‘Green Wall Street’: On the Extractivist Co-Option of Ecological Politics

Where its capacity to betray any alleged values is concerned, the Australian Labor Party rarely disappoints. Since coming to power in the federal election in May, the ALP has once again revealed itself as a party of capital—allegations from the commentariat that this is news notwithstanding. This time around, federal Labor is not introducing neoliberal economics to Australia, nor upholding anglo-extractivism via the White Australia policy. Nor is it supporting racist land grabs in the Northern Territory, nor scapegoating refugees and committing human rights violations by holding them indefinitely in offshore gulags without trial. This time, the ALP is, in the words of Environment Minister Tanya Pilbersek, tilting towards a “Green Wall Street.”

The excitement amongst Laborites for finance capital comes in the wake of ever more grim findings into biodiversity destruction throughout Australia, culminating in the ominous State of the Environment report, released in July. The response of the ALP to the ecological consequences of two centuries of market-driven settler colonialism has been to embrace the cause as a solution—in this instance, in the form of biodiversity markets.

Speaking to a G20 environment ministers’ meeting in Bali in late August, Pilbersek said

Ultimately, I would like to see the market truly valuing nature, so that protecting forests is more valuable than destroying them. And maybe one day Australia will house its own Green Wall Street: a trusted global financial hub, where the world comes to invest in environmental protection and restoration.

The biodiversity market advocated by both Pilbersek and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, long a darling of the Labor Left faction, would, in the Environment Minister’s words, make it “easier for businesses and philanthropists to invest in projects that repair and protect nature.” This ‘nature market’ would operate in the manner typical of market-driven attempts at sustainability, granting biodiversity certificates to private landholders who healed habitats that they could then sell to habitat destroyers as biodiversity offsets.

Needing to make some show of differentiating themselves from the Tory opposition so that voters might feel like they can still tell the difference, Pilbersek hastened to add that pure free markets could never deal with problems like biodiversity destruction, but that biodiversity markets could be her “powerful force for good” by putting an “economic value on positive environmental outcomes they could incentivise protection and restoration projects.” As in all such attempts at market-driven responses to ecological crisis, someone has to be making money, and free marketeers must have additional incentives to be forces for good beyond survival of the species.

The fact that the ALP has decided on this approach seems telling, considering how many of the Australians they allege to represent think biodiversity markets are a bad idea. While Pilbersek observes, presciently enough, that the latest State of the Environment report “tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment [and] of a decade of government inaction and wilful ignorance,” her enthusiasm for making the thinking associated with the problem the core of purported solutions, suggests an intention to continue it.

As if to reinforce this impression, one of the watchdogs of the Australian government’s last effort at market-driven responses to the climate emergency, Professor Andrew Macintosh, described carbon emissions trading schemes as ‘largely a sham,’ with ‘serious integrity issues, either in their design or the way they are being administered.’ No real or new cuts in carbon emissions could be associated with the issuing of carbon credits, despite the more than $1bilion in taxpayer funding invested in the scheme—another unthinkable sum of other people’s money poured down the drain (Macintosh has co-authored official reports to this effect herehere and here).

Despite being, by his own admission, a ‘deep believer’ in using market mechanisms to solve problems created by market mechanisms, Macintosh nevertheless found that almost two-thirds of cuts to carbon emissions attribute to Australia’s carbon trading scheme would have happened anyway, and did not represent the additional cuts constituting the scheme’s core raison d’etre. He describes the scheme as “a fraud on the environment, a fraud on taxpayers and a fraud on unwitting consumers.”

People are getting credits for not clearing forests that were never going to be cleared, they are getting credits for growing trees that are already there, they are getting credits for growing forests in places that will never sustain permanent forests, and they are getting credits for operating electricity generators at large landfills that would have operated anyway.

Not very surprisingly, Macintosh is not the only one to find serious issues with market-driven responses to the historical consequences of market capitalism. Reviewing a a biodiversity market scheme put into operation by the NSW state government, the NSW auditor-general concluded that it had neglected to ‘properly design core elements of the scheme,’ and had neither a ‘strategy for developing a biodiversity market or making sure it delivered the environmental outcomes required.’

