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Climate Justice, Not Growth Mania

by Stephan Kaufmann, T.Muller and A.Passadakis Monday, Feb. 15, 2010 at 8:06 AM

"In green capitalism, the bio-crisis is at the center of the growth strategy. The Green New Deal represents a kind of ecological inversion of Kennedy's famous sentence: Ask not what you can do for the environment but what the environment can do for you..."


By Stephan Kaufmann and Tadzio Muller

[This article published in the journal Luxemburg, January 2010 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

At global climate conferences, states wrestle over the future climate regime that will change their place in the global competition of capital locations. With the questions “Who wins?” and “Who loses?” climate negotiations break down or end with pedantic minimal compromises time and again. This happened again in Copenhagen 2009.

“Capitalism is an intense evolutionary system that is capable of learning. In the past, it has transformed every crisis and every opposition into a wave of innovations.”

(Ralf Fuchs) [1]

Neoliberal capitalism is in crisis or crises. As everybody knows, crises are times in which things change and cards are reshuffled. A little revolution occurred just before the European election when the Financial Times of Germany – the voice of enlightened internalized capital – gave its election recommendation to the Greens, not the FDP or the social-democratic union. It spoke of the party as a “market-friendly motor of innovation” and of the “Green New Deal” that lays down an economic program for future ecological technology with ambitious goals on protecting the atmosphere. [2] “Whoever wants meaningful changes can make his sign of the cross with the Greens this time” (FTD 2009).

What makes the “Green New Deal” (GND) so attractive for the editors of the FTD? According to our thesis, the capital-side is interested in the GND so it can internalize these crises as a new growth motor to solve the other crises of capitalism, not to solve the large number of acute present ecological crises. [3] It cannot really solve these crises. What is involved is not simple green-washing, green-colored marketing without real substance. Rather a new accumulation period, a “green capitalism,” should begin at the end of the neoliberal growth regime. In green capitalism, the “bio-crisis” is at the heart of the growth strategy and can neither be solved nor ignored. Thus green capitalism with its proposal of a GND represents a kind of ecological inversion of Kennedy’s famous sentence: Ask not what you can do for the environment but what the environment can do for you.


Several things are happening. There is the political crisis swelling since the end of the 1990s, a crisis of legitimation of global and nation-state institutions from the World Trade Organization (WTO), the IMF and the World Bank to national legislatures, parties and class compromises. This loss of legitimation may have been cushioned for a short while by the war on terror, which after a few years was a strategy of dominance than undermined more than it safeguarded system stability. Secondly, there is the worldwide economic crisis, the result not only of the collapse of the financial system but of deeper causes as for example the absence of a sustainable motor of growth and profits made with increasingly short-lived bubbles. Finally, there is the energy crisis. The deposits of fossil sources of energy on which the world economic system is currently based will run out sooner or later. This will trigger higher energy prices and conflicts around energy security in the medium term. Whether neoliberalism is at an end may be disputed. Capital and governments need “a good growth motor to come out of this crisis.” “Simply raising demands is not enough,” in the words of Lord Sterns (FTD 12/2/2008). What will be such a motor?


There is another crisis with the potential of destroying capitalism and also breathing new life into it. The bio-crisis is a multitude of social-ecological crises like the climate crisis, loss of bio-diversity, deforestation and so forth. This crisis has the potential of settling the economic crisis and all three above-named crises in one blow. Here are three examples. Firstly, there is the legitimation crisis of the G8 summit in Heiligendamm. Despite tactically brilliant actions, the global justice movement ran strategically into empty space. While we tried to de-legitimate the G8 by means of our “traditional” anti-neoliberal criticism, the G8 re-legitimated itself – with Angela Merkel leading the way – by giving the impression that tackling or solving climate change is a problem of humanity. Secondly, the many “green” economic programs could become more important in the economic crisis, e.g. the green aspects of different programs… Thirdly on the energy crisis, promotion of renewable energy involves energy security more than the climate. More wind energy means less dependence on the oil of other countries. Worldwide protection of the atmosphere includes enormous export chances for states that are the world market leaders in eco-technology.

What exactly is happening here? Crises in capitalism are not necessarily negative. The core of the Fordist-Keynesian New Deal that helped technology solve the crises of the 1920s and 1930s was internalizing, not dissolving or ignoring the antagonism between labor and capital. After this antagonism was tamed and deactivated in corporatist agreements on wages and productivity, a new period of capitalist development and accumulation began, the “Golden Age” of capital. The secret of long-lived capital lies in its capacity to exploit limits and crises as driving forces for its further expansion.

What class antagonism was 80 years ago, the bio-crisis is now, the result of an insoluble antagonism between the capitalist pressure to boundless accumulation and our collective survival on a limited bio-sphere – between infinite growth and our existence on a finite planet. The bio-crisis could encourage capital fractions and governments to work on the legitimation-, accumulation- and energy crises. The antagonism should not and cannot be dissolved but could become the driving force of a new green capitalism and simultaneously serve the extension of state regulation and rule in our daily routine. The potential to open up new accumulation areas and political legitimation reserves arises through the so-called ecological modernization of economic and political structures.


While the GND could partly solve the economic- and other crises, it will not solve the bio-crisis because it is an attractive project of capitalist modernization and perpetuates its dynamic: “Accumulate, accumulate!” (MEW 23, 621). Capital needs or is accumulation. Capital accumulation has always been intrusive in the environment for 200 years.

Many promise that the story of environmentally-friendly (sustainable) capitalist growth told for over 20 years will really be true this time! Protection of the atmosphere for the world community may be cheaper than the continuing climate change! But who will pay for the costs is not explained. At the global climate conferences, states wrestle over the organization of the future climate regime that will decisively change their position in the global competition of capital locations. These questions – who wins and who loses – broke down climate negotiations again and again or negotiations ended with minimal compromises like the Copenhagen conference in December 2009.

Twenty years of ecological modernization of capitalism have brought amazing advances but not any relevant ecologically positive effects. Relying on the results of a climate summit, that is doing the same thing time and again and expecting different results – was Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. In this sense, concrete climate policy is insane. Neither emission trade nor more renewable energy in the energy-mix has produced appreciable emission reductions. Emission trade has proven slower and less effective in Germany than direct orders and prohibitions. The carbon-offset trade is also counter-productive in the scope of the Clean Development mechanism of the Kyoto protocol that allows industrial countries to make emission reductions in the Global South instead of reducing their own emissions.

In March 2009, a conference in Copenhagen recognized global warming was occurring faster than predicted in the most pessimistic scenarios of the World Climate Council (Guardian 12/2009). More and more greenhouse gases are emitted and the speed of the increase rises. [4] Only two processes actually led to pollution reductions in the last 20 years – the collapse of growth-fixated regimes of the state socialist Eastern bloc and the current economic crisis. These two processes have one thing in common: drastic slumps in economic growth.

The nice-sounding proposal for a GND ignores the ecologically-central dimension of growth. For a long time, the economic perspective replaced the ecological perspective. But despite this obvious weakness, the same Greens who now sell the GND as the better capitalist growth program and until recently warned of the limits of growth present this program as the only possible pragmatic route for the social-ecological left given the urgency of the ecological crisis. The left remains captive to the capitalist growth principle. If one thinks beyond this, new political possibilities and necessities open up, for example climate justice instead of growth mania. This is not an empty demand or an abstract-radical platitude. After the decline of the great global justice summit protests, a global movement for climate justice arose in the last years. The climate crisis is a social problem and result of social-, capitalist- and other exploitation relations (North-South, gender etc).

Can a Green New Deal help solve crises and social interests and justice questions with view to the “Global South” or not?


1 Bei der Neugründung des Rates für radikale Realpolitik -

Der Zukunftskommission der RLS am 14.5.2009, Berlin; vgl.

auch Fücks/Steenbock (2007, 63).

2 Neben der Klimakrise wären da noch der Verlust von

Biodiversität, Versteppung, Wassermangel, Zerstörung

ökologischer Ökosysteme (v.a. in den Meeren) u.a.m.


emissions-accelerating-3706-1/ - jedenfalls war dies

bis zum Beginn der Weltwirtschaftskrise der Fall.

4; http://withoutyourwalls.



No to false solutions! Climate Justice Now!

