Economics and Business
The final chapter highlights how the emerging green capitalist policy programme – from nature as a financial asset to the untenability of ‘decoupled’ growth – comes up at every turn against the physical constraints of a global economy marred by inequality, and a natural world whose complexity cannot be efficiently priced and traded nor converted to terms compliant with optimising financial risk profiles.
The introduction sets up the parameters and argument of the book. It opens with the International Monetary Fund’s valuation of a single whale to question the use of setting the monetary value of nature, opening out to demonstrate that this is just part of the financialisation of approaches to ecological and climate crises. The introduction then goes on to spell out the different aspects of economic thinking inherent in these approaches, which will be explained and analysed in the following chapters.
The second chapter examines the defining environmental policies and programmes pursued by many of the world’s powerful political economic institutions and governments, namely carbon pricing and carbon offsetting regimes. It is within this chapter that the programme of ‘green capitalism’ begins to take shape. Together, the first chapters explore how the flattening tendency and appeals to scientific objectivity of neoclassical economics, in combination with the depoliticising tendencies of market-centric governance and thought, serve to erase the inescapably political nature of ecological crisis and obscure the essential role of power in determining the contours of our responses to it.
In the fifth chapter, the horizon is extended beyond Wall Street and the City of London to the global level of finance and exchange, exploring how the institutions and systems that govern the international economic sphere presently undermine not only effective action to confront ecological crisis but also, critically, the ability to secure justice in doing so. As this chapter argues, confronting profound inequalities in both wealth and power within the global economy is neither optional nor a distraction from the challenge at hand, as efforts to do so are often described. To the contrary, doing so is a question of both justice and material necessity.
The third chapter maps a critical and relatively nascent site of power in the global economy and, importantly, in the design of the green capitalist programme: the asset management industry. Once a niche industry serving the wealthy, asset managers now sit at the helm of Wall Street’s immense power, with a consistently growing influence over policy including, saliently, how many governments and international institutions are designing their responses to ecological crisis. This chapter examines the historically distinct combination of incentives, governing logics, and mechanics that drive this vast and highly concentrated industry, exploring the outsized impact of a small cohort of enormous firms. There are countless firms and industries at play within the messy politics of ecological crisis, not least the fossil fuel giants; however, their role is not documented here for the same reasons that the efforts of denialist politicians is not focussed on. First, these efforts have been catalogued in considerable detail elsewhere; and second, though they remain influential, they are not the primary entities shaping the green capitalist project as it is defined here, oriented as it is toward a particular set of ‘solutions’.
Nature is being destroyed at an unprecedented rate. Despite countless pledges and summits, we remain on course for a catastrophic 3 degrees Celsius of warming. In a world of immense wealth, billions still live below the poverty line and on the frontlines of environmental breakdown. Increasingly, the world is waking up to this reality, but are the ‘solutions’ being proposed really solutions? In this searing and insightful critique, Adrienne Buller examines the escalating plunder of the natural world under financial capitalism, and exposes the fatal biases that have shaped climate and environmental policymaking. Tracing the intricate connections between financial power, vested interests and environmental governance, she exposes the myopic economism and market-centric thinking presently undermining a future where all life can flourish. The book explains what is wrong with carbon pricing, off-setting and asset management’s recent interest in all things environmental. Both honest and optimistic, The value of a whale asks us – in the face of crisis – what we really value.
Africa 2.0: Inside a continent’s communications revolution provides an important history of how two technologies – mobile calling and internet – were made available to millions of sub-Saharan Africans and the impact they have had on their lives. The book deals with the political challenges of liberalisation and privatisation that needed to be in place to get these technologies built. It analyses how the mobile phone fundamentally changed communications in sub-Saharan Africa and the ways Africans have made these technologies part of their lives. It examines critically the technologies’ impact on development practices and the key role development actors played in accelerating things like regulatory reform, fibre roll-out and mobile money. The book considers how corruption in the industry is a prism through which patronage relationships in government can be understood. The arrival of a start-up ecosystem has the potential to break these relationships and offer a new wave of investment opportunities. The author seeks to go beyond the hype to make a provisional assessment of the kinds of changes that have happened over three decades. It examines how and why these technologies became transformative and seem to have opened out a very different future for sub-Saharan Africa.
Bandwidth is the petrol of the digital economy, and before the international cables were built it was supplied to sub-Saharan Africa largely through satellite services: quality was often poor and the costs were high. Sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest capacity in the world for international internet bandwidth. Without effective internet, there were few incentives to develop local African content.
This chapter looks at how sub-Saharan Africa got connected to the internet, the birth of independent African internet service providers and their fight to open up competitive international access. The first fruits of that struggle for users were cyber-cafes, which were new spaces to access virtual worlds. The last part of the chapter describes how the monopoly of international bandwidth supply – which kept internet prices high – was broken by a succession of new cables and fibre networks with innovative governance and finance structures.
It was a classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation. No market for internet meant no finance for data networks. Without the latter, there would never be a larger market for internet. In these early years, the number of sub-Saharan African internet users was tiny. It had grown only slowly from 0.2 million in 1998 to 3.2 million in 2002.
This chapter explores how providing bandwidth at an affordable price in sub-Saharan Africa was far more complicated than building mobile voice networks.
Before internet use could reach more sub-Saharan Africans, three factors had to align: lower mobile internet prices and faster speeds; cheaper mobile phones with better functionality; and attractive and widespread content apps on these improved phones to breed internet use. The opening part of the chapter looks at this process from two very different perspectives: one, that of a mobile phone fanboy who became an influencer; the other, that of an African mobile executive who grappled with some of the first mobile internet roll-outs. From their different perspectives, they illustrate both the early potential for mobile internet and the barriers it had to overcome.
The chapter then details: the five-year road to cheaper mobile internet prices; how the issue of cheaper smartphones was, and continues to be tackled; and the arrival of Google and Facebook and how they contributed to the increase in African internet users.
This book has argued that the rate of changing human behaviours is far slower than the pace of the introduction of new technologies. The ‘changing of the guard’ in terms of sub-Saharan Africa’s ‘digital natives coming to power’ will take a decade or more to materialise. What has transpired up to now might best be described as the ‘end of the beginning.’ The final chapter seeks to provide some provisional conclusions that establish what has been achieved. But it also raises questions about how quickly sub-Saharan Africa’s digital future can continue to transform the assumptions about what Africans can do that will lead to the opening out of a very different future for the continent. It describes: the liberalisation success story, the finance that drove change, the wider access to news and entertainment and the continuing digital divide and concludes by focusing on four key behaviours – aspiration, individuality, sexual norms and trust – affected by the technologies dealt with in this book.