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Debate & Discussion

Background to the discussion - presentations from our Turn the World Upside Down event

Reject 'greenwash' - compost the corporations!

Tuesday 24 July 6.30pm

Presentation by Penny Cole

Before I talk about greenwash and the role of the corporations, I just want to say a couple of words about the current floods.

There much discussion about whether or not climate change is the cause, but that’s irrelevant, really. A report to be published in the magazine Nature tomorrow, will show that extreme weather, including floods in the northern hemisphere, is going to become frequent and severe. And from the current situation we can predict what things will be like in the future if we don’t act.

This article in the NY Times says there are thousands of families from New Orleans still living on welfare in temporary trailer parks, so hungry they mob the food aid van when it arrives. In the richest country they have been made outcasts and pariahs.

In Hull, many whose homes were affected by floods – about 30,000 - won’t be able to return for 6-12 months. Those without insurance will depend on government aid or charity to get started again. Normal life has broken down there with 700 council staff diverted to emergency work and schools, libraries, playing fields, theatres and leisure centres still closed. And we saw the incompetence and indifference of the government to the plight of those people and that city.

In the latest floods, the person in charge was not the leader of Gloucestershire County Council or any elected representative, but the Chief Constable. “I have spoken to the water company and made it clear to them the urgency of getting water trucks through….” he told the BBC. And of course in emergencies, it is the police and the military who do take charge. The MP confined himself to saying how it was not the government’s fault, and that it was all a surprise and nobody could have predicted it. So as well as government neglect, these changes will have an impact on how we are ruled.

Because governments have now opted out of tackling climate change – that was the message from the G8 in Germany – they are going to leave it entirely to the market.

In recent years unelected and unaccountable business bodies have sprung up where major corporations have broken away from the climate change deniers such as Exxon Mobil, and recognised that climate change is happening. And it is to them that governments are turning for answers, organisations like:

On the Board of Environmental Defence – one Al Gore.

Investment bankers are pursuing “market-making” opportunities, for example Goldman Sachs’ “Center for Environmental Markets” was set up to “aggresively pursue protfitable options” in alternative energy, bio-fuels and ethanol.

They lead the market in emissions trading and have invented new financial products including “weather derivatives,” “renewable energy credits,” and other “climate-related commodities”.

In 2004, Al Gore teamed up with Goldman Sachs executives to establish the London-based environment investment firm Generation Investment Management (GIM). No wonder that the one thing left out of his film was the role of the corporation’s in causing climate change.

So now the market is flooded new opportunities for profit and consumers are bombarded with claims about how green corporations are.

But none of these claims stand up to scrutiny. Since British Airways launched ofsetting two years ago, they offset on average 1,600 tonnes of emissions each year - the equivalent of four return flights to New York on a Boeing 777.

BP advertised it was moving "Beyond Petroleum" but will spend $5 billion over five years for oil exploration in Alaska alone.

Shell, with its slogan "Profits or Principles", spends a tiny 0.6% of its annual investments on renewable energy.

Cargill Dow is a company created by Dow Chemical and Cargill, the world's largest privately held company and the planet's largest producer of GE corn. Cargill Dow has a new fabric "NatureWorks PLA" (polylactic acid), made entirely from corn. The company claims it is a limitless clean product that at the end of its life can be completely recycled in commercial compost facilities. All this from a process that cuts fossil fuel use by half. Truly, a wonder product. But the source material is genetically engineered corn and the hope of all these corporations is that green appeal will silence opposition to GM crops.

Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, Novartis, Zeneca, BASF and Aventis have launched the "Council for Biotechnology Information” which is spending up to $250 million over three years to try to convince the public that GM foods are good for the planet.

A study by the Dutch banking conglomerate, Rabobank, estimates the global market for hybridized and genetically engineered crops at $30 billion a year and anticipates that it will rise quickly to $90 billion.

Closer to home, you can get a green mortgage – Norwich & Peterborough building society plants eight trees a year for five years for each loan to balance the CO2 emissions of a typical home. But of course the rate of interest is high. And those who risk their savings in ethical funds should take care – it is clear that alternative energy companies are already overvalued and a number have gone bust.

The fact is that if we leave it to the market to tackle climate change, it will be much profit made and no emissions save. The poorest in the world will bear the brunt of the impacts arising from the failure to act, and democratic rights will be under attack in an atmosphere of continuous emergency.

Behind all the green hype is a corporate strategy to prevent any regulation of emissions by claiming the market and technology will solve the problem.

Well that greenwash doesn’t wash – to save the planet, we must chart the way forward to a new era of human democracy, wresting control of action on climate change from the corporations and their slavish servant governments.

Some information in this talk was drawn from an article by David Noble, Toronto University, author of Beyond the Promised Land (2005); from an article by Geoffrey Lean in the New Zealand Times; more on Cargill Dow and other Greenwash initiatives at CorpWatch