Planet Earth, On Sale

Author: Maria Martelli

A commentary on „Green Capitalism, and the Cultural Poverty of Constructing Nature as a Service Provider” by Sian Sullivan

Capitalism has this marvelous super-power, a kind of chameleonic colour change that goes, at times, so far as shape-shifting. It marches forward into the future, based on a belief in perpetual growth, adapting itself to the times: if it can work on harsh exploitation of children, it does; as long as slavery works for it, it keeps it; but can it capitalize on the feminist movement? Then, let’s have it. Every dream and talk of a better world is co-opted by this fascinating giant that resides in ideology, people, the infrastructure of places, things and even families. The green movement is no different.

In her article on green capitalism, Sian Sullivan brings up a couple of ways of thinking about the global strategies of mitigating for the damage we, as a species, have inflicted upon the planet. First, she points out the workings of capitalism: it was profit-driven exploitation that lead to a consumption of natural resources, which created an ecological crisis; secondly, this crisis generated an economic one, slapping capitalism back in the face. Or was it? As it appears, capitalism can thrive on crisis, it being a fertile ground for new investments. Thus, a new language appears: the discourse of ecosystems services. This solution appears as a win-win scenario, a magical answer to a seemingly impossible problem. It consists of pricing the non-human world according to our current human needs (well, someone’s needs, anyway). Putting a price tag on biodiversity both assesses its financial values and fosters economic growth. Pricing carbon emissions with the intention to control and mitigate climate change also seems to be such a smart idea when you first look at it. But, as Sullivan also asks, is carbon emitted by burning fossil fuels really equivalent to stored carbon in terrestrial ecosystems? And how do these schemes affect people directly? What are the consequences of this kind of relationship of knowledge and action, from human to non-human?

It is through stories that we are making sense of the world. Money, as many other constructs, is a story we tell to our collective selves. Historian Yuval Noah Harari goes to great lengths to show us how our narratives have shaped the world around us, and how money, particularly, became a world-wide system of trust. The problem with us, humans, understanding the world seems to be that we have to speak it to each other, categorize it, imagine it, narrate it, ultimately, make it. And to do so, we use abstract concepts, cling to them and make them matter collectively. Until we decide they were, well, not the best. But do we ever? Unlike many of our past decisions, the choices we are making now regarding the care for the non-human world will have long lasting impact, possibly way beyond our own selves as a species (Dawson, 2016). This should put things into perspective, a bit. It is not only members of our own that we are thoroughly exploiting and displacing by transforming the world into a place solely for profit, but most of other species as well as natural terrains and waters. And it is not only for our life span, or that of our children, or grand-children, but for peoples to come, peoples we cannot even imagine, and towards whom we have few excuses, that we are changing the possibilities of relating to the non-human.

”The pricing of everything works powerfully as a divide for making morality and love … seem irrelevant”, Sullivan noted, quoting Rupert Read’s article on the philosophy behind economics. Morality and love, like money, are also cultural narratives, and some people would like them to matter more than the latter. It is a question that we must answer urgently and collectively, but the difficulty of answering it makes it almost useless to ask. Based on what values should we make choices that affect us as a species? And how to challenge discourses already packaged, realities already given, when the road they point to is paved with profound inequalities, not only between humans, but between human and the non-human, putting some in charge of knowing, organizing, and even owning the other?


Dawson, Ashley. (2016), Extinction: A Radical History. Or Books

Harari, Y. N., from Money and politics, , retrieved 15.05.2017

Read, R. (2007) `Economics is philosophy, economics is not science, International Journal of Green Economics 1(3/4), 307-325, p. 315

Sullivan, Sian. (2009) `Green Capitalism, and the Cultural Poverty of Constructing Nature as Service Provider ` in Upsetting the Offset, MayflyBooks, UK

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