Green Capitalism

May 7, 2018 at 11:37 am | Posted in Capitalism, Climate Change | 2 Comments
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The following is a slightly revised version of a review that appeared in the May issue of Gumbo, the newsletter of the United States Grail, the women’s movement I have been part of since 1965.


Green Capitalism: The God that Failed. By Richard Smith. (UK: The World Economics Association, 2016). 172 pp. $20.98

Richard Smith is an eco-socialist scholar who has worked as a sailboat-rigger and carpenter as well as a university lecturer. Green Capitalism is a collection of his articles published previously in journals. Smith spoke once at a course I was taking; he was impressive. He also has amazing hair:

In Green Capitalism, Smith argues that capitalism is the root of the environmental crisis that we are confronting because capitalism is fundamentally committed to growth, whereas the planet is fundamentally finite. If the economy keeps growing, as capitalism says it must, we will exhaust the planet.

The book’s first chapter traces the problem back to the origins of capitalist thinking at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Before the industrial revolution, production was aimed at use; people made and grew what they needed, for the most part. But beginning in the 18thcentury, economists began speaking enthusiastically about the “invisible hand” that was guiding the market, the profit motive, that determined what owners would manufacture, what price to charge, what to pay workers, etc. Well-being, the common good, was no longer part of the equation. But the economists assured us that the “invisible hand” would take care of everything.

In chapter 2, Smith discusses contemporary economists who argue that “steady-state” capitalism—a capitalism that does not grow—will solve the environmental crisis. Smith shows, however, that “grow or die” is the law of capitalist survival. Without growth, for example, there’s no increase in jobs. Politicians who support changes that are crucial to planetary survival, like shutting down the coal industry or massively cutting back the production of consumer goods, get defeated in the next election; so they’re never going to support such a thing.  “Steady-state capitalism” is a fairy tale.

Chapter 3 is a critique of the thinking of “green capitalists” such as Paul Hawken and Francis Cairncross(GHG) who argue that green technology like buying electric cars, eating organic food, or passing carbon taxes is going to solve the climate crisis. The problem is that massive parts of the economy can’t be “greened” because so many of our commodities are made from fossil fuels or otherwise harm the environment. Sixty percent of the greenhouse gases (GHG) given off by automobiles are given off during the manufacturing and disposal processes, and at present, a great deal of the electricity used by electric cars is generated by coal or methane gas. The fibers in our clothes, the fertilizers in our fields, our phones, computers and televisions, all are predicated on a non-green economy. We have to change the system.

The fourth chapter expands Smith’s discussion of the jobs versus the environment conundrum introduced in chapter 2. Smith lays out the sobering links between China’s recent 8 percent economic growth and massive resource extraction there, but he does not overlook recent obscene US resource over-exploitation as well: surging home size, sales of SUVs and light trucks, flat-screen TVs and air-conditioning. Ultimately, to achieve the 90 percent GHG emissions essential to saving the planet, we have to shut down all the fossil-fuel related industries, not just reform energy production. This is so because 75 percent of GHG emissions come from industry, transportation, agriculture, and deforestation. The solution is to shift the economy from production of non-essential commodities to “caring industries”––local agriculture, universal health care, education, environmental remediation, restoring existing housing, reforestation.

Finally, in chapter 6, Smith consolidates his previous arguments into “Six Theses for Saving the Humans”:

  1. Capitalism is driving our ecological crisis.
  2. The solutions to the crisis are obvious but capitalism blinds us to them.
  3. The essential alternative is to shift to an economy that is planned globally, regionally and locally.
  4. This means people have to come together at all levels and vote on the needed changes.
  5. Such a democracy can work only if it is based on social and economic equality—food, health care, housing, education. There is already enough wealth in the world to do this
  6. These are crazy, utopian, unachievable ideas. But what is the alternative?

The trouble with Green Capitalism is that it says the same thing, over and over: capitalism is the problem. But this is also its greatest strength: by the end, we really get it: capitalism, the only economic system the Chinese communists, never mind liberal Westerners like us, live by, guarantees the destruction of the humans and most of the rest of God’s creation.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?



Indeed, Use the Pulpit!

May 21, 2010 at 10:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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As an addendum to my last post, in which I noted that the institutional church pays too much attention to sex and not nearly enough to other aspects of the “common good,” I am posting below an article circulated in the latest email from the Catholic Information Service of Africa. It will appear eventually on their webpage at

Clearly the clergy in some parts of the world are being encouraged to preach about something that really matters: the current massive threat to the environment. Would that Catholic bishops here in the US would offer similar encouragement to those preaching in Catholic parishes. 

KENYA: Use pulpit to propagate environment, churches urged

LANGATA, May 21, 2010 ( CISA)interpretation of the Catholic tradition from a distinctly not-US perspective refreshing, even if I don’t always agree with it.CISA  . I find the -Church.advised leaders in Africa should make use of its pulpit to propagate environment as part of the wider concern for the creation, a conference on African spirituality has

Anglican clergyman, Rev. Dr. Sammy Githuku, while addressing the conference on Work in African Spirituality, described the pulpit as an effective means to promote the church’s role in promoting environment.

He cautioned that when the full impact of the Climate Change is finally felt, Africa will be the most affected continent.

It was out of this concern that the Church should engage itself on the issue of environment, the Kenyan Anglican clergyman further told the conference participants, organized at Tagaza College, a constituent of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.

Catholic nun and scholar, Anne Nasimiyu, who addressed the conference on: African Symbolism, Prayer and Ritual: A feminine perspective said Kenya, for example, has been losing its land mass, through massive deforestation.

“Out of this, the move to have the country regain its lost environmental glory should be the business of each one of us, Church and the Christians included,” she further told the assembled conference participants.

Professor Jesse Mugambi  of the University of Nairobi, who addressed the conference on: Symbolism in African Spirituality said Kenya and other African countries should be hopeful in regaining the lost environmental glory.

“Countries such as Japan and quite a number of Nordic countries have managed towards this direction and one wonders why then, we in Kenya and the rest of the African continent cannot manage,” he pointed out.

The conference, an annual event assembled over 200 participants, mainly theological scholars as well as theological students, from a wide range of Church and secular universities in the country.

It was organized by the Institute of Spirituality and Religious Formation, Tangaza in close cooperation with the Maryknoll Institute of African Studies, Tangaza, the Department of Spiritual Theology, Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Saint Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya and the Organization of African Instituted Churches, OAIC.

PS. You can sign up for the CISA email newsletter on the CISA webpage at

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