The Big Green Lie

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Someone asked me recently, “I know green is popular now. But what’s next?”

I said: “Honesty.”

Consultants tell you that green business is profitable. Stories of businesses successfully implementing green programs are all over the media. Former EPA chief William Reilly touts a new green business book as “a compelling blueprint for how companies can address critical environmental problems, from climate change to water, and improve their performance, gain competitive advantage, make money, and win friends.” It sounds so tidy. But it’s not. Implementing sustainable business practices is closer to trench warfare than surgery.

I work at a business — Aspen Skiing Company — that is remarkably supportive of environmental projects. Yet we find that it’s very difficult to do what matters most from an environmental perspective: cut carbon dioxide emissions. We’ve eliminated millions of pounds of CO2 through retrofits, green construction, on-site renewable energy, and widespread efficiency measures, but our emissions are creeping upward. At the same time, scientists say we must achieve 80 or 90 percent reductions to slow climate change.

We struggle with barriers that are seemingly universal in the business world. For example: this year our various departments submitted $40 million in requests for capital spending (new roofs, retiling a leaky hotel swimming pool), but the company only has $9 million budgeted. The important green projects — a solar electric installation or energy-saving repairs to a heating system — might be out-competed by that roof leaking onto a guest’s bed. Necessities may trump even profitable green projects, especially if those projects aren’t profitable enough.

Other companies struggle too. Wal-Mart is spending $500 million annually on green programs. But last November the company released its first sustainability report, which showed CO2 emissions climbing an average of 8.6 percent from 2005 to 2006. What’s going on?

Cutting CO2 emissions is difficult, even for a motivated company. That’s because energy is cheap; there’s limited incentive to conserve it. Businesses will cherry-pick projects that save the most energy at the lowest cost but decline to make the deeper, less profitable (or even costly) emissions cuts necessary to solve the climate problem.

Meanwhile, making money means creating more carbon emissions, often through growth. The reality that finding emissions reductions isn’t like hitting the jackpot over and over again may come as a surprise. After all, the story we tend to hear is that such actions are cost-effective, smart, and relatively easy to pull off. Governments want their typically lame, voluntary “technical assistance” programs to appear successful. Nonprofits and consultants make their case, or their money, by selling the “green is green” story. And corporations are often pitching profitable environmental progress to customers as well as shareholders.

Where does hope end, and hype begin? It is not that businesses can’t cut emissions profitably (to a point), or that existing efforts are pointless and futile. It’s that at current energy prices, even ragingly successful emissions reductions will only cut your emissions by a third, at best, because it isn’t profitable enough to do more. But we must do much better than that, and soon.

Instead of being Pollyannas crowing about a climate-solutions cakewalk, let’s be realistic about the scale of change needed. The most important corporate climate action might not take place in the factory or the boiler room, but in Congress, in the streets, and on the barricades.

Auden Schendler is director of community and environmental responsibility for the Aspen Skiing Company.

Comments

  1. Great commentary. I think it points out the fact that business cannot do this alone. Nor can policy do it alone. The two actually need to work together to create the changes that are needed. Until the White House and Congress come to grips with reality, we’re not going to solve this problem on the backs of enlightened businesses and consumers alone.

  2. Although I agree that a bit of realism is needed when talking about green economics, I must admit I’m nervous to let honesty rule the conversation. Americans seem easily frightened by honesty, and much more willing to bury their heads in the sand than to actively work for change. But you’re right; businesses – like people – must take various things into consideration when making “green” choices. And it’s very difficult to know what to choose sometimes. What I think we’ve yet to achieve is a balance between apathy and utter despair. It’s encouraging when mainstream corporations start talking about greening themselves. But you are absolutely right to ask, “Where does hope end and hype begin?” Like any new uncharted territory, a little honest caution is a good thing.

  3. I live in Nebraska and our local utility is investing .05% of their annual budget on wind energy. We have enough wind to power the United States yet our board of directors is happy paying for coal. I think corruption is involved, but cannot prove it. Kickbacks from the coal companies have to be involved, don’t they?

  4. Green is trendy because we are stupid. Instead of thinking and making choices based on information, logic, and/or reason “we” behave according to consumptive instinct. We are easily wooed because we all spent (or are currently in the process of spending) a huge majority of our young lives in schools that teach obedience, reward memorized abstraction, and punish individuality/creativity. We are ingrained with the idea that our country is the greatest in the world, when nothing could be further from the truth. We think we have freedom, but we are too dumb to even consider what freedom means much less analyze whether or not we have it. Where is real freedom?

  5. I am an artist living in Nebraska and don’t know if we could actually power the whole country, but if we could, this would certainly be a much better use of our land than farming and cattle ranching, which are polluting our underground aquifer, rivers, and streams to the point where they are putting both chlorine and ammonia into our drinking water to make it SAFE???? (In the same breath they are warning against using it in our fish tanks!) Our local utility company is owned by us and WE should attend their board meetings, take petitions signed by our friends and neighbors, and demand more wind power and less coal-burning power plants!!!!

    Isabel Cohen, Omaha, NE

  6. Hey Nebraska, why don’t you go build another straw bale house! (Everyone in California is doing it.) Ha ha!

  7. Hey, I’m from Nebraska too. Moses, what is your point?

  8. Sorry, no real point. I guess I was just making the connection between the “green alternative” of straw bale homes to the Nebraska participants. Any book about straw bale home construction will always point out that straw bales were first used in Nebraska in the early 1900s. So the technology and idea of building “green” is really not new like most people think.

    To use the phrase “we” as Amoz did, and to connect back to the article’s focus on corporate/government influence, are “we” really capable of doing “green” things? Maybe “we” should first stop wasting money destroying the infrastructures of other countries and instead invest in building up (i.e. converting) our own. This might lead to greater freedom as a nation and maybe on the individual level as well.

  9. Every journey begins withaasingle step, and this is going to be a long journey. I wouldn’t call it a lie so soon on our trip just because you cant see over the next hill yet. Change includes all the things you haven’t imagined yet. Peace.

  10. Tommy, what a beautiful thought. Change includes all the things you haven’t imagined yet. Forgive me if I steal it.

  11. Right on Moses! We should have learned from history after all the schools threw it at us, but not even those governing have learned from it.
    The greatest investment in infrastructure in American history was during the depression. We have not had a major infrastructure project since the interstate highway system of the late 50s and early 60s. A far greater undertaking then building enough wind and solar to replace coal and natural gas.
    What most don’t realize about government is that it is a necessary element of society. Paying taxes is necessary, but what is most important is what our government spends those moneys on. If all is reinvested in infrastructure, people doing the work pay taxes, they spend the money, others get it and they pay taxes, and so on. In a healthy econcomy, the money “turns over” about 15 to 20 times a year. The government in the end gets it all back. We just keep doing it and low and behold we have a wondeful and health society, economy and environment.
    But no we have been spending it destroying other countrys infrastructures and paying interest to the very wealthy and countries overseas. 53% of every dollar in income tax in 2007 went to paying interest. We got NOTHING for it!
    It is time for a new priority and not the promise of another 100 years in Iran.

  12. Ok. Back to the article. What really frustrates me is all the “talk” about how to get things done or how difficult it is to get things done. I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but I’m not getting drunk. At this point, I need less hype + hope and more information straight from the front lines about how to honestly pull it off. Granted Schendler’s article is only about a page long, but it is just more “talk” with no real solutions. Yawn. I’ve heard it all. Someone ought to write a friggin’ book.

  13. Rob:

    I agree with you. (Sorry, I only had 600 words.) But… your description of the book we need is uncannily close to what I’ve written. Tentatively titled “The Forever Business: Dispatches from the Sustainability Frontier,” it should be out in the fall through Public Affairs. It’s all about what it really means to do stuff, to implement sustainable practices, and what goes on when you’re actually in the trenches doing retrofits, fixing buildings, using biodiesel, and getting dirty. It covers mistakes as well as successes, and it is meant to be the link between all the talk and all the theory and implementation.

  14. I think the article was clear, useful and led off with an idea that rings true as a crystal goblet:

    ‘Someone asked me recently, “I know green is popular now. But what’s next?”

    ‘I said: “Honesty.”’

    That works for me. The whole article works for me.

