Green ethics are anti-modern

In: Uncategorized

27 Jul 2009

This comment from the latest Fund Strategy is fairly technical with its focus on different types of investment funds. However, it does try to bring out the anti-modern character of green thinking.

There is a widespread misconception that mainstream investment funds are not ethical. A better way of looking at the question is to examine what kind of ethics they represent.

The main criterion for mainstream funds is to maximise the returns for the investor within a given mandate. In that sense it can be said they follow the ethic of the marketplace: that the pursuit of profit is a desirable goal.
Philosophically, many would argue that such a goal is desirable from both an economic and ethical perspective.

They would claim that society’s collective welfare is maximised when individuals pursue their own self interest. In addition, they would often contend that the pursuit of self interest is the approach generally most conducive to individual freedom.

But that begs the question: what exactly are “ethical” funds? They are not distinguished simply by being ethical. The question is once again what type of ethics they represent.

A better way to describe ethical funds would be to call them self-limiting funds. That is they embody the idea that there are social and environmental limits to human action. The same applies to other tags such as green or socially responsible investment.

For example, the notion of green technology does not simply suggest it is clean in some way. It means it embodies the notion that humans live in some kind of balance with nature. Therefore green technology is usually conceived of as small scale, labour intensive and local. Technology implemented on a massive scale, even if it is wind power or solar energy, tends to be frowned on by environmentalists.

This is in contrast to the view, from Francis Bacon (1561-1626) onwards, that a desirable goal for humanity is to dominate nature. The natural world should be reshaped and moulded to make it a better place for humans to live in. It is this view that underpins the enormous scientific, technological and social progress made in the modern period.

From that perspective, green thinking, including the ethical funds it endorses, represents a reaction against modernity. It embodies a reactionary harking back to a romanticised golden age.

Ethical funds epitomise profoundly low expectations about the potential of humanity. It is hard to conceive of a more dismal ethical outlook.