By Alexis Passadakis and Tadzio Muller

[These theses were published in: Prager Fruhling 12/18/2009,]

1. The current world economic crisis marks the end of the neoliberal phase of capitalism. ‘Business as usual’ (financialisation, deregulation, privatisation…) is thus no longer an option: new spaces of accumulation and types of political regulation will need to be found by governments and corporations to keep capitalism going

2. Alongside the economic and political as well as energy crises, there is another crisis rocking the world: the biocrisis, the result of a suicidal mismatch between the ecological life support system that guarantees our collective human survival and capital’s need for constant growth

3. This biocrisis is an immense danger to our collective survival, but like all crises it also presents us, social movements, with a historic opportunity: to really go for capitalism’s exposed jugular, its need for unceasing, destructive, insane growth

4. Of the proposals that have emerged from global elites, the only one that promises to address all these crises is the ‘Green New Deal’. This is not the cuddly green capitalism 1.0 of organic agriculture and D.I.Y. windmills, but a proposal for a new ‘green’ phase of capitalism that seeks to generate profits from the piecemeal ecological modernisation of certain key areas of production (cars, energy, etc.)

5. Green capitalism 2.0 cannot solve the biocrisis (climate change and other ecological problems such as the dangerous reduction of biodiversity), but rather tries to profit from it. It therefore does not fundamentally alter the collision course on which any market-driven economy sets humanity with the biosphere.

6. This isn’t the 1930s. Then, under the pressure of powerful social movements, the old ‘New Deal’ redistributed power and wealth downwards. The ‘New New’ and ‘Green New Deal’ discussed by Obama, green parties all around the world, and even some multinationals is more about welfare for corporations than for people

7. Green Capitalism won’t challenge the power of those who actually produce most greenhouse gases: the energy companies, airlines and carmakers, industrial agriculture, but will simply shower them with more money to help maintain their profit rates by making small ecological changes that will be too little, too late

8. Because globally, working people have lost their power to bargain and demand rights and decent wages, in a green capitalist setup, wages will probably stagnate or even decline to offset the rising costs of ‘ecological modernisation’

9. The ‘green capitalist state’ will be an authoritarian one. Justified by the threat of ecological crisis it will ‘manage’ the social unrest that will necessarily grow from the impoverishment that lies in the wake of rising cost of living (food, energy, etc.) and falling wages

10. In green capitalism, the poor will have to be excluded from consumption, pushed to the margins, while the wealthy will get to ‘offset’ their continued environmentally destructive behaviour, shopping and saving the planet at the same time

11. An authoritarian state, massive class inequalities, welfare given to corporations: from the point of view of social and ecological emancipation, green capitalism will be a disaster that we can never recover from. Today, we have a chance to get beyond the suicidal madness of constant growth. Tomorrow, by the time we’ve all gotten used to the new green regime, that chance may be gone

12. In green capitalism, there is a danger that established, mainstream environmental groups will come to play the role that trade unions played in the Fordist era: acting as safety valves to make sure that demands for social change, that our collective rage remain within the boundaries set by the needs of capital and governments

13. Albert Einstein defined ‘insanity’ as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In the past decade, in spite of Kyoto, not only has the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increased - so, too, has the rate of increase. Do we simply want more of the same? Wouldn’t that be insane?

14. International climate agreements promote false solutions that are often more about energy security than climate change. Far from solving the crisis, emissions trading, CMD, joint implementation, offsets and so on, all provide a political shield for the continued production of greenhouse gases with impunity

15. For many communities in the global South, these false solutions (agrofuels, ‘green deserts’, CDM-projects) are by now often a greater threat than climate change itself

16. Real solutions to the climate crisis won’t be dreamt up by governments or corporations. They can only emerge from below, from globally networked social movements for climate justice

17. Such solutions include: no to free trade, no to privatisation, no to flexible mechanisms. Yes to food sovereignty, yes to degrowth, yes to radical democracy and to leaving the resources in the ground

18. As an emerging global climate justice movement, we must fight two enemies: on one hand climate change and the fossilistic capitalism that causes it, and on the other, an emergent green capitalism that won’t stop it, but will limit our ability to do so

19. Of course, climate change and free trade aren’t the same thing, but: the Copenhagen-protocol will be a central regulatory instance of green capitalism just as the WTO was central to neoliberal capitalism. So how to relate to it? The Danish group KlimaX argues: A good deal is better than no deal - but no deal is way better than a bad one

20. The chance that governments will come up with a ‘good deal’ in Copenhagen is slim to none. Our aim must therefore be to demand agreement on real solutions. Failing that: to forget Kyoto, and shut down Copenhagen! (whatever the tactic)

By Tadzio Mueller and Alexis Passadakis (12/2008). Alexis is a member of attac Germany’s coordinating council, Tadzio a part of the Turbulence editorial collective. They are both active in the emerging climate justice movement, and can be reached at againstgreencapitalism (at) googlemail (dot) com

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