    Jules Older, Editor-in-Chief
    Ski Press

  15. I have to go back to Einstein once again:”We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    the interesting part of the discussion is not addressed:
    “limited resources, economic growth, resource wars, etc…” in one vein and in the other vein we fail to talk about the elephant in the living room: capitalism, economic growth and keynesian militarism has doomed future’s generations resources and chances of right livelihood not just in the USA, but in many other places.
    Everyone talk about the difficulties of going green but no one wants to confront the reality of total loss of control over the economy and resource alocations. Americans (including Canadians and Mexican elites) are hooked in wasting precious resources; from human to natural resources.
    See:
    http://mondediplo.com/2008/02/05military

    I have read many of the discussions here in related topics, it is not goig to be a change that entails to read a book and vote for Obama; it will entail voting for Ralph Nader and finding every non brand name candidate voted in and clean up house from the white house to the mayor’s office.
    Then change the way laziness and mediocrity are extolled, how rugged individualism is a dysfunctional way to live in community, how greed and selfishness creates and perpetuates suffering.
    Capitalism and its values only brings joy for a few and oppression, boredom and hedonism to the many.
    Green business in this economic system anathema.

  16. Harris Pohl on Dec 16, 2007

    We have passed the line of no return. I have been an activist for many years. I remember when Ralph Tory, around 1986, came back to canada from a conference in washington, where there was a discussion on what to do about the environmental degradation. According to his reporting, people made the suggestion that business would have to cap growth. The members of the business communities were all against it. Nothing got done, in the mean time lots of environmental groups became co-opted. Lots of activists are paid to be activists. Poverty, wars and environmental degradation has achieved an all time high. Academic types took over the environmental movement completely. The token non-whites are rare and far in between (in North America). Voices are silenced, by death (Corbin Harney – Shundahai Network) or by disillusion (my own).
    Actions are pathetically stupid (write letters of protest or fly to Bali to demonstrate about an agreement that will not be implemented (remember Kyoto?, Remeber the Waste Trade agreement done in Basel? ask Jim Vallette what happened to the Basel agreement?)
    The environment news of record is the Rachel’s weekly has records of all the above.
    So we can be saddened by the loss of opportunities, or we can try to re-bild community, but the main stuff is not touched with a ten or 1000 foot pole: consumption and corruption.
    Now that the dollar is loosing its value sooner than we all might think, everyone slumbering will have to get up and do something that they never prepared themselves for: face reality and think up solutions for :
    1 – water shortages – e.g. Tennessee, Georgia and California (invading canada for it or using NAFTA chapter 11 will not do);
    2 – Storms, fires, floods, earthquakes;
    3 – a huge population of uneducated by design; violence fed, by design; marginalized by design and exploited by design; not knowing or having experience in how to deal with lack of their favourite junk food joint (the only place where s/he can find a meal they can afford to pay for, with the meager wage they make.
    4 – the backlash from all the lies that will be uncovered and how frustrations will be dealt with.

    Do I need to go on?
    So all of you that are writing in this discussion are having a 1980’s conversation, while the tanks are at the door, the drought is at the doors, the concentration camps inside of the us have been built, the floods and weather storms are at the door (World Watch predicted long time ago). Your conversation should not be intellectually driven. All of the above done in your name. Who cares about Rick Bass? Great he wrote. Well what have you all done with what he wrote? How his writing get us all off the shithole we find ourselves in?
    Not happy to make a disaster of the us and north america, american military is making a mess out of other parts of the globe and destroying our home – the earth-.
    What are you doing about stopping the obliteration of Gaia?
    There are more than a million scientists, intellectuals, writers, philosophers, university educated people in the us alone; you all know about the problems. What keep you from working together in getting this mess clean up?
    Pretty soon we will not have time for compassionate and productive living: survival will be the big stake.
    My suggestion:
    Call on citizens to design a plan of action to deal with the major issues in your community. Call it adhoc commission on surviving the crunch.
    Place in the agenda all the problems.
    Prioritize the ones that are most important e.g.
    a- drink water (where does it comes from. Is it secure for the population.
    2 – Food – where it comes from? Is it secure for the population? If it is not how do we make it secure? What actions do we need to put into place to secure food, water and heat for the winters. Who has the heirloom seeds, where are the orchards and the gardens?
    3 – Community building: What are our assets? How inclusive? How much of the population is marginalized and how to change that? People that are included don’t steal from you.

