Understanding Global Environmental Politics by Matthew Paterson
Paterson is a good place to start to see the anti-energy-security perspectives in action.
The limits-to-growth argument should be understood in this context. Most Greens tend simply to assert the existence of such limits, and argue that we need a change of social attitudes, voluntary simplicity, and so on. The analysis here suggests that basic structural constraints affect the prospects for moving towards such goals, and the latter require much more than simply changes in lifestyles and government policies. Such a goal requires changing the basic forms of social rela-tions, away from those which systemically generate and require growth. This should not, however, be taken as an argument wholly for an ecosocialist position on the question of industrialism vs capitalism.
Atkinson (1991, p. 5) has a resolution of this I find persuasive: In prac-tice there is no fundamental contradiction between these views. If we are to de-escalate our ecological crisis then it will be necessary to restructure productive industry along the lines envisaged by the Greens. But it is also true that any headway in this direction will be made over the dead body of capitalism; the very soul of capitalism is the requirement for economic growth .
A second ecologically damaging dynamic of capitalism concerns the notion of commodification. One of the main secular trends of capital-ism has been to commodify increasing amounts of the world. In other words, more and more things become commodities, things produced for sale in markets. One ecological consequence of this, as has often been pointed out, is that nature has become natural resources.
Capitalist development has involved humans breaking down the complex wholes of ecosystems, and so on, into their constituent parts in search of economically profitable resources for production.
Commodification thereby renders the world as both an object, and more precisely as a set of objects which are treated independently of each other. Thus the interactions between different parts of ecosys-tems, necessary for the continued functioning of the biosphere, are obscured from view by the rationalising imperative of capitalist production.
Thirdly, capitalism necessarily generates environmental problems because of the way in which firms must subordinate all other concerns to the primary goal of profit-maximisation. Profit-maximisation is particular to the nature of capitalist markets (as opposed to, for example, guild-organised markets which were prevalent in medieval Europe) because of the way in which restrictions on competition were progressively stripped away as capitalism emerged; firms face sufficient insecurity (no regulations exist to guarantee their existence) and there-fore they need to maximise profits in order simply to maximise their chance of continued existence. As a result, other concerns, such as the sustainability of their practices, have to be subordinated to profit maximisation.1
This argument is in many ways consistent with a focus on externali-ties as generators of environmental problems. For liberal economists, the ultimate origin of any environmental problem is the lack of prop-erty rights assigned to the resource, ecosystem, etc., which is degraded.
A consequence of this is that goods traded in markets do not have the value of such resources included in them the value of (for example) a stable climate is an externality in relation to the price of coal. But for this critical reading, the fact that firms do not have to take environ-mental costs into account is still a large part of the explanation of why environmental problems emerge. However, this perspective might also suggest that in practice firms are likely to resist attempts to incor-porate those environmental costs, as this could affect their competitive-ness.12This would be especially the case since the emergence of a genuinely global economy, whereby accelerated and deregulated capital movements enhance the exit options and hence structural power of those firms resisting the development of environmental regulations.
Even without the debt crisis and its political responses, however, the organisation of the global economy has meant that many countries depend heavily on using their natural resources to be able to earn foreign currency and participate in the global economy. A particu-larly stark example of this concerns toxic wastes, where what Lawrence Summers, a World Bank (and later Clinton administration) official, termed the underpolluted nature of many developing countries in economic terms has meant that their poverty has induced them to take in dangerous wastes which richer countries export. Within capitalism, such a development is not just inevitable, but rational. As Summers pointed out, The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable (as cited in Karliner, 1997, p. 148).
The second aspect is that the emergence of science, particularly in combination with the emergence of capitalism and the modern state (which have gone alongside each other), and the transformation of patriarchy produced in part by modern science, has transferred legiti-macy concerning knowledge about environmental problems to particu-lar elites, whereas without science they would have been more evenly distributed. Science has become a way in which control over environ-ments has been taken away from individuals or communities and given to experts, who increasingly live away from the environments which they are charged with managing, and thus have no personal interest in whether the management of those environments is sustain-able, or whether it meets the needs of those who do depend on it. But if successful responses to environmental problems rely on those who depend on resources being able to control how they are used, then at the very least the particular organisation! of modern science (being elit-ist rather than democratic) is problematic from an environmental point of view (Ecologist, 1993, pp. 679, 1836; Banuri and Apffel-Marglin, 1993; Beck, 1995, ch. 7; Gorz, 1994).13
The idea of the commons is clearly very consistent with the arguments from Green political theory about the necessity of decentralisation of power, and grassroots democracy. It shows how small-scale democratic communities are the most likely to produce sustainable practices within the limits set by a finite planet.
... Historical accounts of sea defences in Eastbourne are explicit in this regard. For example:
The Second World War saw the erection of the most long lasting and systematic set of defences against invasion by the enemy which have ever been seen. Unfortunately, that other enemy, the sea, had to be left to do its worst.