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Earth in the Spin Cycle: The Myth of the Green Tech Industry

by Ethan Tussey

by Jonathan Hielkema for IN MEDIA RESOne of the tech industrys greatest triumphs is cultivation of an aura of good citizenship and progress. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the companies that build our computers and networking infrastructures looked all the more savoury in contrast to the financial speculators. And even though consciousness of climate change is fickle and often suppressed through state and corporate propaganda, the Alberta tar sands and fracking have never been suitable for a greenwashing campaign. Enter our Silicon Valley prima donnas, constantly touted in State of the Union speeches and their own marketing as the foundation of a greener and happier capitalist society.
In its Better Starts Here video, Apple boasts of its numerous green projects, including a private solar plant in China, a private tidewater power plant in Oregon, and use of renewable energy in stores and data centres, etc. Nothing in the video is strictly false, and Apple makes a greater commitment to green capitalism than almost any other tech giant, but the video remains a smokescreen. Beyond the fact that the projects outlined in the video are only accessible to Apple as a private entity rather than common management and oversight, there is another intractable problem that will neutralize any attempt to create green capitalism.
In essence, that problem lies in a contradiction between how natural systems manage energy and how capitalist institutions manage it. Natural systems are marked by conservation, capitalism by accumulation and acceleration. It is in Apples basic interest to grow as quickly and as much as possible, meaning that its consumption of highly energy-intensive resources (aluminum, silicon, rare earth elements) will continue to expand if the company achieves its goals. While its propaganda promises a world where growth and the limits of the natural bounty will never come into conflict, where resources will never need to be seized through militarism and imperial wars, the reality is that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. Note how, even though Apple continues to grow, its investors demand more. These are the insatiable motors that drive capitalism, and any greening of our current system will grant only a temporary reprieve. [1]
Corporate greening is no solution, nor are no growth slogans that neglect the fact that most Southern economies need to grow to provide their people with a decent life. What is needed is a radical reorientation of global energy: away from capital, away from the North, and channeled through democratic rather than technocratic politics. Better starts not with Apple, but in social movements, and no matter how much we enjoy our MacBooks, we cant live with the illusion that our fossil fuelled gilded age can last much longer.

[1]This article is deeply indebted to Robert Biel, The Entropy of Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), 68-71.

The Future and Earth

A promotional video about Apple's sustainability

from Better Starts Here (2015)
Creator: Apple
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey