A friend recently expressed to me one of the essential conundrums of contemporary capitalist society: “I can see growth can’t continue, [because of the environmental impacts] but I can’t see how we can stop it without the whole system falling over like a stack of cards.”
One good answer can be found in the recent report of the U.K Sustainability Commission, titled Prosperity Without Growth. But I thought I might also give a much shorter answer that comes at it from a slightly different angle, in the hope my friend and others might find it helpful.
Let’s look at why economies grow, and why capitalism (as we know it) depends on growth, because then we will quickly discover our answer as to how – in principle – we might create a no/low growth economy that doesn’t collapse and doesn’t produce social disaster.
As some green parties try eco-capitalism on for size and wonder whether it looks attractive enough to win over the voters, the business world is way ahead of them. Eco-capitalism isn’t just political theory: it has been well and truly launched. And while we are already becoming familiar with the idea of ‘emissions trading’, there is plenty more happening by way of the commodification of nature. How about the ‘ecosystem market’? Not, as you might think, a bad joke dreamt up by Ben Elton, but a real venture that is up and running. Quite honestly, I find it all a little frightening. Is this what greens are buying into?
Nevertheless, if there is anything to be gained from these markets, it may well be the opportunity to examine whether eco-capitalism really is ‘ecological’ in any meaningful sense. So let’s look at ecosystem market schemes in more detail.