In addition to finding the NSW scheme incapable of offsetting $112b in infrastructure projects due to a ‘serious undersupply’ of carbon credits, the auditor-general’s report also found serious conflicts of interest, including a biodiversity market consultant making AUD$40 million in profit from a sale of land meant to offset the construction of a second international airport for western Sydney at Badgery’s Creek to none other than the NSW government, who was its client at the time. The fact that this consultancy made tens of millions of dollars more in apparently similar fashion has prompted widespread calls for a federal government inquiry.

The story at Badgery’s Creek does not even end here. In requiring 1,780ha of bushland, an area larger than the Adelaide CBD for construction, the first stage of the Badgery’s Creek airport necessitated the razing of 1,150ha of bush and grassland—almost a third of which being native trees and grasses, and including 141ha of critically endangered Cumberland Plain woodland. A Guardian Australia investigation found more traces of corruption insofar as, the site the NSW government chose to offset this destruction at Badgery’s Creek (with the help of various offset grifters) had already been earmarked for permanent environmental protection.

Where the entire concept of carbon markets hinges on the creation of new conservation reserves to offset new development, this ‘double dipping’ meant that no new offsets would in fact be created (though there would be ‘ecological wastelands’ and enough speculation in financial markets to cause worry amongst large mining corporations about ‘demand for low integrity carbon credits’). This revelation comes on top of a widely-publicised shady land deal at Badgery’s Creek, in which the NSW tory government paid ten times the value for land wanted for the airport to a pair of billionaire party donors.

All of these facts appear to account for why Sarah Hanson-Young, environment spokesperson for the Greens, argues biodiversity offset schemes have been “exposed as a sham” and is calling for a moratorium on the clearing of wildlife habitats while the issue is investigated—perhaps through a federal government inquiry attached to an Independent Commission Against Corruption that investigates insider trading, ‘double dipping,’ shady land deals and speculation at the same time. They seem to account for why the Wilderness Society says it finds the environmental agenda of the Albanese government hard to tell apart from that of its Tory predecessors. They certainly account for a review announced in July, after a report by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and the Australia Institute revealed that one in 5 carbon credits were ‘junk.’

When the problem wants in on the solution

All of this begs the question as to why the Albanese government wants an environmental agenda ecologists can’t distinguish from Toryism—if not for tolerance of corruption and nepotism, then for highly ideological responses involving the root cause of the problem as the core framework for alleged solutions. As Richard Denniss, executive director of the Australia Institute, argues, biodiversity protection means actually protecting habitats, not asking the market ‘to set a price for destroying it.’ Even despite its apparent disinterest in this perspective, much less to say despite its long history of betrayals and service to vested corporate interests, the ALP still needs the Australian voting public to feel like it can at least distinguish between the carrot and the stick.

One possible answer might be Australia’s weak donation laws, which have allowed upwards of a billion dollars to be funnelled to both the (ill)Liberal and Labor parties over the last two decades. With federal parliament reduced to a wholly-owned corporate subsidiary, differences between the diversity carrot and supremacist stick factions of the one pro-corporate party dwindle to zero where it matters most: not noticing that King Capital wears no clothes. Within a colonised and bought system, the ongoing accumulation of capital amidst the ecological consequences of trying to make an endless-growth, extractivist economy work on a finite planet will prevail. This does seem to be so where ALP tax cuts for the rich are concerned, despite claims to the contrary.

In the corporate capture of electoral politics, and the reduction of democracy to population management and social control in the name of keeping politics Respectable™, the role of corporate dark money also figures. The Institute for Public Affairs (IPA) is the vanguard of dark money entryism, exercising great influence over the far right of Australian conservatism—who for their part play at populist pretences to outspokenness and bucking the status quo while being heavily funded by Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest person. The IPA is a partner of the Atlas Network, a global network of extreme-right think tanks funded by the Koch Bothers and linked to DonorsTrust, a clearinghouse that Mother Jones has described as the ‘Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement’ after donating more than US$1.5 billion to conservative charities since 1999.

