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Jakarta Post

Green capitalism: Ethics or business?

  • Ica Wulansari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, March 27, 2016   /  01:22 pm

Nowadays, environmental issues are crucial in global politics. Environmental values are used as a moral standard through eco-friendly certification. In addition, environmental issues are more popularly related to the global agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are promoted by the UN.

The SDGs are the extension of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda that promotes economic growth with environmental preservation, which contrasts with the increase of environmental degradation due to the implementation of capitalism.

Capitalism has been supported by an ethic known as anthropocentrism. Anthropocentrism addresses people as the center of the universe, where then, nature exists only to provide for human life and where its resources can be exploited to humanity'€™s desire.

Meanwhile, another ethic focuses on ecology, namely eco-centrism or deep ecology. Deep ecology stresses all creatures as its main focus, which conflicts with a human-affected environment.

The stark difference between anthropocentrism and eco-centrism is on the position of humans as the center of excellence. Anthropocentrism believes that humans are the most important creatures, while eco-centrism instead claims that humans are not the only creature privileged to conquer nature.

Liberalism is the most popular ideology since World War I. In the war period, there was a peace-building intention. From an idealist view, peace would be built through liberalism such as democracy, promoting human right and free trade.

In contrast, realist thought views peace as a reality after war. A popular realist idiom is '€œif you want peace, prepare for war'€. Liberalism will grow if global governance has been built to promote peace.

On the other hand, realism purport states have the ambition to be powerful to secure their national interest. How states will secure their national interests would be through political and economic power. Economic power usually looks like capitalism but it is no wonder because capitalism is the only one ideology that rose out of the Cold War.

To secure individual freedom, liberalism allows high competition. Unfortunately, the capitalism system is conducive to greed, which does not consider how poor people with low capabilities will compete.

So why does capitalism not protect poor people or marginalized people from misfortune as part of respect to human rights on behalf of humanity or liberalism itself?

Capitalism requires an abundance of workers and natural resources. To be efficient, low-wage labor is preferred while natural resources should be easily exploited.

Globalism is a new form of colonialism where developing countries and under-developed countries still depend on developed countries. Actually, developing countries
and under-developed countries should inevitably accept investment from the developed countries.

Based on economic political theory countries are called stable when they gain foreign-direct investment as stimulus for their economic situation. In fact, both countries need economic activity that can provide jobs for their people, although at low salary.

Moreover, the state has limited capacity to ensure its people'€™s welfare. Therefore, symbiotic mutualism occurs where developing countries and under-developed countries always have to depend on developed countries in every aspect.

Capitalism is generally regarded as negative thing as it causes a democratic deficit and is the main cause of damage to the environment. The liberal state has been criticized by green-political theorists, who argue the state should play a normative role as an administrative state that can impact the protection of public goods such as the environment.

Capitalism needs positive images to completely tackle bad things. Then, standards could be arranged to determine the value related to environmental preservation. Today, '€œsustainable'€ is very common term used by many brands.

There are sustainable certifications, as well as eco-friendly, no animal testing and organic products, which have been labeled as good products with strict requirements. As a result, these labels will create a positive image for those brands as if those products did not damage any environmental policy.

For consumers, they will feel innocent because they consumed the products in line with environmental ethics. As a consequence, buying products with value is costly. But questions will arise, is there any guarantee that products are free from environment exploitation? Consumers are powerful to prefer good products, but on the other hand capitalist do not want to lose them.

The consumers who have high demand of these products are only society'€™s upper class. Thus, ethical brands only offer their products to the upper class rather than poor people. Logically, ethical brands will become preferable, where then capitalist may hide behind this image.

Generally speaking, capitalism makes everybody enjoy consumerism and continue to offer the joy of consumerism so that everyone does not realize they are being exploited and are helping exploit poor people and the environment.


The writer is a lecturer in international relations studies at Paramadina University. The views expressed are her own.

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