“Green Capitalism” Is a Lie


Policymakers who have belatedly recognized the peril of climate change now promote incremental, market-based solutions to the crisis. But there’s no way we can prevent ecological disaster without tackling the vested interests at the heart of global capitalism.

A forest fire burns, destroying dozens of acres of land in the province of Sassari on September 17, 2022, in Berchidda, Sassari, Italy. (Emanuele Perrone / Getty Images)

Review of Adrienne Buller, The Value of a Whale: On the Illusions of Green Capitalism (Manchester University Press, 2022)

The development of “green capitalism” forms the subject of Adrienne Buller’s new book, The Value of a Whale. According to Buller, the ideology of green capitalism seeks to “preserve existing capitalist systems and relations in response to an unprecedented threat” while at the same time “ensuring new domains for accumulation in the transition to a decarbonized and sustainable economy.”

The book offers a rich and extremely useful overview of the many manifestations of this general green capitalist project: climate cost models using a “discount rate,” carbon pricing and offsets, and so-called ESG (environment, social, and governance) investing. Buller clearly explains the underlying rationales behind these policy ideas embraced by economists and financial capitalists alike and reminds us that there’s little evidence they work. Yet those in power persist in believing that might change, someday soon.

The Value of a Whale also shows effectively how preposterous it is that the most powerful people on Earth seem so confident in these “solutions.” The very same figures oversee a global financial regime that both drives the crisis and deploys regimes of debt and structural adjustment to hamstring the poorest countries — the same countries that happen to be most threatened by ongoing ecological crisis and climate breakdown.

While its analyses of the fundamental inequalities shaping global value transfers sometimes misses the mark in my view, The Value of a Whale is a powerful and convincing rejection of green capitalism as a potential solution to the climate and nature crisis.

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