This secret political money is not spent without expecting something in return, be it culture wars over Critical Race Theory in the US, or climate denial in Australia and elsewhere. As Nancy Maclean has revealed, the point is not to win the debate, but hijack it—a goal that now appears to include the election cycle. Since even limited political democracy is a threat to corporate power, especially where it plays a key role in exacerbating the climate emergency by continuing to treat the planet as an infinite resource and garbage dump in the service of capital accumulation, political democracy to must be colonised and rolled back. In this project, conspiracism plays a key role—current narratives about a tyranny of Woke Leftism serving to justify the destruction of free thought in the name of its defence, as the corporate aristocracy and its intellectual courtiers seeking to fashion themselves solutions to problems of their own making.

The corrosive effects on public discourse and Respectable™ debate are not hard to figure, much less see, as open debate gives way to free conflation of corporate privilege and power with the common good. Dissent is associated with a Woke Left conspiracy to perpetrate the destruction of society the vested dark money interests that sponsor and incubate conspiracism pursue in fact—subverting political democracy to streamline their exploitation and destruction of the planetary ecology. This corrosion is also visible in the academy, through culture war attacks on academic freedom (‘cultural Marxism’) and disciplining of the intellectual classes via corporate capture of higher education—the shrieking of bought Murdoch mouthpieces like Andrew Bolt, Steve Price and Miranda Divine about the great perils of academic heresy notwithstanding.

In reality of course, fears of ideological heresy within academia are increasingly at odds with the oppressive pressure to conform ideologically, to not notice that King Capital wears no clothes. Willing participants need only internalise the value systems of their new overlords to maintain the pretence of intellectual autonomy, as long as the toxic echo chamber can continue to agree that King Capital is fully dressed in all his fossil finery. Collusion with the naked King inevitably attempts to resolve the contradiction between endless growth and a finite planet. The task of the fossil intellectual class then can only be to defang democratic threats to King Fossil Capital by co-opting them, stripping them of radical or counter-hegemonic substance, and appropriating them.

This kid of co-option of dissent and popular movements, as a way of neutralising and defanging them, is hardly new in the human experience. The fate of early Christianity is an archetypal example; as Michael Gaddis shows in There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire, and Mark Neocleous in On the Universal Adversary: Security, Capital and ‘the Enemies of All Mankind, the Roman Empire under Constantine used this strategy to neutralise the political threat from a dissident movement that cast the imperial hierarchy as the very Earthly servant of evil.

As Gaddis and Neocleous reveal, the purpose for the Romans in adopting Christianity was to reverse this radical theology and normalise its co-opted version, taking advantage of the political momentum established at the grassroots to associate political dissent with devilry and Satan-worship. Thus began a long process of reconfiguring the original Christian theology into a Manichean worldview defined by binary opposites, and an Othering logic rooted in what sociologists today refer to as the production of deviance. The corruption of the original idea of Satan had a specific ideological function in providing a literally demonised figure with which dissent could be tarred.

This process of Othering, or the ideological construction of an exclusionary, Self vs Other binary, is rooted in what might be described as a diabolic conspiracism. Historically, this gave rise to a false-dilemma logic of ‘if you think for yourself, the Prince of Darkness wins.’ This teleological logic, defining the merit of ideas by their outcomes (or, better yet, who benefits), is apparent in the notorious witch-hunters’ manual, the Malleus Maleficarum (1486),which asserts in the very first sentence that the final proof of witchcraft is that doubt in its existence is heresy.

The conspiracist discourses and moral panicking to which Othering narratives give rise allows for an authoritarian identity politics predicated on negative self-definition, though virtue-signalling of alleged values and the construction of self-fulfilling prophecies used to style the conspiracist a solution to problems of their own making. Apparently, styling oneself a solution to problems of one’s own making does not preclude (and even drives) attempts to co-opt and recouperate counter-hegemonic movements attempting to hold the conspiracist, as the architect of self-fulfilling prophecies underwriting the hegemonic social order, accountable.

The corrupt, but acutely class-conscious, aristocracy of wealth who constitute the real overlords of this dying world are well aware of the power of co-option. A 1979 article in Harvard Business Review discussed the merits of co-option as a useful “form of manipulation” for recalcitrant employees resistant to diktats from on high:

Co-opting an individual usually involves giving him or her a desirable role in the design or implementation of the change. Co-opting a group involves giving one of its leaders, or someone it respects, a key role in the design or implementation of a change. This is not a form of participation, however, because the initiators do not want the advice of the co-opted, merely his or her endorsement.