    So you get the drift.

    If we don’t get back to basics and start building the future now, there will not be any time left for the organizing that is needed for the transition to be smooth.
    If this is not done soon, it will be bloody.
    Harris

  17. To be really relevant in getting control of climate change, we have to go black not green in order to remove some of the overload of carbon dioxide by actually getting it back to charcoal. I have outlined this in several comments in “Reasons not to Glow” “Altar Call for True Believers” and “The Unsung Song” in Orion’s Blog. Setting up the pyrolysis process would have huge econmic benefits as I have outlined including helping to control another problem making news lately, namely the expanding environmental pollution from discarded pharmaceuticals.
    Using pyrolysis on organic wastes will stop them from biodegrading to reemit various greenhouse gases(GHGs) mainly carbon dioxide; will reduce greatly the costs in developed countries of having to maintain dumps to keep drugs, toxics and germs from seeping out; will reduce greatly in underdeveloped countries their expanding water polution problems caused by haphazard dumping of organic wastes, and will generate some electric energy fairly cleanly.
    I also point out that the biocrops for ethanol is probaly a dead concept as recent reports indicate that expanding land preparation for such crops having yearly harvesting results in excessive GHG releasing due to trapped organic matter getting exposed to biodegrade. Bioethanol is basically just recycling carbon dioxide doing nothing to reduce the overload of that gas that will keep exerting it climate changing power at the present levels.
    I urge readers to check those other comments I have mentioned and start calling for development of the pyrolysis procees applied to organic wastes. It will help kicki our oil addiction that sends megabucks to unfriendly countfries, It will also reduce our carbon footprint and megabuck expenditures for maintaining dumps. And maybe most importantly, it will cut water supply pollution that, in underdeveloped countries, is expanding rapidly to become perhaps a bigger threat to their survival than climate change. Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

  18. I appreciate and agree with many of your points, Auden – it’s true that, while the tide has turned and many people and companies are at least aware that they HAVE a carbon footprint and can do something about it, we are a long way from having really addresses the root issue. I think that many environmental professionals have been so giddy to have some semblance of change and to have environmental impact in the spotlight (finally!) that we have not worried as much about what the message is as about the degree to which it is getting out and being considered as a mainstream American value.

    People do need positive messages and feedback (research from NCAR among others has shown that this is the main motivator for action) But when we start congratulating ourselves for progress at the expense of understanding that we are slowing but not yet reversing the problem, we risk missing the point entirely.

  19. Kool-Ade is not enough!

    Auden, it is so refreshing to read some honesty about the subject. We seem to be very busy selling folks a pipe dream that economies can keep growing (and therefore businesses and consumption), and population levels can be ignored, as long as we all change our light bulbs and jump through all the right technological hoops. Many environmentalists believe the public to be incapable of acting on anything other than Polyanna feel-good fairy-tales.

    I think it’s much more optimistic to give humankind credit that we just might do the right thing if given accurate information and true leadership. Seems our leaders are only willing to give us sugar-coated information and settle for goals that won’t get us where we need to go, out of fear that we would never respond to the truth.

    It’s a tough process, but I’d rather shoot the moon with you if the moon is what it will take. Why set our sights on failure just because that’s more realistic? The truth is we need to get very real about changing our lifestyles, our public policies and our growth-centic paradigm. And you are right, that is a far cry from what most businesses, bureaucrats and individuals have been willing to do so far.

    Dave Gardner
    Producer/Director
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
    http://www.growthbusters.com

  20. In northern Europe, the country of Denmark has separated the link between economic growth and rising carbon emissions. Emissions are falling and the economy is growing. It is a remarkable achievement and wind power, which supplies 20% of Denmark’s electricity, is playing a major role in reducing emissions.
    There is nothing to stop the United States from doing the same, aside from the might of the fossil fuel lobby.

