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Green Growth

Green Growth

Gareth Dale | Manu V. Mathai | Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira


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The discourse of ‘green growth’ has recently gained ground in environmental governance deliberations and policy proposals. It is presented as a fresh and innovative agenda centred on the deployment of engineering sophistication, managerial acumen and market mechanisms to redress the environmental and social derelictions of the existing development model.

But the green growth project is deeply inadequate, whether assessed against criteria of social justice or the achievement of sustainable economic life upon a materially finite planet. This volume outlines three main lines of critique. First, it traces the development of the green growth discourse quaideology. It asks: what explains modern society’s investment in it, why has it emerged as a master concept in the contemporary conjuncture, and what social forces does it serve? Second, it unpicks and explains the contradictions within a series of prominent green growth projects. Finally, it weighs up the merits and demerits of alternative strategies and policies, asking the vital question: ‘if not green growth, then what?’

'Green Growth offers us much insight and should be considered a significant contribution to the fields of sustainable development, political ecology and ecological economics. More profoundly, however, it helps us question whether the idea of economic growth can ever be meaningfully greened.'
Strategic Analysis

'Contains thoughtful analyses. The book's central message is that capitalism probably can't green itself.  Moreover, green growth is the latest ideological reshaping of the hegemony of capital. Recommended.'

'The volume is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the most pressing concern of our time.'
LSE Review of Books

‘Essential reading for all of us who wish to see a greener future.’
Derek Wall, Green Party of England and Wales

‘Read this important book for a set of excellent critical guides to alternatives to our destructive and wasteful economic system.’
Barbara Harriss-White, Wolfson College, Oxford

‘Sustainable development has fallen victim to the ideological determinism of free market economics. Is “green growth” really a solution to sustainable development? This book gives insightful responses to this question.’
José Goldemberg, former Secretary of the Environment for Brazil

‘A courageous, critical, and desperately-needed critique of the greatest illusion of our time. In one incisive and insightful chapter after another, the contributors eviscerate the neoliberal growth fantasy while offering an intellectual agenda relevant to contemporary struggles for the liberation of life in the twenty-first century.’
Jason W. Moore, author of Capitalism in the Web of Life

‘What you won't find in this book are stale dyads, recycled conceptual dead-ends, or any intellectual grandstanding. Instead Dale, Mathai, de Oliveira and their authors are to be commended for exemplary scholarship, and for charting a realistic path to a better ecological and social future.’
Sarah Bracking, University of Manchester and University of KwaZulu-Natal

‘A significant and thoughtful intervention. The range and breadth of scholars and practitioners in this compendium make it indispensable.’
Mahesh Rangarajan, author of Nature and Nation

‘The green economy is based on a simple narrative: a business model approach to the salvage of our globe. It is therefore highly opportune that this book critically reviews the green-growth paradigm, and offers alternatives.'
Barbara Unmuessig, president, Heinrich Boell Foundation

‘The Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) is delighted to be a part of this publication, which is expected to produce long-term gains by enhancing scientific and policy capacity on green growth in the context of sustainable development.’
Linda Anne Stevenson, head of communication and scientific affairs, APN

'[A]n exciting contribution to the literature on sustainable development and political economy.'
Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration

'A much welcomed contribution to the most significant debate of our time … Given the ‘do or die’ imperative radically to rewire our systems of production and consumption as quickly and justly as possible, Green Growth: Ideology, Political Economy, and the Alternatives is crucial reading for all.'
Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

Gareth Dale teaches politics at Brunel University. His publications include books on Karl Polanyi, the GDR and Eastern Europe, and international migration.

Manu V. Mathai is assistant professor in the School of Development at Azim Premji University. He received his PhD in energy and environmental policy from the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware. He researches and teaches about the intersection of energy, environment and human development.

Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira teaches at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV-EAESP and FGV-EBAPE) as well as the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (COPPEAD-UFRJ) and Fudan University, Shanghai. He is also a visiting research fellow at United Nations University (UNU-IIGH), Kuala Lumpur. He was assistant director and senior research fellow at the United Nations University (UNU-IAS) from August 2009 to 2015. His academic interests are in the political economy of sustainable development, particularly in patterns of environmental governance and in the implementation of global policies at the local level.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Cover Cover
Dedication i
About the Editors ii
Title\r iii
Copyright\r iv
Contents v
Acknowledgements vii
Contributors ix
Introduction 1
Part I: Contradictions of Green Growth 21
Chapter 1: Can Green Growth Really Work? A Reality Check That Elaborates on the True (Socio-)Economics of Climate Change 22
Introduction 22
Limits Set by the Arithmetic of Economic and Population Growth 23
Governance and Market Constraints 33
Changing Consumption Patterns: A Very Hard Nut to Crack 35
Systemic Limits: Economic Growth Fetishism 35
The Mammoth Challenge: How Can We Extricate Ourselves from the Economic Growth Predicament? 37
Chapter 2: What is the ‘Green’ in ‘Green Growth’? 42
Some Prehistory 43
‘Externalizing’ Nature 48
The New Natures of Green Growth 55
The New Natures and Capitalist Crisis 62
Endless Resistance 67
Chapter 3: The how and for whom of Green Governmentality 72
Whom Does Government Speak For? 74
How Does Government Speak? 83
Chapter 4: Degrowth and the Roots of Neoclassical Economics 90
The Steady-State Vision 93
Productivity and Labour 94
Wealth vs Capital 96
The Problems with GDP 97
Production and Consumption 99
The Circular ‘Underground’ 102
The Labour Theory of Value 104
Labour, Nature and Wealth 105
Mill and the Problem of Accumulation 109
Conclusion 110
Part II: Case Studies 113
Chapter 5: Giving Green Teeth to the Tiger? A Critique of ‘Green Growth’ in South Korea\r 114
Introduction 114
Green Growth: An Autocratic Environmental Discourse 116
Green Growth Is Built on Outdated Premises 123
The Promise of Decoupling 125
Green Growth Focuses on Performance and Indicators 126
Conclusion 127
Chapter 6: Lessons from the EU: Why Capitalism Cannot Be Rescued from Its Own Contradictions 131
The EU as an Advocate of Green Growth 133
Behind the Green Discourse: A Structural Crisis of the World-Ecological System of Capitalism 143
Moving Beyond Green Capitalism? 147
Chapter 7: The Green Growth Trap in Brazil 150
The Gap Between Income and Well-Being 151
Hydroelectricity: Extent and Limitations 156
Green Fuel and Mobility 159
The Amazon and the Ecosystems 162
Conclusions 164
Chapter 8: Green Jobs to Promote Sustainable Development: Creating a Value Chain of Solid Waste Recycling in Brazil 166
Introduction 166
Origin and Definition of the Green Jobs Approach 169
The Brazilian Experience in Promoting Green Jobs Within the Recycling Value Chain 175
Conclusions 184
Chapter 9: Trends of Social Metabolism and Environmental Conflict: A Comparison Between India and Latin America\r 187
From Ecological Economics to Environmental Justice and Political Ecology 189
Methods for the Study of Social Metabolism 190
Materials Flows Accounting (MFA) 191
Energy Flows Accounting (EFA) 192
Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production (HANPP) 193
Social Metabolism of Latin America 193
Social Metabolism of India 196
Conclusions 209
Part III: Emerging Alternatives? 211
Chapter 10: Beyond ‘Development’ and ‘Growth’: the Search for Alternatives in India Towards a Sustainable and Equitable World\r 212
Introduction: Crisis and Response 212
Stories of the Future: Towards a Radical Ecological Democracy 213
Meaningful Globalization 225
Principles and Values 226
Challenges and Opportunities for the Transformation 228
Who Will Be the Primary Agents of Transformation? 229
Conclusion: India and the Rest of the World 231
Chapter 11: Reconsidering Growth in the Greenhouse: The Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) as a Practical Strategy for the Twenty-First Century\r 233
Introduction 233
The Green Growth Rescue? 235
Evaluating the ‘Greenshift’ as a Means to Alleviate Energy Poverty 236
Questioning Equality as a Construct of Growth 238
Moving Beyond Green Growth Rhetoric 241
The Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) 243
Green Growth and the Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) 247
Practical SEU Application 249
Pursuing ‘Social Change 2.0’ in the Twenty-First Century 250
Chapter 12: Alternatives to Green Growth? Possibilities and Contradictions of Self-Managed Food Production 253
Introduction 253
Green (Food) Growth as Capitalism’s World-Ecology 255
Calling for Agroecological Alternatives, and Their Limits 258
India 259
United Kingdom 261
Brazil 263
Limits of Alternatives to Green Growth Capitalism 265
Notes 271
Index 315