In their new book Inside the Green Economy–Promises and Pitfalls, Thomas Fatheuer, Lili Fuhr, and Barbara Unmüßig of the Heinrich Böll Foundation set out to explore the underlying assumptions, hypotheses, and propositions of the green economy and to spell out their consequences in the real world. The authors call for radical realism and the courage to recognize the complexity of the global crises. They assert that the great task will be to continue the project of modernity, embracing the latest knowledge about planetary boundaries as well as the old vision of broad democratic participation and an end to poverty and injustice.
1. The green economy is an optimistic vision of fossil-fuel phase-out in an economy assumed to become greener via technology and efficiency In the mainstream imagination, the green economy wants to break away from our fossil-fueled business-as-usual.
It’s a nice, optimistic message: the economy can continue to grow, and growth can be green. The green economy even hopes to become a driver of more growth. Yet reconciling climate change mitigation and resource conservation with economic growth in a finite and unjust world remains an illusion. With its positive associations, the term “green economy” suggests that the world as we know it can continue much as before thanks to a green growth paradigm of greater efficiency and lower resource consumption.
However, anyone making such a promise must deliberately downplay complexity and have powerful faith in hoped-for miracles of the market economy and technological innovation, while at the same time ignoring social inequality and not wanting to tackle existing economic and political power structures. The green economy is thus a matter of faith and selective blind spots.
It can only be a realistic option for the future if it recognizes planetary boundaries, overcomes social and political injustice and ensures the radical reduction and fair distribution of emissions and resource consumption.
2. Fixing the failure of the market by enlarging it: instead of rethinking business, the green economy wants to redefine nature
The green economy redefines the idea of the primacy of economics as the conclusive answer to current crises. It responds to the multiple crises with more economics. Economics has become the currency of politics, say its advocates. Consequently, they intend to correct the failure of the market economy by enlarging the market. The green economy thus wants the market to encompass things that have previously been beyond its scope by redefining the relationship between nature and economy.
The result is a new version of the concept of nature as natural capital and the economic services of ecosystems – and not a transformation of our way of doing business. Instead of rethinking business, the green economy wants to redefine nature by measuring and recording it, assigning it a value and putting it on the balance sheet – based on a global, abstract currency of carbon metrics.
This hides the many structural causes of the environmental and climate crisis from view and no longer fully takes them into account in the search for real solutions and viable pathways. The consequences of such an approach are also reflected in new market mechanisms for trading biodiversity credits. In many cases, they do not prevent the destruction of nature but merely organize it along market lines.
The green economy reduces the needed fundamental transformation to a question of economics and gives the impression that it can be implemented without major upheaval and conflict.
3. Ecological policy is about more than carbon emissions
The green economy states its central decarbonization strategy in its mantra: “put a price on carbon”. This reduction to prices and a single currency unit (carbon credits) is one-dimensional.
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