Seeking endorsement rather than participation might be said to be a feature of the kind of green capitalism behind biodiversity markets, and the movement to have things both ways within what remains of the post-Covid, disaster capitalist heresy-purged neoliberal university. Attempting to green global extractivist capitalism does not, of course, involve any attempt to extend democracy to the economy, or make any other changes consistent with acknowledgement of historical root causes of the climate emergency. If anything, and to the extent that it can be accommodated by neoliberal ‘governance’ regimes, it assists in the disempowerment of the mass—condemning us to our fates in so doing.

It’s academic! Institutional co-option

Attempts within the colonised, captured and bought academy to involve the problem in the solution, to green growth (as through ecological unsustainability isn’t rooted in the historical consequences of globalising an endless-growth economy over centuries) is not inconsistent then with antidemocratic tendencies. Insofar as biodiversity markets and green growth looks to involve the thinking behind global capitalism in the thinking to solutions to the ecological consequences of global capitalism, neither does it divorce itself from the structural need of capitalism to victim-blame and scapegoat. Unlike grassroots, counter-hegemonic ecological movements, the institutionally-driven green growth paradigm—one that can only exist because other people agitate for ecological awareness—hardly divorces itself as a matter of necessity from eco-fascism or climate apartheid.

Useful examples of these institutional attempts at co-option abound; they proliferate in the Australian context alone. The Progress in Political Economy project, maintained by the vanguard of academic Marxism in Australia, the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney, lately features a think piece from two academic Green Growthers entitled Liberalism is MisunderstoodThe authors, who fancy themselves possible firebrand heretics for advocating ‘government leadership for technological innovation to mitigate climate change and withdrawal of support for anything that may be profitable in market terms,’ appeal instead to orthodoxy:

True liberalism can help solve many present problems. Whether it is inequality, national unhappiness, the overweening power of giant corporations, or climate change, liberalism correctly understood as growing personal freedom shows that the state is critical to channel market activity to socially beneficial ends.

One is reminded here of Chomsky’s comments about the relationship between concision and orthodoxy; the authors will no doubt find much agreement amongst neoliberal academia, whose own class interests align with maintaining fossil capitalism if it means they’re kept along with it.

Another example (though not quite so quick to fawn over liberal capitalist orthodoxy despite 3-400 years’ worth of opportunities to avoid generating a climate emergency) is Boris Frankel at Melbourne University. His recent work, Capitalism versus Democracy, is somewhat unusual insofar as it bucks the trend of making the climate emergency the focus of a discussion of the politics of the climate emergency. Rather, Frankel problematises the alleged hegemony on the left of the conflicts between political democracy and the economic autocracy characteristic of class hierarchies and capitalist social relations of production. Though this critique of liberal democracy is what characterises the left (the radical left, as opposed to liberal capitalism and progressivism), this defining feature of the left is, according to this framing, a teleological deviation from the free exchange of ideas into dogmatism and the great heresy of recognising the Golden Rule of Politics: that those with the gold make the rules.

Not a little bit suspiciously, the only actual reference Frankel makes to the substance of leftist criticisms of liberal democracy anywhere in a 600-page brick, is one quote from Karl Polanyi to the effect that

Fascism is that solution of the deadlock which leaves Capitalism untouched. The other solution is Socialism. Capitalism goes, Democracy remains. Socialism is the extension of Democracy to the economic sphere (42).

This would appear to be the essence of left-wing thought, though the idea that this is ‘hegemonic’ in any sense whatsoever is laughable. The more serious implication is that it is the left, and not extractivist fossil capitalism, that is the threat to freedom and the open society.

If our spidey senses are starting to tingle at this point, merely at the use of ‘hegemony’ and ‘the left’ in the same sentence, it might be just as well that they do. The implication of associating these words at all seems to be, firstly, that everyone takes it for granted that there’s a fundamental conflict between capitalism and democracy. It would make the idea that there is no conflict between capitalism and democracy counter-hegemonic (perhaps a comforting assumption for a professor at an elite neoliberal university). Secondly, the emphasis on this question, and not the root causes of the climate emergency suggests that the issue of capitalism versus democracy is a problem that needs to treated with the same degree of urgency as the conflation of quarterly profits, the mentality that the planet is an infinite resource and infinite garbage dump, and ecological sustainability. This assumption is never explained.