  21. Auden,thanks for pointing to our #1 problem in all of these debates: dishonesty. Without a commitment to honesty, it is unreasonable to expect that we will make much progress. Look at the scientific method. It presumes honesty for without honesty everyone has to independently do everything again for themselves.
    Brigid, yes, we, American–like all human beings–are frightened by honesty and have a tendency to bury our heads in the sand. That’s not the whole story, only an important part. We, also, have shown a willingness to make great sacrifices when we understand the fullness of our reality. How can dishonesty ever help?
    Harris, you gave us a great quote you attributed to Einstein (“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”) and then, it seems to me, you gave us the same kind of thinking that continues creating problems, namely, we must first control that which we can’t personally control BEFORE controlling that which we can personally control.
    I couldn’t directly keep us out of Iraq but I can protest. And because I live in a small town, I can regularly riding my bike instead of driving my car much of the time; thus, reducing the fossil fuel consumption underlying that “war.” Of course, that also is a green act.
    We, Americans, tend to discount the small actions needed to make truly great differences while only counting BIG actions. In case anyone failed to note it, the USSR disappeared because a whole lot of individuals had finally had enough and–for the second time in modern Russian history–accomplished what was inconceivable to my generation. The Russian people overthrew a seemingly all powerful, ruling hegemony with almost no bloodshed. Is our task any greater than that?
    Next, a new idea for this discussion, the genesis of which began long ago with my Dad. Forty years ago, we were both in school. I was in college and he was in the University of Chicago’s MBA program at night. He asked me, “What is the first responsibility of a business to its employees?” His answer was, “To stay in business; otherwise, the employees won’t have a job.” He pointed to a necessary, but not sufficient, prerequisite.
    I now understand that my father’s great insight was that in understanding any issue, it is always necessary to identify the prerequisites.
    So, now, as I work trying to create a new local market oriented agriculture in my area, I ask young people wanting to start farms, “What is the most overlooked aspect of sustainable agriculture?” My answer is, “It must make a profit; otherwise, how is it ‘sustainable?’ What will sustain–the trust fund you don’t have?” Then I point out how the Slow Food movement recognized that from the start.
    So, now back to you, Auden. It seems clear to me that one conclusion you were headed toward but never said out loud was the need for higher energy costs, i.e., something closer to energy’s true cost. That’s what my daughter pays for petrol in the UK. This is being done in parts of Europe by shifting taxes from income toward consumption of energy, particularly at the lowest income levels. That would make your green projects’ economies work more quickly.
    Honesty is a prerequisite. And, its corollary, accurate full cost accounting is too.
    My thanks to all who are participating in this discussion.

    Harry Hamil
    Black Mountain, NC

  22. Beth, you’re right, one of the great challenges for me is how to be honest about these things without bringing people down. How do you deliver a positive message but also understand that right now, we’re using a scale of inches when the climate is using a scale of miles. One friend/peer criticized this article because he felt we can’t afford to hurt people’s enthusiasm for green…that there is momentum here. Another pointed out that some businesses ARE in fact doing green profitably. That’s true. But it’s not happening at scale. And we don’t have time for the ramp-up. My worry is that enthusiasm without a clear eye on what it’s going to take is not helpful, it may in fact be damaging, even a distraction. In my work, people focus on the microscale, and miss the big picture. How can we recycle ski passes? Wrong question. It should be “How can we change climate policy?” By all means recycle the pass, but that’s not job one.

