Green Capitalism: Why it Can’t Work – a review by Michael Barratt Brown

John MartinDaniel Tanuro, Green Capitalism: Why it Can’t Work,
Merlin Press and Resistance Books, 2013, 224 pages

A review by  Michael Barratt Brown
originally published in the Spokesman Journal

£11 inc p&p from Resistance Books, PO Box  62732, London, SW2 1BZ


This is probably the most important book I have ever read and reviewed. It is no exaggeration to say that on the response to its argument depends nothing less than the very survival of the planet on which we have our being. Daniel Tanuro is an agricultural engineer who has written on eco-socialism from the point of view of a Marxist. But he has some criticism of traditional Marxism to make here. The title of the book is unduly negative; it should have added ‘And what to do’. Indeed, Tanuro ends his book with a chapter on what can be done – ‘Eco-socialism, the only option’. Much of Green Capitalism is concerned with the reasons for our failure as human beings to respond to the obvious warnings of disaster – how can it be that, in the words of no less an authority than the General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, ‘We have our feet glued to the accelerator and are hurtling towards the abyss’?

The strength of the argument in Green Capitalism comes from two sources: first, the careful collection and explanation of the internationally agreed scientists’ statements on just what is happening to the planet earth, and of what is needed to protect its survival; second, the thorough dissection of the so-called carbon emission ‘rights’ claimed by the US and European Union, especially the claimed benefits of bio-fuels and nuclear power. The main targets of the world scientists’ prescription are worth repeating: ‘Developed countries must reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and between 80-95% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. Developing countries by 15-30% by 2050.’

The real key to a solution, Tanuro insists, lies in the direct use of the sun’s energy, through the introduction of photo-voltaic panels on every sun facing roof, combined with proper insulation of buildings. This essentially requires a decentralised organisation, and is therefore of no interest to centralised states and to the giant private business corporations which support them.

That leaves us with a hard task. Socialism, whether of the Soviet or Social Democratic variety, involves a centralised form of organisation – planning from above. Decentralised organisations exist, such as trade unions, co-operatives, Facebook and Twitter, but compared with states and the giant multinational companies which produce the steel, petrochemicals, glass, cement and electricity and are the main emitters of CO2, they are miniscule. These will have to be built on as part of a total rejection of profit-seeking capitalism, which failed completely in the financial crisis of 2008-9 and had to be rescued by the nation states, on which it still depends. The states together could discard capitalism, but not by replacing it with state socialism. It is community socialism that Tanuro advocates, as necessarily integrated into ecology, and this will have to be built community by community with solar panels and insulation, until large state organisations and private corporations can be dispensed with. ‘Start now!’ is the message, but by community action and not so much by individual acts of energy saving within the capitalist system. A Global Fund would still need to be created to finance all the necessary adaptation.

An important element in this programme, as Tanuro sees it, must be in agriculture. Large-scale farming uses great quantities of energy in production and transport and in artificial fertiliser, and gains none of the benefits of diversification, which occur in small-scale co-operatives using the leaves of trees as fertiliser and shade. A more labour intensive agriculture is recommended. An important start has been made here in the development of small scale farming co-operatives for Fairtrade production in coffee, cocoa, nuts, sugar, rubber, cotton and tropical fruits. The main problem here is the competition of giant companies such as Nestlé and Kraft, which advertise a tiny proportion of their products as Fairtrade, but the co-operatives are also suffering from the effects of climate change. The fatal separation of town and country is in part challenged by the growth of farmers’ markets in the main urban areas. The major threat to the environment still comes from the giant retailing companies, which take most of the value added in the price, have heavy energy-using transport costs, and throw away a large proportion of their produce.

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party in England and Wales, sums it up, in recommending Tanuro’s work, when she says that we cannot simply green our current society built on the globalised, neoliberal economic system. We need a more thorough, more fundamental social transformation. 

Michael Barratt Brown

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