Furthermore, the treatment of the substance of the allegedly problematic paradigm runs to 30 words in a 600-odd page book. Frankel does not bother even with another quote, to explain the thinking he problematises more fully to the reader. He might quote the utopian deviationist anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker, who wrote:

Liberalism and Democracy were preeminently political concepts, and since the great majority of the original adherents of both maintained the right of ownership in the old sense, these had to renounce them both when economic development took a course which could not be practically reconciled with the original principles of Democracy, and still less with those of Liberalism. Democracy, with its motto of “all citizens equal before the law,” and Liberalism with its “right of man over his own person,” both shipwrecked on the realities of the capitalist economic form. So long as millions of human beings in every country had to sell their labour-power to a small minority of owners, and to sink into the most wretched misery if they could find no buyers, the so-called “equality before the law” remains merely a pious fraud, since the laws are made by those who find themselves in possession of the social wealth. But in the same way there can also be no talk of a “right over one’s own person,” for that right ends when one is compelled to submit to the economic dictation of another if he does not want to starve.

Perhaps Frankel does not elaborate on this claim because he doesn’t want his readers to dwell too long on this shipwrecked world, or the fact that Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism arose from the entirely appropriate liberal critiques of political autocracy . . . applied consistently to the critique of the autocratic class hierarchies inherent to capitalist social relations of production. Perhaps he does not elaborate on this claim because it does not hold up well under scrutiny. The entire school of Leninist ideology was developed under conditions of autocratic rule in Tsarist Russia after all; Leninism not only had no electoral democracy to contend with, but reflects a lot of authoritarian conditioning associated with its historical milieu. Into the bargain, Bolshevik ideology after they took state power was preoccupied with explaining why state capitalism was socialism in practise (’socialism is nothing but state capitalism made to benefit the whole people’—the old ‘workers’ commodity form’ routine). Nary a capitalism vs democracy debate in sight (apart from shooting anarchists, of course).

We might ask ourselves what the actual use of this line of theorising actually is, especially where it leads into an apparent attempt to demolish cherrypicked writers of the left by attacking weak points. Frankel seems to spends more time trying to explain what’s wrong with everyone from Polanyi to Baudrillard to David Graeber to Jason Moore to Andreas Malm to Bakunin than actually grappling with contemporary scholarship on the origins of the climate emergency. His understanding of the origins of the climate emergency itself operates from assumptions completely inconsistent with contemporary scholarship in this area—much of which offered by the authors he chooses apparently only to try to write off (while picking on the utopians, he leaves Chomsky alone—who knows why).

The fact of the matter is that the claim that the climate emergency began with the industrial revolution is now untenable; people looking into the topic seriously don’t even agree with the traditional Marxist line that extractivist capitalism began with the enclosure movement in Britain; even Robert Brenner of the transition debate in Past and Present doesn’t buy that one anymore. For this we turn these days to world-systems theorists like Immanuel Wallerstein and Giovanni Arrighi to know the history; Wallerstein in particular emphasises that the industrial revolution has its own prehistory, as does Jason Moore.

Frankel’s comments on Moore’s work don’t even leave the reader with the impression that he has read enough of it to be familiar with his arguments; he pronounces his own opinion in the topic (‘one can go so far with Moore’) as though it’s as good as an argument. Which is unfortunate insofar as a 600-page brick has decided that major ecological thinkers have it all wrong, while not managing to get past the nineteenth century in terms of understanding root causes of the present ecological crisis. The social reality of ideological hegemony under global extractivism in fact is that no one is permitted to question the ‘capitalism and democracy were made for each other’ orthodoxy (liberals are still misunderstood though).

