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Green Gone Wrong: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Eco-Capitalism

Trenchant exposé of the myths of “green capitalism”.

Faced with climate change, many counsel “going green,” encouraging us to buy organic food or a “clean” car, for example. But can we rely on consumerism to provide a solution to the very problems it has helped cause? Heather Rogers travels from Paraguay to Indonesia, via the Hudson Valley, Detroit, and Germany’s Black Forest, to investigate green capitalism, and argues for solutions that are not mere palliatives or distractions, but ways of engaging with how we live and the kind of world we want to live in.

A new afterword considers various ways in which national development might be freed from its dependence on economic growth, allowing for a decent standard of living without exhausting the planet’s resources.

Reviews

  • “[An] excellent anatomy of greenwashing in corporate culture and personal life.”
  • “The climate crisis is far too urgent to squander another decade on false solutions. This carefully researched, deeply human, and eminently sensible investigation arrives just in the nick of time. Let's hope it inspires a radical course correction.”
  • “Heather Rogers offers a compelling commentary on the state of our contemporary civilisation.”
  • “Our livelihood is in conflict with our planet. Heather Rogers paints a vivid picture of the crisis to come unless we fundamentally change what and how much we consume. Green Gone Wrong is a book of hope because it tells us what is necessary – not what we want to hear.”
  • “Heather Rogers reminds us with vivid examples that there's no way we can just subcontract our environmental conscience to the new breed of green marketers. We have a very narrow window to preserve some version of our planet, and we can't afford the kind of egregious mistakes this volume identifies with such precision. If it's too good to be true, it's not true--even if it comes with a shiny green wrapper.”
  • “With deft and adventuresome reporting from around the world, Heather Rogers looks beneath the surface of today’s market-based “solutions” to our environmental challenges and skillfully distinguishes between reality and illusion. Business as usual won’t do, Rogers tells us, no matter how much we green it.”
  • “Heather Rogers brilliantly and lethally exposes "green" capitalism for the chicanery that it is. While it may be disappointing to find out that "organic" and even "fair trade" don't mean squat - not to mention, of course, "carbon offsetting," which turns out to be even stupider than it sounds - these pages make clear what the answer is: stop making colorful excuses for the system that's driving us off the cliff, and instead make shifts in our economic priorities to bring about real change. May Rogers's book guide our feet.”
  • Green Gone Wrong doesn’t just go after easy targets like big corporations … Rogers offers plenty of evidence that consumers who load up their shopping carts with organic food, for instance, may be unwittingly subsidizing big farm companies that are eradicating forests and defiling the soil in some developing countries.”
  • “By going beyond exposé to analysis, Rogers gives a deeper assessment of environmental problems and solutions than the usual global-warming investigative book.”
  • “Rogers “exposes how the “green” movement is failing to live up to the promise of sustainability and stewardship of the environment when the solutions are hijacked by economic and political interests. [Her] clear-headed approach proves effective in uncovering the truths behind the mantle of greenwashing.”
  • “A compelling critique that exposes the inability of big business to provide sustainable energy.”
  • “This book is a detailed critique of how the market is failing to tackle climate change…this is an essential tool for arguments against market solution to not only climate change but also social inequality.”
  • “Heather Rogers ... makes a convincing argument that, as most of us have probably already suspected, we can’t simply buy our way out of the crisis that our planet is experiencing.”
  • “Self-proclaimed environmentalists should read Heather Rogers’s stories and weep.”
  • “Readers will be troubled by the laundry list of fallacies at the heart of ‘green business,’ but the book’s final chapter, which discusses developing and very positive alternatives, will keep them from despairing.”
  • “An entertaining and personal story...Through every crisis an opportunity arises and this book argues against apathy in the struggle for a more sustainable world and for open debates about what society we want to create to live in. It is a fascinating read in an under-researched area.”

Blog

  • Green Gone Wrong Gone Got Green Right

    Current events have been doing a sterling job of keeping up to date with Heather Rogers’s Green Gone Wrong, out this January in paperback from Verso. The First World’s misguided push toward biofuels, the effects of which Rogers travelled the globe to document, continues to take food from the tables of the world’s neediest. Earlier this month, the New York Times followed our author’s lead with a report on the plight of Guatemala’s poor, now struggling to deal with another spike in corn prices prompted by the biofuel boom.

    Indeed, Green Gone Wrong is at times eerily prescient. It’s as if the climate has been taking notes since the book's hardback publication. “I’m expecting a climate 9/11 event,” says a Professor Weber, a former adviser to Obama’s energy secretary who has a cameo role in Chapter 3. “Just think about a hurricane that goes through Manhattan.” Think about it? You can watch it on YouTube if you happened to miss Hurricane Sandy's stopover in the Tri-State Area last October.

    So, Heather Rogers is clearly one of our more reliable Cassandras. But what escaped a number of reviewers’ notice is that Green Gone Wrong contains a welcome dose of green gone right, too. Sure, the beleaguered organic farmers she visits in upstate New York lead a tenuous existence, with 85 to 95 percent of small farms dependent on “off-farm” income. Fair Trade goods are often nothing of the sort, since smallholders end up dependent on capricious suppliers for access to the Western market. But in Germany, Rogers finds remarkable glimmerings of sanity from a world that sometimes seems determined to wreck its hull on the nearest reef.

    In Freiberg, Rogers visits a state-of-the-art, affordable eco-apartment that uses only one-fifteenth of the energy consumed in the average home. That’s no mean feat when you consider that the United States produces 40 percent of its carbon emissions from powering and heating residential and commercial space, a figure that increases to 50 percent in the UK. Germany’s solar programme also gets an appropriately glowing write-up. And so it should. Since the hardback edition was published, Germany succeeded one day last May in producing half its power during peak hours from solar panels.

    The success of solar power in fog-bound, Wagnerian Germany is not entirely a matter of Teutonic efficiency and the nation’s fabled technical expertise. There’s more to it than that, and Rogers has the skinny on the story. Back in 2006 and 2008, Russia cut the gas supply to Europe, claiming that the Ukraine was syphoning supplies. Germany needed energy independence fast, and a vocal, effective anti-nuclear movement had long ago closed down that avenue to energy production. Now the country is en route to producing all its energy from safe renewable sources come 2050.

    The German experience is evidence that the climate crisis can be solved; it’s a matter of political will. If a hurricane bowling down the streets of Manhattan isn’t enough to make governments feel the pinch of necessity, it’s up to us to put the squeeze on our representatives.