  23. Auden and Others commenting here: Honestly, your futures, if under 35, and your descendants’ futures are going to be hell hot if you keep worrying about upsetting green deluders that include all the major environmental groups, ED, NRDC, UCS, and Sierra Club. The delusional idea fostered by all these groups is that just cutting vehicle and power plant emissions will some how get control of global warming(GW).
    THAT WON’T HAPPEN.
    Why? Because the overload of GHGs, mainly carbon dioxide will not be reduced so that GW will continue merrily on its way destroying more coral, warming waters and melting ice. Blaming big oil and energy is nice scapegoating, but the time has come for new proposals to be put on the table to cut the overload. This is what I have done in Comment 17 saying that we can get some energy by stopping organic wastes from just being left to biodegrade with the use of the pyrolysis process. Something very bad now for GW is the emphasis on composting some organic wastes, in which biodegradation quickly reemits carbon dioxide that nature so kindly trapped for us.
    An interesting point to me is why big energy companies have not realized what they could get by using pyrolysis on wastes. Perhaps they are fearful that getting the wastes means dealing with municipalities here where shady deals may not be nearly as easy to do as with leaders of foreign countries with large tables to deal under. It might even give the public considerable control with lower costs for energy as it is the public’s wastes that will be involved.
    Another delusional idea by some scientists and energy companies is the “Growing Fuel” idea as outlined in Natl. Geo. Oct, 2007. Recent reports have indicated that just preparing land for crops causes exposure of buried organic matter to biodegrading by microbes releasing more carbon dioxide than will be released in making and using bioethanol. So that”Growing Fuel” will be increasing the overload. Also someone on the New Scientist Environment Blog noted that corn has pushed out wheat in the nidwest to the point that we have only a few weeks worth of wheat in stock due to last year or 2005 having a wheat harvest at the lowest level since 1958
    If you are involved with one or more of those environmental groups, I would urge to get their attention to the farce of just curbing emissions that will do nothing to reduce the carbon dioxide overload already on the globe. And you also should get their attention to the pyrolysis process that uses organic wastes, a biofuelcrop wasted, that usurps no land or water from food production. You also ought to get after officials, who are being misled to think emission controls will do anything and point out the loss of food prduction causing rising prices due to biofuels foolishness.
    Honestly, you better start acting for your own future survival. Dr. J. Singmaster

  24. The article and discussion have inspired me to write a piece of my own: The Worst Trap in the World.

    What is The Worst Trap in the World? It’s not the booby trap or the sand trap or the Trapp Family Singers trap. It’s the Can’t Do Anything Until You Do Everything trap.

    That’s the one that immobilizes you before you take your first step.

    You can read all about it at http://www.skipressworld.com — US or Canadian editions. Read it, but don’t fall into it.

    jules

  25. A very nice article! I personally feel that it is not possible for corporations or governments to do anything useful; for reasons.

    1. All businesses need to make money and money is always made by exploiting natural resources.

    2. Politicians need to stay in power and they cannot do that without towing the line of large corporations.

    The only way for the world to get better is for people like us, individuals who care, to try and opt out of the system (as much as we can), reduce consumption and move closer to Nature.

    Gandhi used to ridicule planners as “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one in it needs to be perfect”. This is precisely what we are trying to do.

    The only economy that can be green and still be sustainable is a local economy. Movement of goods and people are confined to 100 miles maximum. But a local economy strikes at the very foundation of these global brands. So any green initiative by global businesses is likely to fail!

    Just my 2c of nonsense

  26. Interesting comments so far. All I can add is a quote from Sigurd Olson:

    “There can be no real, lasting land ethic without love.”

  27. Growth? Growth!
    I’m sick of growth!
    Our growth economy sucks!
    Our Mother’s Milk relentlessly
    And shits it out the other end
    Of mostly empty pickup trucks
    Vans and sedans as fast as it can
    With no alternative in sight
    But when our Mother’s breast runs dry . . .
    Day will be day . . . . .
    And night shall once again be night

    Petroleum is about to peak
    And natural gas soon after in turn
    At the rate its being consumed today
    My grandkids will see the last of it burn
    And then what? . . .
    (From EcoEpic & other poems

  28. Auden; Thanks for great story. Indeed, confronting climate change is an overwhelming challenge if we attempt it as “each doing our part.” However, reducing the US carbon emissions far below our 1990 levels is quite possible. But it will take brave leadership, national commitment and alot of capital. To see a well-researched blueprint for how it could be done, see: http://www.globalwarmingsolution.org and read their report “Rosie Revisited” which clearly explains how we can reduce our CO2 emissions 80% below 1990 levels in only 15 years, using existing technologies, and not increasing nuclear, hydro, or expanding acreage of biofuels cultivation. How? It will cost $5 trillion to put in the photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, geothermal, and biomass systems, but many jobs will be created. Too much? The last estimate is we will spend $2+ trillion on Iraq before it’s over. Read the thorough report online. Cheers.

  29. Auden,

    Great article. Honesty is indeed necessary in this context as well as in the political sphere where it is a true rarity anymore. I agree with some of the other commenters that corporate America is not too keen on making the necessary changes. It is up to ordinary people to do extraordinary things in order to save this planet for our children. In the mean time, given the relative cheapness of energy, I will keep pulling for oil prices to continue their precipitous rise. Back to politics, I disagree with the commenter who advocated voting for Ralph Nader. That would most likely help John McCain’s run for the presidency. Barack Obama is our best hope this time around. He needs our support.

