Regulating digital technology and ‘green growth’: ‘Sustainable’ extractivism, e-waste, planned obsolescence and the right to repair
In this paper we argue there are numerous factors that contribute to, and drive, extractivism, production, consumption and waste, including wider capitalist and regulatory incentives, regulatory capture and failure. In particular, we take aim at the concept of ‘green growth’ and ‘greenwashed’ ‘sustainable’ technologies that are considered to be ‘environmentally friendly’ but which contribute to environmental and social harm as they drive ongoing extraction, production and waste in pursuit of economic growth. We contend that the claim that economic growth under the current capitalist order can be ‘green’ needs to be called into dispute, and we argue that there is a need to move beyond a capitalist realism with its vested arguments that we can consume our way out of the current unsustainable trajectory. We present three examples to illustrate our argument that if we are serious about ecological justice we need to work towards decoupling our economies from extractivism: (i) the extraction and mining of metals and minerals on land and in the deep sea for ‘sustainable’ or ‘green’ technologies; (ii) the disposal of e-waste, and; (iii) the planned obsolescence of digital devices and limiting the right to repair. Aligned with the conference theme of ‘regulating in times of crisis’, we focus on the institutional, regulatory and governance practices (and their limitations) related to each of the examples, including the United Nations International Seabed Authority, the European Union Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), and the ‘Right to Repair’ Directive that will enter into force in 2021.