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The Green Moment? The Crises of Capitalism and the Response of Progressive Politics

Michael Jacobs, Visiting Professor, UCL School of Public Policy

Discussants: Andrew Simm, new economics foundation, and Professor Wyn Grant, Professor of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick

Watch the video of the event:

  • Read a summary of the lecture and discussion here; see the accompanying powerpoint slides here; or watch a video of the lecture here.
  • Read Andrew Simms' Guardian article expanding on the points he raised during the event here.


Beneath the present financial crisis, modern global capitalism faces deeper anxieties.  Climate change threatens ireparable damage to ecosystems and human societies, while rising prices of energy, food and commodities indicate that the expansion of supply and improvements in resource productivity are not keeping pace with the growth of global demand, particularly in the emerging economies.  At the same time consumption growth in the industrialised world has gone into reverse, as historically low savings ratios are raised, debts are repaid and average household income declines.  At a deeper level indices of social wellbeing indicate an inchoate dissatisfaction with the patterns of consumption of the long boom, where public and cultural goods of various kinds - including equality and social cohesion - have been traded off against private material demand. 

These (contested) challenges to contemporary capitalism ought to provide a political opening for 'progressive' forces.  Yet social democratic parties, in the UK and elsewhere, have struggled to benefit from the crisis.  The failures of office have been accompanied by an inability sufficiently to distinguish a progressive version of capitalism from a conservative one.  In this context there would appear to be a unique opportunity for 'green' politics, whose critique of the environmental limits to growth and the costs of consumption now look prescient.  Yet the ingrained utopianism of green political thought, and the weak social base of environmental movements, have historically prevented their emergence as a transformative political force.  Could a synthesis of the green and social democratic political traditions offer a more convincing political prospect? 

In his first lecture as Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science and School of Public Policy, Michael Jacobs offered some reflections on the nature of the current crisis and the challenges it raises for progressive political economy and political theory. 

The event was chaired by Professor Paul Ekins (UCL Energy Institute). Andrew Simms (new economics foundation) and Professor Wyn Grant (Professor of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick) acted as discussants.

Michael Jacobs

Michael Jacobs is Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science and School of Public Policy at University College London.  Author of The Green Economy and The Politics of the Real World and editor of Greening The Millennium: The New Politics of the Environment, he was Special Adviser at the Treasury and 10 Downing St for six years until 2010. 

Page last modified on 09 feb 12 10:54