What is the 'Green' in 'Green Growth'?

by Larry Lohmann

first published 20 April 2016

The discourse of “green growth” has gained ground in environmental governance deliberations and policy proposals. It is presented as a fresh and innovative agenda centered 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.

Proposals for “green growth” promise to:

  • respond to economic crisis by developing new environmental assets that can become profitable investments;
  • address ecological crises – climate change, water shortages, biodiversity depletion, deforestation – without imposing constraints; and
  • relieve the state of the increasing expense of environmental protection.

Can this implausible triple promise ever be fulfilled? There are reasons for scepticism.

This book chapter focuses on ecological crises, asserting that green growth is not in practice about solving ecological crises but rather reinterpreting them, creating new opportunities that business can take advantage of, and diffusing responsibility for them – the new 'green' is in effect a response to capitalist crises and as such full of contradictions. Resistances to it are inevitable.

‘What is the 'Green' in 'Green Growth'?’ is a chapter in Green Growth: Ideology, Political Economy and the Alternatives, a book edited by Gareth Dale, Manu. V. Mathai and Jose Puppim de Oliveira, published in April 2016 by Zed Books and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.

The book sketches out three main lines of critique:

  1. It traces the development of the green growth discourse. What explains modern society’s investment in it? Why has it emerged as a master concept in the contemporary conjuncture? What social forces does it serve?
  2. It unpicks and explains the contradictions within a series of prominent green growth projects in South Korea, the EU, Brazil and India.
  3. It assesses the merits and demerits of alternative strategies and policies, asking the vital question: “If not green growth, then what?”