The politicisation and marketisation of ‘green’ issues

A lot his been said about the Tory party bias for market-led solutions for just about any problem society can come up with.  One recent example is the NHS reforms that Andrew Lansley and David Cameron seem to be prepared to go way out on a limb to push through parliament.  Ed Miliband summed it up succinctly when he claimed that the bill “creates a free market free-for-all and threatens existing NHS services” (Guardian, 2010).  When it comes to climate change, the Coalition government wants to be known as the ‘greenest government ever’. Afterall, green is the new black. Politically, it’s important to be seen to be green. Unfortunately, their admirable claim has become yet another one of this government’s unkept promises.

Oh Coalition government, let me count the ways… that you have disappointed environmentalists all over the country:

  1. The questionable ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.
  2. Announcing a review of the feed-in tariffs just as schools and the public sector are getting going with solar PV.
  3. Getting rid of national indicators on mitigation, adaptation and fuel poverty.
  4. Not replacing the indicators with anything that will drive local authority work in this area.
  5. Cutting funds to all of the organisations that do anything meaningful to support the public sector with climate change work.
  6. Cutting local government funding to such a scale that climate change and sustainability will be impossible for councils to continue covering.

The list could go on and on and on. But that’s not even what really bothers me.  My biggest concern is that the Coalition government seems to be willing to hand the responsibility for stopping climate change over to the market.  Part of me says, you have to work in the system that you’re given.  But for central government, that’s just not good enough.

If central government doesn’t take climate change seriously, and not just as another way of creating money (through the low carbon economy), then who will? The specialist lobby groups won’t be able to make things happen. We need leadership from our elected representatives who can supposedly take into account the big picture and ensure the long-term prosperity (and existence…) of our country.

I know that I can’t explain the layers of what is wrong with this picture as well as Mark Fisher. So I’ll quote extensively from his 2009 book, Capitalist Realism.

“At one level, to be sure, it might look as if Green issues are very far from being ‘unrepresentable voids’ for capitalist culture. Climate change and the threat of resource-depletion are not being repressed so much as incorporated into advertising and marketing. What this treatment of environmental catastrophe illustrates is the fantasy structure on which capitalist realism depends: a presupposition that resources are infinite, that the earth itself is merely a host which capital can at a certain point slough off like a used skin, and that any problem can be solved by the market (In the end, Wall-E presents a version of this fantasy – the idea that the infinite expansion of capital is possible, that capital can proliferate without labor – on the off world ship, Axiom, all labor is performed by robots; that the burning up of earth’s resources is only a temporary glitch, and that, after a suitable period of recover, capital can terraform the planet and recolonize it).

The state of human-kind in Wall-E. Photo credit: DailyTech and Disney/Pixel

Yet environmental catastrophe features in late capitalist culture only as a kind of simulacra, its real implications for capitalism too traumatic to be assimilated into the system.  The significance of Green critiques is that they suggest that, far from being the only viable political-economic system, capitalism is in fact primed to destroy the entire human environment.  The relationship between capitalism and eco-disaster is neither coincidental nor accidental: capital’s ‘need of a constantly expanding market’, its ‘growth fetish’, mean that capitalism is by its very nature opposed to any notion of sustainability.”

I can’t help but think that if we don’t start electing politicians who will make tough decisions on our behalf (and our children’s behalf) we are going to end up fat and glued to motorized arm chairs floating around a massive spaceship.  Of course that is an extreme future, but our inability to prioritise our own future over economic gain today is equally extreme and deplorable.


Atkins, Andy. The greenest government ever? Ask me on 21 October., Friday 8 October 2010

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism Is there no alternative?, Zero Books, 2009.

Mulholland, Hélène. Cameron defends health bill in Commons clash with Miliband,, 16 March 2011

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