The Green Movement Is Dead, Long Live The Environment

Posted by A.C. Ping
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When Tim Blair writes “The green movement is dying… diversion, exaggeration and hysteria are signs that the greens realise that they’re losing” (Opinion, The Australian Thurs Sept 5th, 2002) he’s missing the bigger picture. The fact that some members of the green movement are having to be more and more extreme to gain media attention, is simply a sign that ‘green’ issues are in fact becoming more mainstream. If the green movement is dying as an extreme issue then that can only be a good thing. As people around the world wake up to the crisis facing our environment, green issues are moving onto a par with issues such as discrimination against women. Just because you don’t see women in the streets burning their bras doesn’t mean the women’s movement is dead – far from it!

In the ten years since the Earth Summit in Brazil much has changed. Yes, the focus has shifted to corporations, and for a good reason. The producers of the goods and services that impact on the environment ARE corporations. Since Kyoto in 1997, many governments around the world have recognised this and have sought to pass on their environmental obligations to corporations. Most notably, in 1998 the European Union endorsed an agreement with the European Automobile manufacturers which committed them to a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2008. Around the world more than 28 countries have also already implemented ‘take back’ laws that assign the responsibility of the disposal of end of life products to the manufacturer. What has been the reaction of corporations to these draconian new laws? Well, an amazing thing has happened, leading corporations around the world have recognised that ‘green’ issues are not simply about hugging the nearest tree. Simple principles of physics mean that if something is environmentally friendly it is more often than not also more resource efficient than less environmentally friendly options. For example, car manufacturers know that the less fuel a car uses and the more efficiently it burns that fuel, the less CO2 emissions. By passing on responsibility to corporations, Governments are not only encouraging them to reduce emissions but to become more efficient. For instance, since 1995 Daimler Chrysler has reduced CO2 emissions across their fleet by 22%.

Is this good enough and does this mean automobile manufacturers are good for the environment?

Most emphatically NO. But, if trying to find ways to save the environment makes you a greenie then the answer may be YES. BMW displayed a hydrogen powered car at the World Summit which has no greenhouse gas emissions. Daimler Chrysler has been working on fuel cells and says that it will have fuel cell powered cars ready by 2004.

Meanwhile, takeback laws, especially in IT have meant that computer manufacturers around the world have been working hard to find ways of recycling every component of the products they produce. Hewlett Packard in the US has even found a way of recycling the lead which can be found in monitors.

The point of all this is that leading corporations recognised long ago the need to make the environment a mainstream issue. Progressive governments around the world have in turn been keen to set environmental targets in consultation with industry and then leave them to achieve the goals.

In this scenario, accountability and transparency have become key issues.

Whilst many corporations are honest in the way they represent their environmental impact there are others that practice what has been called ‘green washing’ – grossly overstating their environmental achievements. This is the reason why not for profit groups like Friends of the Earth are now focussed on business accountability. It is not because the green movement is dead but rather because it is alive and well and now firmly entrenched in the business model.

Finally, I should point out that giving voice to the notion that “Pessimistic predictions about the environment, scarcity of resources and overpopulation have been 180 degrees wrong for more than a generation” is outrageous.

One word should set the record straight – Alaska.

I choose Alaska because new models of climate change predict that those countries in the higher latitudes will be affected more severely and hence give some sort of forewarning to the rest of us. Since 1976, just 25 years ago, average temperatures in Alaska have risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius. Now aside from the impact on sea ice thickness the real lesson for us is what has happened to delicately balanced ecosystems. The higher average temperatures have meant that insects have been able to thrive when colder winters would have kept them in check. For instance, the spruce bark beetle has thrived in the warmer temperatures with more larvae surviving the winter and the hotter summers allowing the beetles to mature faster and complete a two year breeding cycle in just one year. The impact of this has been huge. The Darwinian balance has shifted in favour of the beetle and nearly 4 million acres of mature spruce forest on the Kenai Peninsula have been killed by the growing beetle population.

Realists should check the facts and then consider what percentage of the Australian economy is dependent on agriculture before dismissing the impacts of climate change so quickly.

Is there a way forward ? Most definitely YES. If you have any plans for being here in the next ten to fifteen years, I suggest you protest with your dollars and support companies that have already accepted the death of the green movement and embraced resource efficiency instead. Although big business may have helped cause much of the environmental problem, it is big business that can fix it. But, ultimately, it is our choice, and that’s the beauty of free markets. If we complain about the state of the environment but still buy products that harm it, work for corporations that ignore it, and invest in companies that exploit it, then we only have ourselves to blame. The green movement is dead, long live the environment!


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