How capitalism affects the Earth

By: Portia Bharath, Columnist

Last week, I attended a lecture presented by environmental activist and organizer Senowa Mize-Fox, who works for the Climate Justice Alliance. She introduced some concepts that I had never heard of, but that opened my eyes to future possibilities. The phrases “climate capitalism” and “corporate greenwashing” may seem like words that picketing activists might scribble angrily onto their signs, but they have their truth and weight.

Climate capitalism is almost exactly what it says: it’s the relationship that capitalism – which largely drives our economy – has to the changing climate. It involves the practices that profit-seeking companies employ to make their businesses more sustainable and “green.” But what would motivate an already thriving company to appeal to the needs of the environment? Other than the obvious best-management practices that increase the overall productivity of a business (such as proper time and resource allocation), companies want to appeal to the conscious consumer. As the environmental movement transitioned from mere pollution control to sustainable development and corporate responsibility, shoppers began to favor companies that demonstrated a concern for the environment. This is where corporate greenwashing makes its entrance.

EarthTalk writers Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss define corporate greenwashing as “falsely conveying to consumers that a given product, service, company or institution factors environmental responsibility into its offerings and/or operations.” Instead of actually committing to sustainable practices, a company might introduce an ambitious environmental program since their main business practices are unsustainable. Another tactic is to distract consumers from an environmental slip-up by emphasizing a recent green initiative. Companies also like to take credit for following environmental regulations that were already set and advertise it as a step they took of their own volition. As citizens and consumers, we can’t keep track of every law and regulation, and we certainly can’t keep track of the hidden actions of companies that are stuck on the bottom line.

This brings me back to climate capitalism. Can the two coexist? Can we continue business as usual while also saving the earth? Mize-Fox believes that moving away from consumerism and profit-driven initiatives is the answer to many of the issues we have in our society today – not just climate change. The Climate Justice Alliance website features a graphic depicting that realigning our values from those of an extractive economy to those of a regenerative economy can alleviate a host of problems like homelessness, hunger and power imbalances. A regenerative economy would shift power to the community, advance ecological restoration and preserve culture and tradition. To me, this economic model sounds better than the one we currently exhibit, and I believe that together we can “stop the bad and build the new.”


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