Green-Washing At Its Best

It’s a Capitalist world.  Nothing happens unless there is profit to be made. Capitalism is inherent to modern society, and arguably always was on some level.  

So how are we supposed to manage the impending collapse of modern society, such a collapse being a given, and inevitably entailing a corresponding collapse of society’s entangled capitalism, if, as a result of such collapse, there is no way to profit from it?

That, in essence, is the idea that Richard Heinberg’s essay title (link below) tries to express.

It is a problem that some of the best capitalist minds in both business and the environmental movement have been working on for decades now. Notice I didn’t mention government. Government hasn’t a clue on the subject. But you would have realised that by now, surely. 

And these nouveau-capitalist minds – the old ones still mainly in denial or too heads-down and occupied in keeping their profits churning the old way – have come up with a huge array of technical ideas, all intended to rebase a re-energised society (without anybody noticing there was a collapse) on an all-fresh and all-new capitalism.

Heinberg is a well respected voice among the, how shall I describe it, ‘collapse and beyond’ or ‘resilience’ community.  Yet his writings have never really grabbed me.  Yes, he is well versed in the way things are and how they are going, but there is always an element of ‘don’t worry folks, we have got this covered and it will all work out for the best in the end‘.  That’s not a quote, just my paraphrasing of his usual message.  Seemingly to damp down any tendency to panic over issues that the world at large should quite rightly be panicking about rather than being falsely soothed into slumber.  That has never sat well with me – and it still doesn’t.

Heinberg trots out all the old arguments about the problems that have led to the impending collapse, and it is kind of refreshing to see them aired once again.  But he then, completely forgetting about what he is meant to be talking about (is that deliberate, or not?), proceeds to outline the efficacy of all the new ideas, eventually claiming:

“And here we are today. The opportunities for green growth have snowballed to the point where they are now seemingly endless.”

From which point he proceeds to build a whole new world of ultra-modern capitalist society, based on those new technologies.  A world in which we can all live happily ever after, having never felt the downsides of collapse because of all new profit generating opportunities.  The only downside of which is that the new society is slower and smaller – something that mysteriously happens as a result of our newly enlightened endeavours.  What a wonderful world!

But how did this new world suddenly become slower and smaller without undergoing any meaningful collapse scenario – saved by continuing profit generation? And no growth?

He conveniently and magically vanishes away all the debt, all the polluting waste, all the burgeoning population issues of both the old and newly created world, and finishes with an unbelievably contradictive final paragraph which says”

“You see, the real downside of the green-profit narrative has been that it created the assumption in many people’s minds that the solution to climate change and other environmental dilemmas is technical, and that policy makers and industrialists will implement it for us, so that the way we live doesn’t need to change in any fundamental way. That’s never been true. The sooner we get that through our heads, the more time we will have to get used to living happily within limits—without nature imposing those limits in ways that aren’t so pleasant.” – emphasis is mine

For goodness sake, he has built his new happy world on nothing but the “green-profit narrative” and the “…solution to climate change and other environmental dilemmas is technical” – all of which is, and essentially relies on, pure profit driven capitalism.  The only positively operative words in that summation are, taking them out of context, in which they don’t seem to fit anyway – “That’s never been true.

This is real ‘green-washing’ as I have rarely seen before. A mixture of truths, half-truths, and a huge dollop of fable.  But if you think that is the way it will all play out, well, there it is, all nicely laid out for you.

Don’t you see the flaws in the arguments?  

Is the title merely an instrument to divert attention from the fact that the whole piece is an unabashed prospectus for capitalism?

“What If Preventing Collapse Isn’t Profitable?” – by Richard Heinberg, shared on the Titanic Lifeboat Academy, or here on Heinberg’s own blog:


5 thoughts on “Green-Washing At Its Best

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  1. I’ll have to dive in to Richard’s defense here. He knows exactly where it’s at. That final paragraph isn’t contradictive at all. He’s telling the reader what the normal person thinks is the solution to all the problems (not what he himself believes) and then he says that’s never been true. He’s not ‘green-washing’, he’s rubbishing those who do it.
    Watch his Post-Doom interview with Michael Dowd :

    1. It’s not about the final paragraph Bev. I think you miss the point, basically being that a collapse is unavoidable and no amount of wishy-washy theories on man finding new technological solutions to replace the old, that will allow a continuance of life on the same level of complexity – which is what he describes throughout, dismissing all the reasons why that could not possibly work but setting it up as providing a nice tidy solution based of continued profit making from new industry. Totally unworkable, and especially unworkable in a world of contraction, simplicity and without economic growth.

      I’m not sure how you cannot see that.

      1. Yes, of course I see that a collapse is unavoidable….I’ve seen it for years and accept it. And he does too and that’s what he’s saying, IMO. You appear to be saying that despite what he sees, he’s ” setting it up as providing a nice tidy solution based of continued profit making from new industry”, i.e. that’s what he believes. I’m confused.

      2. OK Bev, I didn’t want to dissect the piece , and I still don’t, but I have reread it and while I may have been a bit harsh on Mr Heinberg I still feel it is the wrong message – as it always has been from him. Yes, he says all the right things in all of his writings at the start but always ends with some reassuring dreams that all will be well eventually. I have never bought that.

        So, what do I now take on a third reading from this? I agree with everything he says up to the point where “That’s why there’s been no overall shift in society’s direction,” although I do think he has built up the green-energy position rather better than it is and obviously there has been no “shift in society’s direction”. He then asks the question: “So, what would actually be required to stop the bleeding?” First mistake (if we discount his previous overt praising of the green energy industry). First raising of false hope. He is going to show us how we can make something of all that hype by simply making some adjustments – in a controlled manner. That is the picture I’m getting, and it is completely false and dangerous. He talks about things which could never possibly happen in our current industrial system, arising from and stressed twice by him as “policy makers would have to reorganize (and ‘retool’ in the second version) political and economic systems”. No talk of collapse. Simply a ‘reorganising’ and ‘retooling’ brought about by changes in policy. That is pie-in-the-sky stuff. Hogwash. Never going to happen, by any other means that a complete system failure – about which not a word is mentioned. Then comes the big one – population – as I mentioned in my post. Which is apparently shrinking as a result of policy changes in this scenario. Not going to happen without some catastrophic die-off. No mention of that. Just a smooth ‘transition’ – a phrase he also uses.

        These are all things you know Bev. What is the difficulty that leaves you confused? It is a non-catastrophic, policy-led, white-washing of reality.

  2. I don’t want to labour the point either, Bernie. It’s just that i don’t see him as saying what you think he’s saying. I know he believes collapse is inevitable and that there are no solutions, but I’ll read it again, perhaps more carefully. In the meantime I hope things are well with you….at least as well as they can be, with this stupid lockdown game the Govt is playing..

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