4:08 pm

    Nice essay, Jeff.

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