  30. I want to build on Balaji’s many good thoughts. I believe that people like us, individuals who care, must opt into a new system by shifting balances one-by-one (no particular order, although having reliable access to water and nourishment is quite nice). Each must reduce reach while offering steadily more to neighboring beings of all kinds, according to vision, talent and need. Each must learn to prefer what others offer the community over what traditions or megaproducers hand down. It’s evident our future cannot be made of those “gifts”! We’ll converge on sustainability as we finally devise a new interdependence of whole places and whole people. As such we won’t come close to feeling diminished and bored.

  31. Very honest article! I believe that in order to make the drastic cuts in CO2 emissions required to preserve any quality of life on this planet, it is imperative that we as ‘Americans’ learn that we will sink or swim globally. We need to make careful choices about the companies we support via our purchases and/or investments, choosing those that protect/restore the environment and promote social equity. Obviously profit is necessary to keep companies going, but GREED is another subject altogether. Being willing to sacrifice a few cents of earnings per share (and restoring executive compensation to a reasonable vs obscene level while we’re at it), really would make it a better and healthier world for ALL.

  32. Banality all is Banality in the remarks being made here as no action to stop global warming has been stated by other commentors. The only way that global warming can be slowed is by reducing the overload of GHGs, mainly carbon dioxide, on the globe as I have stated in comments 17and 23 here.
    Blaming the companies and talking about green lies go nowhere. Start writing or e-mailing your Congresspersons about what I have outlined as a process to reduce the actual amount of carbon dioxide circulating on the globe. Dr. J. Singmaster

  33. Dr. Singmaster, can we have a discussion with no put-downs? I acknowledge that my contribution was more a comment on another’s comment than it was a comment on the article, which is mostly about the difficulties of reducing GHG emissions, but I am concerned that you state “Blaming the companies and talking about green lies go nowhere. Start writing or e-mailing your Congresspersons about what I have outlined as a process to reduce the actual amount of carbon dioxide circulating on the globe.” First, I’ve seen that contacting Congresspersons can go nowhere, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. Even replacing Congresspersons often fails to produce desired results! Not only that, that body has no authority beyond the borders of the USA. Second, I’m concerned about the picture that includes global warming, so my yearning and striving is for comprehensiveness. I’m not inclined to have the demanded enthusiasm for your specific proposal, despite the fact that I know the process would have desirable effects. Third, I can’t believe many people are hoping for a future that can be characterized as an endless series of technical fixes and sacrifices. Cultural transformation via grassroots paradigm shift is much more attractive, energizing(!) and feasible. That success or failure plus peak everything will probably be the story we live.

  34. Mr. Eggleton: With the TIME issue, April 7, a big part of the Big Green Lie has now been exposed. So now you and other readers, I hope, will start e-mailing your Congresspersons and writing more letters to various environmental groups and the media screaming about the myth of clean energy from ethanol and biodiesel. We can get clean energy from windmills that actually recycle some of the energy our fossil fuelishness created, but most environmental groups keep harping that all we need to do cut emissions. That is another big green lie as that concept does nothing to reduce the 35% and growing overload of carbon dioxide on the globe already.
    In order to beat global warming, we have to develop a process for cutting into the carbon cycling process to reduce that overload slowly. That is what the pyrolysis process for organic wastes can do as those wastes, especially if composted, just decompose to reemit carbon dioxide that nature had so kindly trapped for us. In order to get moving on the pyrolysis process across the nation, anyone sending letters to media or officials will, I hope, mention the pyrolysis process for organic wastes with its many benefits, that I have outlined, of destroying germs, most toxics, and drugs.
    This pyrolysis process is a permanent fix as organic wastes will never stop.
    Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

  35. I wonder if the dramatic changes to our Mother the Blue Planet has tipped her into a new set of parametrs which is unsuitable to the continued dominance of Man 1. This would mean trying to speed up the arrival of the man-machine “singularity” and/or a chosen few heading out for new worlds.
    I have no doubt that the irreversible “entropy” of the Planet is increasing but at what rate, linear or exponential. The box is getting awfully tight.

