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Transcript of GREENWASHING GLOBAL WARMING - Washburn University 2008-07-10آ  GREENWASHING GLOBAL WARMING Global...

  • GREENWASHING GLOBAL WARMING

    Summer 2008

    July 10, 2008

    Leslie Charles Coover

  • Coover ii

    © 2008

    Leslie Charles Coover

    ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

  • Coover iii

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

    The greenhouse effect results when certain gasses trap the energy of the sun as

    it radiates upward from the earth’s surface. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere accounts

    for about two thirds of the greenhouse effect.

    For many years, numerous studies, including those published by the United

    Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have concluded that

    carbon dioxide emissions are creating climate change. This human-induced climate

    change threatens to significantly melt polar ice caps, drastically increase sea levels,

    alter patterns of rainfall, unleash more frequent and more powerful storms, augment

    extremes in temperature, and worsen the biodiversity crisis.

    Failure to take action concerning global warming will probably mean serious

    consequences for humankind’s health and economic welfare. Fighting global warming

    will require billions of people around the world to make major lifestyle changes, but

    many transnational corporations, industry groups, and companies do not want change

    because it is not in their strategic profit-making interests.

    When organizations conjure up environmentally friendly claims that have no

    substance, they are engaging in the practice of “greenwash.” In the US, greenwashing

    has a history that goes all the way back to the 1960s. DuPont, Dow, Mansanto, Shell,

    and W.R. Grace were the first to use greenwash. They developed a strategy to combat

    Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, an expose on the terrible harm the pesticide DDT

    was doing to the planet. Their efforts succeeded in casting considerable doubt on

    Carson’s critique.

  • Coover iv

    During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, automobile, oil, and chemical

    corporations spent over $1 billion a year on corporate greenwash. In the 1980s, as

    environmental disasters became more and more common, greenwashing increased and

    became more sophisticated. Corporations and industrial groups learned how to deflect

    attention away from even their most blatant environmental catastrophes. By the 1990s

    “corporate environmentalism” came into vogue. Corporations spent much more money

    on claiming to be green through advertising than they actually spent on trying to fix the

    corporate processes that were defiling the planet.

    Oil interests are notorious for their use of greenwash, Chevron, Shell, BP

    (formerly British Petroleum), and Exxon Mobil, all use greenwash to get consumers to

    look the other way. Reduction in the billions (perhaps trillions) of tons of carbon dioxide

    that are released into the earth’s atmosphere each day due to the burning of petroleum

    products should be a major concern for the oil industry. Although public opinion

    supports reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, the oil industry takes little action. The

    oil industry claims to be developing renewable energy solutions, yet they allocate only a

    fraction of a percent to this development while they spend the majority of their profits on

    developing new sources of oil. Some transnational corporations have even donated

    money to prestigious academic research foundations. By keeping control of the

    research agenda they can wrap themselves in the garment of respectable

    environmental research while preventing any research to take place that might threaten

    their corporate profitability.

    New techniques have been developed to burn coal more efficiently, and to

    reduce carbon dioxide emission, but the coal industry resists these new technologies

  • Coover v

    because they are more expensive than traditional techniques. Keeping a low profile,

    and using greenwash to portray themselves as environmentalists, they try to get bills

    passed that give them the authority to build dinosaur power stations that are so

    inefficient that they waste almost half the energy they create.

    All the major US automakers have resisted stricter corporate average fuel

    economy (CAFÉ) standards. The terrible financial conditions of GM, Ford and Chrysler

    attest to a short-sighted industry that lacks the foresight to address the global warming

    crisis. Unfortunately, instead of trying to address the problem, the automakers seem to

    be content with another round of greenwash that they hope will appease the public.

    This, they probably believe, will eventually allow them to get back to selling vehicles that

    have soaring levels of carbon dioxide emissions, but provide high-profit margins.

    The corn-production industry walks in lockstep with the auto industry. Their

    greenwash theater portrays corn-based ethanol as the magic bullet. Many scientists

    have shown that the production of corn-based ethanol requires more fossil fuel than if

    we just continued to use the fossil fuels. There are ways to produce ethanol that could

    make it one component in an alternative energy continuum. This continuum includes

    geothermal, tidal-flow, wind, solar, nuclear, and small-scale hydroelectric sources of

    energy. Corn-based ethanol is starch-based. Ethanol can also be produced from

    cellulose using woody plants. Cellulose-based ethanol shows promise because the

    plants it is derived from are less labor intensive to cultivate. For example, Switchgrass

    requires little fertilization and needs replanting only once a decade. The technology to

    develop cellulose-based ethanol is still in its infancy, and major research funding is

    needed, yet government funding goes almost exclusively to the development of corn-

  • Coover vi

    based ethanol. This technology offers no solution, but by using greenwash the corn

    industry can realize huge short-term profits.

    As stated previously, fighting global warming will require billions of people around

    the world to make major lifestyle changes. Some measures will be less convenient,

    such as riding bicycles to work and changing our driving and flying patterns. Other

    measures will be more costly, such as developing public transit and highly efficient

    railway systems. Instead of allowing greenwash to dissuade people from taking action,

    public service messages should target the need to make lifestyle changes and the

    methods that society can use to create these changes. Unfortunately, the

    transnationals, industry groups, and some companies continue to use greenwash to

    dismantle any effort that could bring real change.

    Global warming is a very serious problem, and we can’t wait until wealthy,

    powerful interests are ready for change. The time for talk is rapidly ending. The time

    for change is now! The truth about global warming will be heard only when the massive

    greenwash machine is pushed out of the way. Each day billions, perhaps trillions, of

    tons of carbon dioxide are sent into the atmosphere. From space, earth’s atmosphere

    looks like a tiny veneer that covers our planet. Can we afford to ignore humankind’s

    effect on the planet? The choice is ours: live in harmony with earth’s ecosystem or

    destroy it and ourselves.

  • Coover vii

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ................................................................................................. iii

    GREENWASHING GLOBAL WARMING ........................................................................ 1

    Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 2

    Figure 1: Forest Devastation ................................................................................... 4

    Figure 2: Pine Beetles Kill Trees Throughout the West ........................................... 4

    The Greenwash Machine ................................................................................................ 5

    The History of Greenwash ........................................................................................... 6

    Oil Interests .................................................................................................................. 7

    Figure 3: BP’s “Education Campaign” ..................................................................... 10

    Coal Interests ............................................................................................................. 11

    Table1: Analysis of Some Coals Mined in the US.................................................. 13

    Detroit and the US Corn-Production Industry ............................................................. 14

    Is There a Future? ..................................................................................................... 16

    WORKS CITED ............................................................................................................. 18

  • Coover 1

    GREENWASHING GLOBAL WARMING

    Global warming is the slow stead