The Great Bamboozle

Bill McKibben’s newsletter on Substack asks the question:

What happens if you greenwash greenwash?

It’s hard to go lower than net zero….

Greenwashing began, as it name implies, as a gentle, barely perceptible rain of fibs. Back at the start, it was mostly pictures; it was pretty easy to gauge how much environmental damage a company did by the number of penguin photographs it felt it needed to include in its annual report.

By 2022, however, greenwashing is the fulltime business of huge numbers of people, desperately trying to defend indefensible industries as the planet’s temperature climbs inexorably higher and as more and more consumers demand action. Most of that work now boils down to different ways of saying: we’re not planning to change the fundamental trajectory of our business any time soon, so can we distract you with some combination of action around the edges and promises about the distant future? Forget gentle shower—we’re talking Category 5, Katrina-scale greendousing.

So, for instance, big gas companies like pipeline giant Enbridge are taking about ‘blending’ hydrogen into the gas they send to your cooktop and your furnace in order to ‘cut emissions.’ But as Julia Levin points out, the most hydrogen they can blend in is about 20%, and that will cut emissions six percent. (Oh, and it’s four times more likely to explode in your house). The real sin, though, is that the only reason they’re doing it is to head off pressure to electrify home heating and cooking, with air source heat pumps and induction cooktops. If we installed those instead, and ran them off renewable energy, than emissions would drop, hmm, 100 percent. Oh, and your kids would not have a 42% higher chance of developing asthma.

Where once one looked for pictures of penguins, the easy new way to figure out who’s greenwashing is to search for the phrase “net zero.” Consider the big banks, for instance, who have joined in a ‘net zero’ alliance, promising great things by 2050. But since they are eager to keep lending vast sums to the fossil fuel industry they too have decided that the best defense is a good offense. A regional vice-president from Bank of America, writing in a Nevada newspaper last week, explained how the financial giant was working to “achieve its goal of net zero emissions in its financing activities, operations and supply chain before 2050.” BofA, he explained, would be reducing its water and paper use over the next three decades, and transitioning to electric vehicles. But he didn’t mention what is by far the biggest source of carbon emissions: all the fossil fuel projects it has lent hundreds of billions dollars for since the Paris accords were signed. Yes, the big banks are lending to solar and wind because there’s money to be made, but as long as they keep lending to oil and gas the climate books never balance. No one cares if someone at Bank of America is making too many copies in the Xerox room; it’s those pesky LNG ports and tarsands pipelines they keep helping to build

Read the whole issue here.

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