Raging deforestation, degradation of the soil, sea and atmosphere and rising greenhouse gas emissions. With current concerns over the environment and future of the planet, it seems every business under the sun is doing their utmost to jump on the green bandwagon and convince us of their sound ecological credentials.
Along with this, all sorts of consum-er products are advertised with buzz words like “ethically traded”, and “carbon neutral”. Magazines from The Ecologist to The Observer wax lyrical about how we can all be greener and do our bit to save the planet. The implication here seems to be that if we all buy the “right” products, recycle our rubbish and take a few steps to cut down on our energy emissions then, hey presto!, the planet will be magically saved.
The truth of the matter, of course, is that addressing today’s ecological crisis requires something more substantial than a few tokenistic lifestyle changes. It is now an established fact that levels of consumption in most advanced capitalist economies are way beyond what is sustainable. Nevertheless, “greenwash” – companies using advertising and PR to misrepresent or exaggerate their green credentials – is all the rage as corporations seek to cash in on new markets created by rising environmental consciousness. “Green” consumerism is about increasing consumption, not reducing it, or in Andrew Watson’s words “is largely a cynical attempt to maintain profit margins”. Watson eloquently sums up the con:
Environmental concern is commodified and transformed into ideological support for capitalism. Instead of raising awareness of the causes of the ecological crisis, green consumerism mystifies them. The solution is presented as an individual act rather than as the collective action of individuals struggling for social change. The corporations laugh all the way to the bank.
Green consumerism, like green capitalism, is a contradiction in terms. Just as capitalism exploits people, the natural world is one more resource to shamelessly exploit for profit. In predicting the current ecological crisis, Murray Bookchin, cited how the domination of the natural world emerged from the exploitation of human by human. Further, in Post Scarcity Anarchism he observed:
Capitalism is inherently anti-ecological. Competition and accumulation constitute the very law of life, a law … summarised in the phrase ‘production for the sake of production’. Anything … has its price and is fair game for the marketplace. In a society of this kind, nature is necessarily treated as a mere resource to be plundered and exploited. The destruction of the natural world … follows inexorably from the very logic of capitalist production … An economy that is structured around the maxim‘expand or die’ must necessarily pit itself against the natural world and leave ecological ruin in its wake ...
Thus, in enslaving us, capitalism also wrecks the planet. Sure, we can recycle and try to be more personally responsible. But phoney solutions like “green capitalism”, technological fixes and carbon offsetting are just diversions which fail to address the real cause of the environmental crisis. We must look beyond corporate greenwash and strive for the only real solution – an ecologically responsible libertarian socialist society. This means decentralisation of industry, recycling and renewable energy, sufficiency rather than excess, sustainability not waste and, most significantly, an end to the domination of human by human and an end to production for profit.
Anarcho-syndicalism is as much about addressing ecological exploitation as human exploitation; it is about building the framework for a free society within the existing one.
The oil industry has distinguished itself as one of the worst culprits in using fraudulent and misleading claims to be environmentally friendly. Before announcing plans to reduce investment in renewable energy sources, complaints against Shell advertisements depicting pretty flowers rather than toxic pollution spewing forth from refinery stacks (under the headline “Don’t Throw Anything Away, There Is No Away”) were upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority. Not to be outdone, Exxon-Mobil took third place in the 2007 Worst EU Greenwash Awards, following advertising claims to be “working to reduce emissions”, when in actuality (by their own accounting) their emissions were increasing.