Avoiding the whole prehistory of the industrial revolution and the exporting of extractivism to the world through organised and systemic colonial violence also appears to make it easier for Frankel to claim that this wild and unruly left lacks positive alternate visions of organising society on a post-capitalist, classless, sustainable basis. These don’t stop existing because we refuse to acknowledge them. The work of Michael Albert and Robyn Hahnel alone should put that one to rest. Ditto the social ecology of Murray Bookchin, Brian Tokar, Stuart Hill and Graham Purchase. Ditto the feminist ecologies of Val Plumwood, Carolyn Merchant, Silvia Federici and every other feminist critic of attempts to normalise and naturalise capitalist patriarchy. In Australia in particular, the rich history of the BLF green bans. Eco-syndicalism. Frankel is not even trying.

By contrast, Scheidler’s excellent The End of the Megamachine does deal with the prehistory of the industrial revolution, and makes the very good point that democracy was snuffed out for quite a large chunk of the world’s population, along with their lives, and replaced with an impoverished political democracy with a propertied European male as universal subject—which should sound familiar to a lot of academic Green Growthers. This apporach also recognises the role of artefacts of intellectual history like the Spanish Black Legend, heresy conspiracism, witchcraft conspiracism, Black Acts enclosure-based conspiracism in England, and satanic conspiracism as building blocks of liberal capitalist modernity from the 17th century. The European Enlightenment was, after all able to co-exist with European colonialism and the European Witch Hunts after all (almost as though it was predicated on a propertied European male as universal subject).

Does this history matter to the issue of surviving the century? Extractivist conspiracism teaches that, if you think for yourself, the communists win; Bolshevik success in co-opting extractivism for allegedly revolutionary purposes teaches that, if you think for yourself, the enemies of communism win. It would seem then that more things change, the more they stay the same—especially if you’re from the continent that pillaged, defiled, dispossessed, enslaved, colonised and slew across the planet and then told everyone it was doing them a favour (you can all have McDonalds if you’re quiet, peasants). That a propertied European male avoids this entire issue seems then to assert a problem that doesn’t exist to justify ecological anticommunism. If Frankel is not tilting into eco-fascism, he certainly seems to serve a green-growth paradigm happy to quietly dog-whistle an anti-communist conspiracism that paints the conflation of capitalism and democracy as a counter-hegemonic project, refashioning ‘the left’ as a mainstay of biodiversity markets and extractivist turds rolled in sustainability glitter. The sorely misunderstood liberal capitalists at Sydney University’s Department of Political Economy would no doubt approve.

Another book of which Frankel and other misunderstood liberals everywhere would no doubt approve is Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice: Circles of Sustainability, by Professor Paul James of Western Sydney University. At core, the Circles of Sustainability approach looks to ‘re-embed’ markets in their communities—not to make the economy sustainable, but to try to make capitalism sustainable. This entire approach is completely ahistorical, not only in terms of the prehistory of the industrial revolution referred to above, not only in addressing the absolute carnage that accompanied the rise of growth-based capitalist market extractivism in the history of the climate emergency, but in terms of its focus on urbanism, demonstrating no apparent cognisance of the fact that cities as we know them are an artefact of liberal capitalist modernity. In other words, and as Andreas Malm well demonstrates in a very well-defended argument apparently completely ignored by Boris Frankel, modern cities are anything but apolitical.

The severe limitations of trying to roll an extractivist turd in sustainability glitter begin to make themselves felt in a brochure for a short course run by the Cambridge Business School on ‘Circular Economy and Sustainability Strategies’ for corporate executives (places are in the order of USD$1200—better start saving, peasants):

Sustainability has become a become a top priority among decision-makers in our current global economic, political and business environment as it affects everything from the environment and our health to economic growth. Achieving sustainability requires moving from a traditional Take-Make-Waste economy to a “circular economy”, which is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution. It requires a fundamental shift in how we conceive not only of product development, but the very business models that drive our organisations.

The Cambridge sales pitch for circular economies goes on to note that it ‘has been designed to help business professionals understand the growing business case for sustainable solutions and what the future of business looks like with sustainability in mind.’ Misunderstood liberals will be cheered to know that none other than Cambridge University is properly concerned about the future of business, properly rolled in sustainability glitter and endorsed by the electoral managers of the disenfranchised peasantry. ‘As a participant,’ it adds, ‘you will also learn how to manage and lead a sustainable business by incorporating circular economy principles into your strategies to support sustainable growth.’ Misunderstood liberals will be cheered to know that featured guest presenter Dr Othman Cole is exceptionally well-placed to talk about sustainable ecology, having specialised previously in corporate finance, project finance and mergers and acquisitions.

