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The Church of Green Capitalism

By Sarah Ertelt
7 Mar 2016

Religion has been notoriously hard to define since before the common era. Make the definition of “religion” too exclusive and well-established movements such as Scientology are left out; make the definition too broad, and everyday fads such as CrossFit suddenly become “religious.” Using the functionalist definition that David R. Loy uses in his essay “The Religion of the Market,” a religion is defined as a historic worldview that teaches humanity what the world is and our role in the world. Under this definition, market capitalism can be defined as a religious movement that has replaced traditional religions in Western society’s search for purpose and happiness.

Somewhere along the way, after the Industrial Revolution, market capitalism became its own form of salvation. Consumerism states that you are not satisfied until you buy this or you eat here; fulfilling these desires will surely bring happiness. Consumerism states that the world will be better off with a new apartment complex where that grassy space lies. During the fight between democracy and communism, capitalism became a symbol of freedom and of the First World. All of these events cemented capitalism’s theology into the Western worldview. Through these avenues, capitalism became seen as “natural”, and its consequences inevitable.

Where green capitalism has failed is by neglecting the importance of community. Adam Smith, the pioneer of natural economic rights, stated, “the market is a dangerous system because it corrodes the very shared community values it needs to restrain its excesses”. Green capitalism urges consumers to buy their way to economic reform. It encourages companies to appear “green” by selling organic products and giving parts of their profit to environmental groups. This “reformed” capitalism still places the focus on individuals and their material needs, not on the world community and our responsibility to preserve the Earth.

Patagonia, a popular and expensive clothing line advertised as eco-friendly, has given 1% of sales towards environmental restoration since 1985, while pursuing a 10% growth in annual sales every year. These numbers indicate that a fleece costing $169 will bring $1.69 to environmental restoration, and $167.31 will go towards the company which pursues greater profits every year. Green capitalism enables increased amounts of resources used every year, and minimizes the effort companies need to contribute in order to be considered environmentally friendly.

Traditional religions, particularly in the Western World, have been slowly replaced by the growing capitalist worldview. The curse of Market religion is that we will never be satiated; no amount of material goods will ever be enough. Attempts to merge capitalism with environmentalism have failed from not understanding how ingrained this worldview has become. Companies will still strive for higher profits every year under “green capitalism” until resources have been completely depleted. Unfortunately, there is no way to “buy our way” out of ecological crisis; no amount of shopping at organic or eco-friendly stores will stop the destruction of the planet. Drastic changes to this country’s views on profit, material desires and free market capitalism will be needed before any real progress in environmental restoration can begin.

Sarah graduated from DePauw University as an Honor Scholar majoring in Religious Studies major. She is from Fishers, Indiana and works in Indianapolis as an Onboarding Coordinator for BCForward.
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