Pimping climate change: Richard Branson, global warming, and the performance of green capitalism
On 21 September 2006 UK über-entrepreneur and Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson pledged approximately £1.6 billion, the equivalent of all the profits from Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains for the next ten years, to fighting climate change. Since then, Branson has restated his commitment to action on global warming, including investment in technologies for sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In this paper, I critically examine and engage with Branson’s announcements as a specific entrée into a dialog about so-called ‘green capitalism’. I am particularly interested in the role of the entrepreneurial subject in environmental policy and environmental action. There are glaring problems associated with green capitalism as a mash-up of environmentalism with capitalism. One of these is the tethering of environmentalism to a political economy whose mantra is growth for growth’s sake, or, in Marx’s terms, accumulation for accumulation’s sake. This has been discussed by some as the problem of capitalism’s ecological metabolism or ‘metabolic rift’. Yet, while accumulation for accumulation’s sake may well be anathema to progressive environmentalism and sustainability, I argue that this is not only an objective, quantitative problem but also one of the qualitative dimensions of produced nature and the cultural politics of environmentalism. Appreciation of this can be gleaned by reexamining Marx’s discussion of the role of the bourgeois subject in the relentless drive to reproduce and expand capital accumulation via anarchic, entrepreneurial investment. Green capitalist orthodoxy relies on this source of innovative dynamism, but in the process obscures or overlooks the fact that accumulation for accumulation’s sake is by definition guided by the anarchic and amoral search for profitable realization of surplus value. Moreover, in order for green capitalism to succeed, its legitimacy must be secured. I argue that this legitimacy derives in part from specific performances of green capitalism by entrepreneurial elites, also made evident by Branson and his commitments to climate action. All of this raises questions about the political, cultural, and ecological character of green capitalism, issues brought to the fore by Branson’s brand of climate activism.
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