Coverage of the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit has tended either to express exasperation at the futility of a single conference attempting to address multiple planetary crises or to bemoan the fact that, while laudable, the little that is being done comes too late. Both views are wrong. There is, in fact, a great deal being done in the environment’s name and much more of it will be pushed between 20–22 June in Brazil. Unfortunately, the central solution presented by policymakers – The Green Economy – will make matters worse. This concept, a way of putting a price on the use of natural resources previously considered ‘free’, is being touted as the only way to prevent future crises. In this Opinion, we explain how the green economy approach – relying as it does on the kinds of broken mechanisms that precipitated the current financial crisis – will only further incentivise the exploitation and destruction of the ecosystems on which we all depend. And while humans are accelerating the rate of species extinction, it is not too late to adopt the kinds of policies that have demonstrated success in combatting the global crises in food, energy and climate change. Policymakers at Rio+20 ought to look away from the greenwash, to the concrete proposals already enacted by social movements around the world. Their environmental solutions have the advantage of enfranchising the poor, transforming social relationships with nature and, most importantly when compared to the Green Economy approach, they actually work.