Warning: Greenwash Ahead

Great new article out by Pratap Chatterjee at Corpwatch about the greenwash boom going on in American business.

The coal, oil and gas industries have finally woken up to the political discourse around global warming. Instead of actually looking for ways to actually reduce their enormous carbon footprint, they have responded with a greenwashing public relations blitz and “alternatives” to traditional fossil fuels.

What do they mean by “alternatives?”

Well there is palm oil.

“For example, the weekend before [the Bali] negotiations began, Neste Oil announced plans to build the world’s largest bio-diesel facility a few hundred miles northeast of Bali, in the Tuas industrial zone on the island of Singapore. “

Neste’s $800 million plant will use palm oil. Critics like Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network say that palm oil plantations destroy valuable eco-systems and rainforests, and actually exacerbate global warming.

How much carbon is emitted from the current annual amount of rainforest destruction? 1.6 billion tons of carbon emissions.

That doesn’t sound like an alternative to carbon intensive industry.

Or perhaps the greenwashers had in mind clean coal

“The term “clean coal” refers to a variety of new technologies under development: chemically washing the fossil fuel of minerals and impurities, burning it at higher pressure and temperature, and increasing efficiency by trapping and burning waste gases that would otherwise have escaped out the smokestack. Another “clean coal” technology is “carbon capture and sequestration,” or CCS, which captures coal plant emissions before they enter the atmosphere, and stores them underground.

Many environmental activists note that these “clean coal” technologies are only marginally more efficient and far more expensive. Others, such as CCS, are still on the drawing board and may never work.”

The misleading nature of “clean coal,” has led to companies like General Electric (a charter member of the industry front group, the Climate Action Partnership) running advertising campaigns trying to sway our eco-magination. Currently, GE is running commercials all over coal country, trying to convince people that “clean coal” is a safe alternative.

For his part, GE CEO Jeff Immelt is pretty frank about his jumping on the greenwashing bandwagon.

“Immelt has admitted that the new promotion campaign was based on tapping public opinion and profits. “I can’t lay claim to be a big environmentalist or nature lover here,” the GE head told NBC television this May. “I know that when society changes its mind, you’d better be in front of it, and not behind it. And this is an issue on which society has changed its mind. I came to the conclusion that technology that my company makes can help make it [the climate situation] better, and I can make money doing it, and I can do something good.”

One other “alternative” that seems to work for industry is to “Do Nothing, Collect Praise” from environmental groups. In Texas earlier this year, Dallas based utility TXU had proposed to build 11 new coal-fired power plants. Then they were bought out by two private equity firms that had struck a deal with two environmental groups, Environmental Defense and Natural Resources Defense Council. Out of that deal, TXU reduced their proposed plants from 11 to three. They essentially did nothing and got a lot of praise for their environmental stewardship. Those three plants will end being some of the worst carbon and pollutant emitters in the country.

The worst part is that TXU’s new owners made a non-binding deal and can take the other eight plants off the shelf at any time.

So, faced with a new wave of “green consciousness,” corporate and political power-holders are taking decisive action to stem a rising tide of climate activism and look for ways to profit from the “alternatives” while at the same time appeasing some of their critics.

Palm oil, clean coal and non-binding agreements combined with slick PR campaigns are just a few examples of the great greenwash
Very annoying. Don’t believe the hype.

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About Sparki

Scott Parkin is a Senior Campaigner with Rainforest Action Network and organizes with Rising Tide North America. He has worked on a variety of campaigns around climate change, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mountaintop removal, labor issues and anti-corporate globalization. Originally from Texas, he now lives in San Francisco.
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