countries are where it’s at for controlling the problem in
the long term. China probably will surpass the United States
in total CO2 emissions this year, according to the U.S. Carbon
Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Its output is growing
at roughly 10 percent per year, largely due to the staggering
pace of new coal-burning plants being built there to support
manufacturing facilities, which are needed to meet the frenzied
demand of its trading partners, like us. Kazakhstan—driven
by oil and natural-gas reserves—increased its per-capita CO2
emissions by a stunning 60 percent from 1999 to 2004, according
to United Nations data. India, with a sixth of the world’s
people, is on an upward emissions curve, as are South Africa,
Malaysia, Egypt, Nigeria, Thailand, Yemen, Namibia, Oman,
and many other Third World nations.
squeaky-green Europe doesn’t exactly have clean hands, either,
as it accounts for some 11 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions—with
numbers rising in several member nations.
you mentioned to your congressperson recently that you’d like
the United States to get on the ball with that? Or have you
been too busy riding your bicycle to the store that sells
food grown within the right eco-distance of your house—or
changing your lightbulbs, perhaps? As you’ve probably heard,
if one million American households each changed four standard
lightbulbs to eco-friendly fluorescent, we would eliminate
900,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year. That’s less than
one teragram, or about one-seventh of the emissions of just
the U.S. rice-cultivation industry.
the directed efforts of one million households could accomplish
could, for instance, join the recent call of the Society for
Ecological Restoration (SER). That 19-year-old nonprofit is
trying to jump-start the drastically needed effort to coordinate
ecological-maintenance and restoration programs worldwide,
to mitigate the effects of the climate change that is already
coming upon us. SER is asking governments, international-development
banks, and private institutions to provide financial support,
technology, and expertise.
heard much debate about that SER plea in your corporate-owned
major media. It’s exactly the kind of serious, massive, and
costly effort that corporate titans desperately don’t want
anybody talking about. That’s because getting serious about
stopping the looming catastrophe will, absolutely, hurt the
profits of many businesses, increase the spending of governments
(and thus require more taxation), and slow, at least to some
extent, the growth of the global economy.
you won’t hear about these serious solutions on network television,
you will hear plenty about climate change these days. That’s
because we are in a new phase of obstructionism: We have moved
from denial to co-option.
denial faces its inevitable last days. Like tobacco-industry
chairmen before them, the climate-change naysayers have hidden
their greed-driven practices behind the phony pretense of
scientific doubt until now, when the very last human finds
their pseudo-claims laughable. So corporate titans have chosen
the obvious next strategy: Neuter the opposition by incorporating
it. They now embrace environmentalism, and in doing so have
taken control of its marketing. And the marketing has one
goal in mind: to convince you that saving the Earth has nothing
to do with regulation or government action or corporate behavior,
but is purely a consumer choice. Saving the Earth, you are
told by everyone from Nike to Esurance, is something that
you do, at home, by buying clothes and car insurance.
you watched the unofficial worldwide launch of the new, corporate-subsidiary
environmentalism movement: Live Earth.
2 billion people witnessed this gelding of Al Gore, who, with
the attention of all those people, said not a word to them
about the global regulatory efforts he well knows are necessary.
Instead, he and the corporate sponsors doled out self-directed,
consumer-spending advice such as: Pay your bills online, replace
your laptop with a PC, buy a bicycle, buy new energy-efficient
of course, buy energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs. The
market for those bulbs is led by Live Earth corporate sponsor
Philips. Its interests are hardly pure: In its most recent
annual report, Philips crowed to investors of its plans to
dominate “the largely untapped potential of energy-saving
lighting systems,” which Philips plans to tap “in our pursuit
of sustained profitable growth.”
is what you are buying into when you fall for eco-marketing.
Instead of making these companies more money, try making a
real difference. Throw down your fluorescent lamps, leave
your computer on at night, and do something about the actual
problem that is destroying your children’s hopes: Call your
congressperson, join an activist group, write to board members
of the eco-friendly crowd’s wasted, misdirected effort can
be seen very clearly in the grotesque, ongoing inaction of
the United States government, which through citizen apathy
has been allowed to fall under the control of the most shortsighted,
greedy, corporate leaders imaginable.
ago, the Environmental Protection Agency held its annual meeting
for the Natural Gas STAR Program—the United States’ primary
effort to get oil and natural-gas producers, who are responsible
for 2 percent of all U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions—to reduce
their output of methane, a gas 20 times more potent than carbon
in trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.
14-year-old STAR program is a big knee-slapping hoot for the
industry. Participation is voluntary, and those companies
that do sign up—roughly 110 of them, including BP and Chevron,
representing less than two-thirds of the industry’s emissions—agree
only to implement programs they deem “cost-effective” for
their company. That is, they graciously agree to do things
that will demonstrably make them more money.
to this commitment are nonexistent: The EPA promises these
mega-emitters that they can “participate at a level that best
suits your company,” that “implement[ation] of specific practices
is not mandatory,” “implementation plans are not binding,”
and “you can terminate your partnership at any time with no
penalties, further obligation, or publicity.”
for walking out on STAR—but big publicity for joining. These
companies receive the aggressive marketing of a grateful EPA,
which, at the annual meeting, presents awards to roughly 10
percent of the participating companies, and then runs public-service
announcements touting their accomplishments in national media.
This year’s “Continuing Excellence” award, for instance, went
to Consumers Energy. Just two weeks before that announcement,
Consumers was facing criticism from a gathering of environmental
groups in Lansing, Mich. Those groups suggest that some—any—regulations
should be placed on Consumers, which currently releases more
than 10 million tons of CO2 each year from a coal-firing plant
near Lake Michigan, and is building another $2 billion plant
in the state.
local article about the controversy, a Consumers official
was quoted saying that people wanted the coal-firing plants:
“The public has voted with its light switches.”
what the corporate Earth-killers think of you. Who’s willing
to do something about it?
S. Bernstein is a staff writer at the Boston Phoenix,
where this article first appeared.