This is the end

From the biodiversity markets of the Australian Labour Party, to misunderstood green-growth liberal capitalism, to ecological anti-communism, to circular economies, large doses of equally circular logic are necessary to ideologically co-opt counterhegemonic struggles in the name of trying to reform the cancerous global extractivist paradigm. The problem wants to have its thinking as the frame for the solution, and so we find national governments inexplicably adopting conspicuously shoddy approaches that their own experts say are a failure, and intellectual attempts within the academy at co-opting ecological politics for enabling the problem-as-solution myth.

From the government’s own experts to historians, political economists and ecologists who study the problem of global warming and ecological crisis in a historical context beyond an undergraduate reading of world history, few if any endorse carbon trading and market-based approaches—those who recognise a predatory extractivist paradigm as the basis of world capitalist modernity least of all. It’s almost as though those most enthusiastic about biodiversity markets and the problem-as-solution myth are also those with vested interests in the problem. Mining companies can work with biodiversity markets because they know they don’t even acknowledge root causes of the climate emergency, let alone stop driving them.

As it stands, biodiversity markets beg the question as to whether the biosphere is being destroyed and needs saving because its being used as an infinite resource and sponge for the endless-growth market economy. This in turn begs the question as to the value of economic democracy and a global economy which can be made sustainable by being made responsive to the needs and concerns of the mass of humanity, apparently a question of shoving hegemonic dominance down the throats of innocent liberal capitalists who would never dream of forcing their values or way of life on anyone else. Without consideration of this question—anathema to comfortable upper middle-class academics who approximate the propertied European make of the universal extractivist subject—one might be forgiven for wondering if misunderstood liberals are just trying to have it both ways, to have their class mobility, and a planet that can sustain life.

On this count, the debate around capitalism versus democracy could hardly be more relevant— much less to say the question of economic democracy and a world economy that can become baseline sane, just and sustainable in becoming at all responsive to the need of the mass of humanity to survive the century. The emerging extractivist ecofascism, the ideology of choise of who, in less co-opted times, were aptly described as a ‘corrupt aristocracy of wealth,’ likes to construct deviants to make out that capitalism fails because of wreckers, not because of its inherent injustice and insanity. Green Growthers, who are misunderstood by these wreckers, share with ecofascists the born-to-rule entitlement to assume the right to define normality and deviance in their own interests, the right to naturalise the class and social hierarchies on which their privileges and power depend, and generally to conflate the vested property interests of the corrupt aristocracy of wealth with the common good. Biodiversity markets are the rational course of action because the people who control things can continue to engorge themselves; this is as natural as the rising and setting of the sun, and anything else is heresy.

On the basis of this naturalising mentality then, drawn out of a Lockean desire to improve wasteland all the way back to wasteland, Green Capitalism needs an endless parade of deviants to define itself negatively and piously virtue-signal values it invokes in its moralism and conspiracism that it never lives in its actions. Deviants ‘never learn’, but the other side of the coin is that it never gets through to the heinous deviants it decries—mostly because it doesn’t want to. Ecofascists are up in arms about Woke Left terrorists and lifeboat swampers who want to replace them all because they’re too busy throwing tantrums over the wheels falling off the bandwagon of extractivist capital accumulation, and hiding behind freedom like cowards instead of standing in front of it and defending it for everyone, to punch upwards at glorious capitalist utopia. Liberals sneer at radicals who never quite grew up and started Adulting™ for much the same reason.

It’s almost as though misunderstood hegemons and green Infinite Earthers are content sounding like they care about the capacity of humanity to survive the century as long as they can continue to be kept in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. Whatever actually happens after they depart the mortal coil won’t matter if they no longer need keeping because they’re dead on the one hand, and don’t have to answer for their failed ideologies—their biodiversity markets and their Circles of Sustainability—because they’re dead on the other. If current developments are any measure, fossil extractivists will release the ecofascist hounds long before they let themselves be held accountable for all that has transpired under their watch. For their part, Green Growthers school seem to be trying very hard to not understand the full dimensions of all that is unfolding if it means economic growth has to give way to personal and collective growth.

Ben Debney is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).