A collective probing behind the scenes of the XR spectacle is unearthing more and more inconvenient truths.
Take, for instance, this article from 2016 by John Elkington, which has been drawn to our attention.
Elkington, alongside Volans Ventures Ltd colleague Louise Kjellerup Roper, is one of the XR “business leaders” featured on the missing website and in the XR Business letter to The Times.
He is also involved in the Tomorrow’s Capitalism Inquiry backed by companies like Aviva Investors, Covestro, and Unilever, the massive transnational consumer goods company.
The article is entitled “Tomorrow’s Business Models will be X-rated” and the letter X is a theme which runs through the whole text.
Elkington starts off talking about the California Gold Rush but adds: “The latest rush — in pursuit of exponential opportunities, or ‘X’ — feels even more seismic. The deeper I dig, the more potential opportunities surface to transform capitalism, markets and business in pursuit of sustainable development”.
Strangely for a supporter of environmentalism, Elkington boasts that he has been “accumulating air miles at an almost exponential rate”.
One of his many jet-set missions was to “Google’s X facility, the self-styled ‘Moonshot Factory'”, he explains.
“When visiting X last week, I was fascinated to see robotic arms, futuristic model aircraft dangling from the high ceilings (they have colonized an old shopping mall) and the sort of radar scanner used to guide autonomous cars.
“But my theme here is less the technology than the business models that are helping turn new technology into viable businesses — especially businesses that can help drive progress towards UN’s Sustainable Development Goals”.
Talking about the “Sustainability X agenda”, Elkington calls for a radical reinvention of what he charmingly calls the “Sustainability Industry”.
The Volans boss writes: “As leaders learn to ‘Think Sustainably,’ they will also need to learn to ‘Think X,’ shorthand for ‘Think Exponential’.
“In the same way that they once looked to activists and social entrepreneurs for evidence of where markets were headed, they must now engage a very different set of players.
“These new players are not happy with 1% or even 10% year-on-year improvements, instead pushing towards 10X — or 10-fold — improvements over time”.
This last sentence is worth reading again.
“The X agenda”. “Sustainablity X”. “X-rated” business models. Massive profits. Spiralling economic growth.
If Think X is shorthand for Think Exponential, as this XR Business Leader insists, what does XR actually stand for?
“We have seen powerful and courageous civil disobedience in the streets of London this week”, enthuses the woman on the YouTube video.
Placing Extinction Rebellion in a proud political tradition including the US civil rights movement and the Suffragettes, she declares: “What they are doing is waking everyone up to the fact that we do have an emergency on climate change. We are simply not acting fast enough”.
The title of the video, posted by the Global Optimism channel, is “Christiana Figueres in support of Extinction Rebellion”.
Figueres, for those who do not know, is an international mover and shaker generally regarded as the architect of the Paris Agreement which resulted from COP 21 in 2015.
But where exactly is this Costa Rican diplomat coming from and what sort of “environmentalism” does she represent?
Her family background is certainly interesting.
Born in 1956, Christiana is the daughter of the three-time Costa Rican President José Figueres Ferrer, aka Don Pepe.
Remembered mainly for his fervent anti-communism, Christiana’s late father admitted to the New York Times in 1981 that he had been aided by the CIA and that he was “a good friend” of its director Alan Dulles.
Christiana’s older brother José María Figueres was also President of Costa Rica, from 1994 to 1998.
The US connection seems to run in the family. According to Wikipedia: “Figueres completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy (West Point).
“While attending West Point, he attended and completed the US Army’s Ranger Training Course in 1975. Later, he continued his academic studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University”.
As President he aimed to “transform the Costa Rican economy towards one of higher productivity” and “the administration is credited with having worked to advance and promote further integration of Costa Rica into the globalised economy”.
Christiana’s brother shares her enthusiasm for “sustainability” – within an entirely capitalist context, of course.
He is on the Board of Trustees of the US-based Rocky Mountain Institute, which, in its own words, “transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future”.
José María’s profile on its site explains that he pioneered the linkage between sustainable development and technology while in power in Costa Rica and then with the United Nations.
He was also the first CEO of the World Economic Forum, where he “strengthened global corporate ties to social and governmental sectors”.
José María must have lots to discuss over family meals with his brother-in-law, Christiana’s husband Konrad von Ritter.
Her profile on the World Bank website (she is World Bank Climate Leader) praises her for work in bringing people together on the climate issue, not least “corporations and activists”.
Christiana is convenor of the UN’s Mission2020, which declares: “We’re on a mission to drive urgent action to limit the effects of climate change, particularly for the most vulnerable people and countries.
“With radical collaboration and stubborn optimism we will bend the curve of global GHG emissions by 2020, enabling humanity to flourish”.
Mission2020 hopes to achieve this by means of “targeted, high-level diplomacy”, “multi-stakeholder convening” and “creative strategic communications”.
There was a glowing report of Mission2020’s launch on The Grantham Institute’s website.
It gushed: “The Mission 2020 movement views the climate challenge, not as a burden; but a tremendous opportunity.
“Through being ambitious they aim to inspire us all to meet the challenge, spur innovation, create new jobs and economic opportunities, and while at the same time nurture the benefits we get from an unspoiled natural environment.
“The campaign states that the intrinsic value of the benefits of climate action extend beyond just economic metrics, and indicate that by 2050 efforts to slow climate change could make us $19 trillion richer”.
Figueres is ideologically very keen on connecting the public and private sectors and has made a significant personal contribution to that fusion.
For instance, she is a member of Acciona, “a global company with a business model based on sustainability”.
Its aim is to “respond to society’s main needs through the provision of renewable energy, infrastructure, water and services”.
She is also on the advisory board of international experts set up by Italian energy company Eni to “analyze the main geopolitical, technological and economic trends, including issues related to the decarbonisation process”.
Figueres is involved in The B Team, co-founded by Richard Branson, which describes itself as an “initiative formed by a global group of business leaders to catalyse a better way of doing business”.
On its website, The B Team reveals it is supported by Ford Foundation, Kering Group, Guilherme Leal, Strive Masiyiwa, Joann McPike, The Tiffany and Co. Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Unilever and Virgin Unite.
Chaired by Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO and one of the XR business leaders described in our last article, The B Team was of course right behind the XR Business initiative (for which the website seems to have been withdrawn for the meantime).
There may be XR supporters and activists out there who think that none of this matters, that it is better to be supported by business interests than opposed by them, that it is even an encouraging sign that big companies are getting on board an environmental struggle.
We would ask them to contemplate these two points:
1. High-profile movements like XR are good news for those who want to pressure governments to channel massive amounts of funding into the “renewables” sector.
2. They are particularly good (and lucrative) news for businesses and individuals who have a financial stake in the renewables sector.
The dangers to the environmental movement from capitalist involvement are clear. It risks being:
* Exploited for private business aims.
* Severely compromised in the eyes of the public.
* Used as “social licence” to launch a “Green New Deal”, a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
* Limited to calling merely for a “nicer” form of capitalism, rather than for its abolition.
* Used to prop up a global complex based on social injustice, imperialism, racism, militarism and exploitation.
* Limited to addressing the climate change impact of industrialism, ignoring all the other forms of pollution, destruction and contamination that we are facing and which would continue unabated in a “renewable” capitalist future.
* Prevented from challenging economic growth itself and instead envisioning a future of degrowth, where production is based on needs, not profit.
Our message to XR activists and supporters is simple.
If we really want to save the future of our living planet, we need to bring down the capitalist system.
And we are never going to bring down capitalism by collaborating with capitalists.