We are on the verge of climate catastrophe, possibly within the next decade. Already the UN has acknowledged climate change as a reason for refugees fleeing their homes, islands are disappearing under the waves and we might be witnessing the first of the coming fights over water as a resource.
The world will change irreversibly for the worse due to industrialisation, deforestation and the release of greenhouse gasses within most of our lifetimes. It’s not a nice thought, but the scientific consensus largely agrees with the idea that we are heading toward ecological collapse. Luckily however, the market has thrown out a solution to us, a lifeline in these trying times. Green Capitalism. You don’t have to cut back, you can still get a sports car, but now it’s electric; you can still fly abroad for holidays every year, this nice company will plant trees for you to offset the carbon emissions; you can enjoy your imported coffee; have red meat for dinner as many times as you want- everything is grown sustainably! All your waste will be recycled, nothing goes into a landfill anymore. For a small price markup, you can live life almost the exact same way as before but you’ll be saving the environment- guilt free, and in luxury.
Except, can you?
It’s a good sales pitch and I wish that if everyone did offset their carbon emissions and drove a Tesla and used green energy the world would fix itself; but what you’re hearing isn’t a solution to the climate crisis from scientists, it’s a sales pitch from the money men to an audience they know wants to help the world but doesn’t know how. The sad fact is climate change came about because, we- and by we I mean the west- over consume. A lot. 7 out of the top 10 countries that consume the most energy per capita are in the west. While Green energy is growing, reaching about a quarter of all energy generated world wide in 2016 according to the REN21 think tank, the majority of energy generated world wide isn’t green. Even if all energy in the West was green, the energy that goes into manufacturing the goods we import largely isn’t. Until all energy is green, it won’t matter that you have a solar panel on your roof, if the parts in the solar panel have a bigger carbon footprint just from manufacturing than you could ever make by leaving your hall light on at night.
The best example of this is the newest name in luxury cars, and the reddit of automobiles, the Tesla. Rolling up with the promise of making electric cars cool, Elon Musk’s company has certainly achieved that mission statement. Teslas are cool. They look cool, their branding is cool, their image is cool and one day, when I finally figure out how to jailbreak one I’ll let you know if they feel cool to drive. Are they, however, green?
Well… that’s less clear cut.
They do produce less carbon emissions than a petrol or Diesel engine. Even taking into account that electricity powering the car might not be the cleanest, as well as the entire manufacturing process, the footprint was still likely smaller. This, however, is comparing a new petrol car to a new electric car. If you were looking to limit your environmental impact, a better option would be to buy a used petrol car. It might not be as cool or as stylish as a new car fresh off the range but the used car has one massive advantage: it’s already been built. The environmental impact of manufacturing has already been dealt, and not only that, but keeping an old car running keeps it from turning into waste. Cuba has shown that it’s possible to keep old cars running for decades rather than replace them every couple of years. Due to the US blockade, foreign imports weren’t an option for Cubans; instead of consumption, maintenance dictated car culture on the island and Soviet Ladas are still seen in Havana today. Cars that were built in the 50’s kept running as a result of Cuban ingenuity and a Soviet design philosophy centred on building a car to last rather than building a car to be sold. Now there’s Ladas out there that outlived the USSR and may even one day stay running longer than the Soviet experiment lasted.
There’s also another option, one where we don’t even need cars. Instead of every household having a car, or two that consumes and pollutes, imagine a world where clean energy powers a transport system that’s robust, modern and reliable. A nationwide fleet of solar powered, self driving buses. A train system that’s fast and free. A world where no one has a car because no one needs one. The technology for this already exists, what we don’t have is the demand. The market instead has firmly decided cars will stay.
Tesla isn’t an environmental lifeline that’s going to save the world, it’s a lifestyle that’s being sold to you.
Everything I’ve said has been talked about before. You probably already knew that a second hand car is better than a brand new Tesla, but an aspect of Green Capitalism I don’t often hear discussed is something it shares with regular non-green capitalism- a complete reliance on the third world to sustain itself. The West has relied on the developing world to stay afloat since the days of the East India Company. It provides cheap labour and a wealth of raw materials and things haven’t changed much since those early days of international industry. Not only this, but with a reliance on rare earth minerals like cobalt electric cars in particular have even been linked to child slavery.
Further still, the demand for rare minerals in green industries have been linked as a motivation behind the US-backed coup in Bolivia. Evo Morales himself touted this as a motivation behind the coup. This might sound like another socialist conspiracy theory until you hear it from the mouth of Samuel Doria Medina, the man who came in second to Morales in the 2014 election, in his own tweet. The US-backed coup in Bolivia is not a break from established American policy in Latin America. The same tactics being used to try and topple Venezuela to fulfill the West’s demand for oil are being used in Bolivia to fulfil the West’s demand for green technology.
The same imperialism that puts petrol in your engine is at work helping build electric cars.
I used electric cars as an example here, but don’t think Tesla is some outlier, or that green initiatives are somehow more vulnerable supply chains that rely on human rights violations. As long as green capitalism is still capitalism and the profit motive and market dictate policy, the need for cheaper and cheaper goods to be consumed en mass in the west will force exploitation into existence.
We can’t consume our way out of a crisis. The people telling you we can aren’t the people that will lead us through our darkest days. They are salesmen. Green capitalism only exists as a way for the money men to exploit our guilt and concerns over the environment, to sell us more things and distract us from taking any real action that could actually help. Not only this, but Green Capitalism relies on the same exploitation of the third world that our economic system sustains.
But sure, Teslas are cool.