The ministers of environment and climate change of ten European countries have mobilized these days to ask for a “green” solution to the economic crisis that will stem from the covid-19. They ask that the European Commission not replace the European Green Pact, proposed before the pandemic, with a return to environmental deregulation and dirty energy in an attempt to emerge from the economic crisis at any cost.
Although, as they say, it is desirable that the solution to the economic crisis is not made at the cost of making the climate crisis even worse, we must be a little sceptical about the possibilities that this New Green Deal really contributes “Solutions to respond to the economic crisis caused by the covid-19 virus”, as they say.
Firstly, because this Green New Deal is based on large investments for the energy transition that stimulate growth and it is difficult for anything that stimulates growth to be a solution to the climate crisis. Secondly, because we do not know if this Green Deal will be profitable, since investments such as the rehabilitation of buildings, renewable energies, the circular economy and the recovery of biodiversity, despite being technically very interesting, have had a fairly meagre success in past decades.
However, I do think that there are common solutions to the covid-19 crisis and climate change, but I doubt that they go through the classical Keynesian schemes that are associated with the New Green Deal. Rather, I believe that what we need is to recover what we can call Old Brown Wisdom or values compatible with sustainability that would resemble the soil on which a green economy could settle. Without them, a New Green Deal can barely prosper, because it would be trying to take root in the cement of the values of consumer capitalism, completely opposed to ecology.
For example, for the circular economy to be successful there must previously be an awareness of the scarcity of resources that shows the importance of recycling almost 100% of practically everything, but this clashes squarely with the consumerist mentality, and this mindset is needed to maintain the capitalists fiction of perpetual growth. In order for natural resources such as water, soil or climate to be managed in a minimally sustainable manner, it is necessary to have mechanisms of self-limitation and cooperation that clash against the individualism and competition that govern the capitalist economy. A sustainable society must be able to be in equilibrium with its environment, but in a world where competitiveness between individuals, companies and nations is the norm, equilibrium is impossible because those who stop growing are relegated and colonized.
We can call Old Brown Deal all those attitudes that are necessary to build sustainable societies. Some of them, such as the awareness of limits, the equilibrium and the management of common goods, were present in traditional societies and were undervalued by the capitalist economy. Others are values whose importance we are discovering recently, such as appreciation for the care that allows the reproduction of life and cooperation within the respect for freedom and difference.
This Brown Wisdom is especially important in the face of any type of crisis because it strengths the physical and human foundations of a society and provides it with resilience. Resilience is vital in this century because, since, as many voices already affirm, we are approaching patterns of collapse, which are the result of trying to grow at all costs despite the fact that the base that supports growth is exhausted and overexploited .
Since the 1980s we know that humanity has overcome the planet’s biocapacity and is overexploiting numerous ecosystems and resources. Since the 2008 crisis, it is also evident that we are doing the same in the social aspect: we grow by overexploiting people with increasingly lower wages, worse working conditions and increasingly precarious lives. The covid-19 pandemic is an unexpected shock that has added more load on an already exhausted base, accentuating the pattern of collapse. Therefore, the solutions to the covid-19 crisis are the same as those of the climate crisis: solving structural unsustainability of our society by adopting an attitude of “care” (in the ecofeminist sense of the word) that regenerates the biological and social bases.
As Yayo Herrero says, “the great civilizing problem that we have [is] an economy that, when it grows, destroys the possibilities of continuing to live with dignity, and when it decreases, as now, with the logic of power that exists, it falls violently on the poorest and most vulnerable people ”. This logic must be broken because, neither do we have the resources to continue growing, nor can we continue to make all the consequences fall on the weakest without this having dire consequences for society as a whole and all its members.
It is becoming increasingly evident that if we do not want to collapse dramatically, we need to evolve towards non-growth post-capitalist economies and, although it will not be easy to design a new economy, there are already alternative currents that provide us with very valid elements. An essential inspiration is that provided by the feminist economy with its notion of care and its emphasis on putting life at the center. Another basic contribution is that of biophysical economics, which allows us to measure the economy in physical and not just monetary units, since it is the only way to recognize the limits of goods that cannot be replaced by money. We also need to abandon general competitiveness to replace it with large doses of cooperation, and in this sense, the economy of the common good offers an interesting perspective in guiding competition towards responsibility-based social prestige.
This health crisis has made it clear to us that solutions can only be collective, cooperative and based on responsibility and care. Those same values, added to the awareness of limits, are precisely the Old Brown Wisdom that we need to find solutions, both to the post-covid-19 economic crisis and to the ecological crisis. Only that Old Brown Wisdom that strengthens our social base can allow us to overcome the hard shocks to which this pandemic is subjecting us. Only on new values compatible with sustainability can we build that New Green Deal that also allows us to overcome the shock of climate change.
Pubished originally in El Salto