Nature is collapsing at an unprecedented rate. Despite countless pledges and summits, we remain on course for a catastrophic 3°C of warming. And 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 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. Both honest and optimistic, The Value of a Whale asks us – in the face of crisis – what we really value.
Introduction: What's the value of a whale?
1. The tragedy of the horizon
2. Sleepwalkers and seers: How finance shapes the future
3. Alchemists: What's green is gold
4. On borrowed time: From repayment to reparation
5. Whales and white elephants: On the financialisation of nature
6. Living in the age of BlackRock
Epilogue: On the value of the whale
Adrienne Buller is a Senior Fellow at Common Wealth, a progressive think tank focused on the democratic economy. Her writing has featured in The Guardian, The Financial Times, The New Statesman, Jacobin, and New Left Review.
"Why do so many of the alleged solutions to climate crisis fail to deliver? In this tightly-argued, precise and deeply-researched book Adrienne Buller looks inside the heads of 'green' capitalists, exposing how non-solutions proliferate. Read this brilliant expose if you want to understand not only how some of the world's most powerful people think and act but also how their solutions differ from what is really needed to secure a safe and abundant future for everyone."
– Amelia Horgan, author of Lost in Work
"This is a witty, lucid and beautifully written critique of that contradiction-in-terms, 'green capitalism'. It explains why, despite the farcical diminuendo of climate denialism, so little has changed. Its searching inquiry into the puritanical reduction of all living matter to economic value, which underpins most government responses to ecological catastrophe, incisively debunks one of the most dangerous illusions going. This is the book we have long needed."
– Richard Seymour, author of The Twittering Machine
"A wonderfully readable attack on the worldview that argues for adding a dollar value to nature in order to save it. An accessible account of a new phase of capitalism that we all need to understand."
– Professor Simon Lewis, author of The Human Planet
"At last! A wonderfully refreshing antidote to the notion that market forces can solve the climate and nature crises, and the deadly assumption that every idea must be evaluated in terms of markets, finance, property or profit. Elegant, incisive and fierce, Buller systematically takes apart the false solutions that dominate mainstream analysis, from carbon offsets to the commodification of nature, and gives us the tools to challenge their dominance and to broaden our understanding of what's both possible and necessary."
– Caroline Lucas MP
"Buller offers essential context for understanding how economic dogmas and market-driven statecraft have warped our understanding of and responses to the climate crisis – or lack thereof. Crucially, she also presents a practical roadmap for course-correction. The Value of a Whale is an accessible and expertly curated guide to the increasingly slick, green face of capitalism in the 21st century. This book should be required reading for everyone from climate activists to policymakers and concerned citizens looking to salvage our collective prospects for a liveable future."
– Kate Aronoff, author of Overheated
"This is a book for anyone troubled by our lack of progress on the climate crisis, from young activists to hard-headed CEOs and investors that face losing control of companies as the climate breaks down. In her persuasive analysis of net zero policies that narrowly prioritise efficiency, market pricing and offsetting – and with unusual clarity and scrupulous integrity – Buller comes to unsettling conclusions. Read this before it is too late."
– Ann Pettifor, author of The Case for the Green New Deal
"The Value of a Whale is an urgent and honest intervention, casting a magnifying glass over the institutions, insider groupthink, and non-solutions distracting and deflecting from the radical ideas and compassion we need to secure a safe planetary future. For too long, our response to ecological crisis has been steered by mainstream economic thinking that is not fit for purpose, to the exclusion of other vital perspectives. As Buller compellingly argues, we are long overdue a reset."
– Farhana Yamin, Visiting Professor at UAK, Associate Fellow, Chatham House
"A sorely needed corrective in an era of climate politics dominated by dollars and models. Adrienne Buller's The Value of a Whale is critical reading for the important task of prying the future out of the hands of corporations and technocrats."
– Olúfemi O. Táíwò, author of Elite Capture and Reconsidering Reparations