I don’t do social media, except for a very infrequently-used LinkedIn account. But LinkedIn is bad enough. Lately, it seems that whenever I log into the site, I find myself being assailed by adverts from Lloyds Bank, which is desperately keen that I should hear about something called the “Just Transition” and Lloyds’s own role in “turning vision to action” in this regard.
What is this ‘Just Transition’? The definition that you see everywhere in global governance circles (such as the website of International Labour Organisation) reads as follows:
A Just Transition means greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind.
The idea here is that we are to escape from “silos in our mind [sic]” between “environmental and climate issues” and “social justice”, and recognise them to be one and the same thing. Anybody who insists that there are trade-offs to be made between going green and economic development for the world’s poor is just being a shortsighted and pedantic ninny. We can in fact have all of our cakes and eat them; we can transition away from using fossil fuels and get equality and get rapid economic development as well. In fact, the implication often goes, the three things are necessarily mutually reinforcing.
Nobody can actually explain in concrete terms exactly how they reinforce one another, of course. Apparently it’s supposed to happen through things like “new economic models” and “new metrics”. And when one burrows down into the detail concerning what these new economic models and metrics really are, one finds only vapidity: a word salad of statements like “broad range of stakeholders”, “timely, respectful and active dialogue” and “informed, participatory engagement that doesn’t slow the process down, but builds buy-in”. The idea is to avoid letting on to the general public that there are hard choices to be made when it comes to greening the economy, by insisting at every turn that there are absolutely no conceivable downsides. This gives the ‘Just Transition’ literature a quality that is a bit like old gossamer in a dark attic; when exposed to the slightest puff of wind it dissipates into nothingness, leaving only emptiness behind.
But picking holes in the concept of the Just Transition is like shooting fish in a barrel, and can wait for another day. The point is that, however inane the concept might be, Lloyds, it seems, is going all in on it. The bank has put together a “Just Transition Hub” as well as hosting various conferences on the subject, and seems to be trying to position itself at the forefront of high street banks when it comes to sustainability issues.
On the one hand, this is all pretty guileless; a crass and desperate attempt to co-opt environmentalism and associate a brand with mealy-mouthed and ultimately platitudinous niceness. It is a great shame (and one of the strangest aspects of the generalised death of old-Left politics in the West) that the No Logo critique of advertising has fallen into such abeyance in the internet age. Naomi Klein ought really to be out there having a field day with all of this, but lately, of course, she is mostly writing about how lockdown sceptics are among “the most dangerous men on the planet” and revealing herself to be intensely relaxed about big corporations making hay so long as the word ‘green’ is in the bumf somewhere.
But there is something more sinister going on here than simple greenwashing. Take a look, for example, at this statement by somebody called Chinyelu Oranefo, the “Director, Sustainability and ESG Finance” at Lloyds:
We have to ensure the next transition is Just [sic], so that all communities and stakeholders not only survive, but also thrive – not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the transition approach which creates the ‘least friction’ and so is the pathway most likely to achieve success.
Apparently, “whilst previous energy transitions in the U.K. – such as the transition from coal to gas in the 1980s – resulted in the U.K. reducing its emissions by 50%, it also resulted in the disruption of communities, particularly in the north of England”. (You don’t say.) But don’t worry – Oranefo “is certain that a better result can be achieved in the transition to a Net Zero economy across all regions where communities, workers and supply chains are not left behind”. So that’s alright then. The details can wait for later.
Does it not strike you as odd (perhaps a better way of putting it would be: does it not strike you as odd that nobody else seems to think it odd?) to hear a director of a large bank talking in this way – as though she is a politician? What earthly business is it of Lloyds whether or not we make a ‘Just’ (I am being a good boy and using the capital letter) transition, whether this is the “transition approach… most likely to achieve success”, and whether indeed we make any transition at all in the first place? We have become used to business leaders behaving in this way, like po-faced sixth-formers lecturing their parents about the political issues of the day, but sometimes it is important to take stock and remind oneself exactly how impudent it all is. Lloyds is a high street bank; its directors are nothing but a bunch of 21st century Captain Mainwarings; they should be sitting in their offices eating currant buns and drinking Earl Grey tea; they are the last people on earth that anybody should listen to about anything except perhaps financial management.