Green Capitalism and the Pitfalls of Climate Finance

An interview with Adrienne Buller over at The Syllabus:

What is green capitalism and what are its goals and aspirations? Who are its cheerleaders, both in terms of institutions and actual individuals?

At its core, green capitalism is about rendering our response to climate and ecological crisis into a form that is compliant with market-based mechanisms. That sounds very simple. That is fundamentally all it really is. But how it plays out is often messier than it sounds.

Green capitalism is about finding a way to wedge all of the complexity of addressing climate and ecological crisis through the prism of the market. That requires finding prices for things, whether carbon or other forms of natural capital, and finding ways to adjust our financial modeling. The market seeks to bring forward neutral arbitration between market actors in pursuit of profit, and then views this as somehow inherently aligned with positive outcomes like curbing emissions or addressing biodiversity loss.

My first experience with green capitalism came from working at a nonprofit that helped private financial firms optimize their role in the green transition. The sustainable finance industry was a window into this clear mindset about how to address climate and ecological crisis: by making small, market-led tweaks, and by resisting the supposed messiness of politics.

Its advocates are everywhere. The finance industry itself is, in my view, the vanguard of this idea. You’ve got champions like Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, as the poster child. But it’s also present in all kinds of European climate governance. The EU’s Green Deal is an archetypal policy program of green capitalism. As is the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the US, which tries to crowd in market actors and find ways to make climate investments desirable for the private sector and its clients. It really is the predominant framework with which most policymakers, at least in the Global North, are forging ahead.

More here.