Green Growth “not an environmental strategy”

According to Simon Upton, former New Zealand minister for the environment, now head of the OECD department that produced the world’s most high level report on Green Growth earlier this year; whether people like it or not, Green Growth is an economic growth strategy, not an environmental strategy. After looking into this report and hearing from those promoting Green Growth here in Aotearoa, we couldnt agree more.

The Pure Advantage business leaders group has emerged from a small group of investors called The Cleantech group, with professional interests in what they are branding ‘green’ technologies and related business models. But as a global business movement, cleantech, which should not be confused with simply clean technology, ain’t all about community windfarms, permaculture and solar panels. [1] For the ecopreneurial capitalists, well meaning or not, it’s all about turning concern about climate change into public acceptance and public funding for their private business ventures. For OECD countries and industries, its is a way of internalising the self induced financial and ecological crises, while turning it into a driver of economic growth and legitimation. As Pure Advantage’s full page ads in the daily papers said; “Even if you don’t believe in climate change, there’s money to be made doing something about it.”.

Included in a list of over 200 emerging ‘cleantech’ companies identified by Investment New Zealand are companies focussing on genetic engineering, synthetic biology [an even more dangerous, advanced form of genetic engineering], nanotechnology, biochar, carbon trading companies and companies focussing on the development of second and third generation biofuels [see page 13 of this presentation for the complete list of ‘cleantech’ standouts]. Environmental and social justice focussed organisations such as Friends of the Earth, ETC Group and Biofuelwatch are leading research into some of these technologies, and already alarm bells are ringing out.

Questioning whether these technologies will reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all, or make things a lot worse, the ETC Group report The New Biomassters – Synthetic Biology and the next assault of biodiversity and livelihoods explores some of the social and environmental dangers involved, and explains how this relates to ‘land grabbing‘ [2] in countries least responsible for causing climate change. According to ETC group; “Enabling the next stage of this new grab is the adoption of synthetic biology techniques (extreme genetic engineering) by a wave of high-tech companies partnering with the world’s largest energy, chemical, forestry and agribusiness corporations.” What we’re looking at here, is a potential new round of colonisation in the name of greening the economic growth that has caused climate change in the first place.

At next years RIO+20 Earth Summit, ETC Group, and others, will be calling on governments to establish a legally-binding ‘International Treaty for the Evaluation of New Technologies‘ in order to establish an international process whereby technologies are carefully evaluated for their social, environmental and other impacts before they are rushed out to market.

If New Zealand is to become a real clean technology leader, we must consider what ‘cleantech’ actually is, and what it isn’t. We might also want to consider what the consequences of unleashing these technologies on the rest of the world could look like. The interaction between the rise of biofuel production and the global food crisis gives us some clues.

When we discuss climate solutions, it’s important to remind ourselves that the best solutions leave people with the power to control their own destiny and generate their own solutions. From the small scale community controlled agricultural systems that already feed most of the worlds people, sustainably, to national scale Cuban style food systems based on permaculture principles that create hundreds of thousands of jobs. We don’t need corporate controlled biotechnology to feed the world. In any case, no matter how many times it is said, Fonterra is not ‘feeding the world’, with dehydrated milk power.

New Zealand could share its renewable energy expertise locked up in intellectual property rights owned by state owned power companies, and give it away for free to those who need it NOW.

With a powerful movement emerging to confront ecological destruction in Aotearoa, staunchly standing up to mining companies, we believe that it is very important we understand what the alternatives could be, and what threats are posed by capitalism’s proposed alternatives. Climate Justice Aotearoa is committed to helping bring about discussion amongst this movement to ensure that solutions put forward are well understood both by those promoting them, and by those affected by them.

We can support, learn from and defend the vast majority of the world’s people who already feed, clothe and shelter themselves in an ecologically responsible manner, including those who already know how to live low carbon lifestyles in New Zealand and other OECD countries. The alternative, is to maintain the illusion that rich people in OECD countries can live off the backs of the rest of the planet’s inhabitance, stealing whats left of their land and resources, unleashing new technologies upon their world, in an attempt to sustain the unsustainable.

As explained by Tadzio Mueller and Alexis Passadakis in their article linked below, the only two examples of significant decreases in national greenhouse gas emissions have come about as the result of unintentional economic degrowth. We need new multiple green economies that are local, diverse and participatory, ones that can manage economic degrowth positively and democratically. Today we have the chance to create a new kind of non-growth, non-greed driven economy, or even better, many new kinds of economies existing side by side, reflecting and providing for the needs of those participating in them because there cannot be just one new green globalised economy.

At its core, this Green Growth approach is the ultimate climate denial because it is the denial of the need to tackle the root causes of climate change. Whether those promoting Green Growth like it or not, the end of economic growth is imminent. Resisting it, which is the real impetus behind these Green Growth strategies, will only make things worse. The real opportunity we are being presented with is the chance to move towards non growth economies, led by the majority of people in the world who already know how to live like this. We should be taking the lead from them.

Additional notes:

According to an attendee of the OECD’s green growth and development workshop in Paris, Mr. Upton made it clear that, “whether people like it or not, the OECD’s extensive Green Growth Strategy is an economic growth strategy not an environmental strategy”. [link]

[1] Converging Technologies: Another word for ‘Cleantech’, is ‘converging technologies’, which refers to the way in which seemingly distinct technological fields such as the ones mentioned above, combined with information technology and even robotics can combine to create a powerful hybrid technology platform.

[2] Land Grab :  An aggressive taking of land, especially by military force, in order to expand territorial holdings or broaden power

Links:

Green capitalism and the climate: It’s economic growth – Tadzio Mueller and Alexis Passadakis

A critical review of biochar science and policy – Biofuelwatch

Small scale sustainable farmers are cooling down the earth

Friends of the Earth : Nanotechnology, climate and energy: Over-heated promises and hot air?

Next generation biofuels and synthetic biology – report by FIELD

Reports & Presentations – Biofuelwatch

Greed is good, as long as it’s green | Pundit

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