  36. Mr. Eggleton, Mr. Lawrence and others: You may want to check dotearth, A. Revkin’s blog on the NT Times Science section as he has had several write-ups on the non-realistic action in IPCC report as claimed by Pielke et al. and on Gore’s ad campaign April 1, I have a comment 35 in the Gore write-up, and several in the following write-ups again pointing out as I have in Orion that we will not get control of global warming until we have some means of cutting back that 35% and growing overload of carbon dioxide on the globe. Concerning entropy, all is not lost as windmills tap into the excess of energy caused by fossil fuel burning and plants trap carbon dioxide that can be converted back to charcoal as I have outlined. But the bioethanol concept got torpedoed by Time”s April 7 issue; however, growing tree crops to be pyrolyzed can get some fuel while getting some carbon removed from recycling. The pyrolysis process applied to organic wastes can greatly reduce cost of maintaining new dumps in developed countries while in underdeveloped countries can greatly reduce costly water pollution and its associated health problems. Money to get work on this started by the federal government could come from stopping the wasteful subsidies for oil and bioethanol.
    I urge Orion readers to call for stopping those subsidies to help cool global warming for the survival of their descendants. Dr. J. Singmaster

  37. Good motivation for the article and most comments, but this conversation misses the ‘elephant in the room’, which is the enormously wasteful heat and power system. Electricity production accounts for 42% of U.S. CO2 emissions, but wastes two-thirds of the input fuel, and has not improved since Eisenhower was president. $350 billion invested in local power generation that recycles wasted energy would save $50 to $70 billion per year and cut GHG emissions by 20%.

    But present rules do not give clean energy much of a chance. State laws contain many barriers and provide guaranteed returns for old and new central generation that cannot recycle wasted energy. Clean energy plants that achieve 60% to 95% overall efficiency seldom capture more than half of the value they create, so are seldom built.

    The Clean Air Act, passed before global warming was a political issue, grandfathers the operating permit for most existing heat or power generation plants – which collectively emit 69% of U.S. CO2 – but then voids that permit if the owner improves the energy productivity of the plant. This Alice in Wonderland approach has had the unintended consequence of freezing efficiency at 1960 levels.

    By focusing only on the end-game, which eliminates all fossil fuel, we miss the profitable ways to double fossil efficiency. This is ffaulty logic. A ton of CO2 avoided by doubling fossil efficiency is just as important as a ton avoided by new solar or wind generation. But a dollar invested in generation efficiency may save five times as much carbon emissions as the same dollar invested in new solar.

    We must embrace all clean energy and remove the barriers to deployment.

  38. If the Aspen Skiing Company is worried about the environment, it could do more good by going out of business.

    I live in Colorado. I hit the slopes this winter for the first time in over 15 years for a quasi-mandatory company R&R;trip. My strong impression was that skiing has become (always has been?) a pastime for upper middle class and rich white people who have much bigger “footprints” than ordinary Americans.

    They drive to the slopes in their gigantic cars, wear expensive space age clothing made from petroleum, and use ski equipment also made from petroleum. After a hard day on the slopes, many retire to their second home.

    The Aspen Skiing Company caters to the most voracious consumers among us. The problem is the lifestyle that this company exists to serve.

  39. I have felt that not using or conservation was good. Now It is BIG business,as we use less this creates a surplus of production and less profit,the responce is higher prices, paid by those who can not do with out. inFLATion is caused and starts another cycle DEpressION. If one was to think that if we as a society were to just give up and stand in line for a hand out what would you receive ? House,Clothes,Food and Energy,Who will pay for this. This country is becoming a sad lot of mindless zombie with a bad case of the Lazies and that’s the fact of what it is. Slowly working for a Goal of retirement of what, THINKING, DOING, SPEAKING and ACTIONS ? It has come to the attention of some, “that the comsumer is about to be consumed”.

  40. Honesty is sorely needed, agreed, but honestly alone is no solution. For that, you need more than scientific data and accounting charts, you need a courageous, rational, creative vision of a culture the world has never seen before.

  41. Dead-on, great article. There is so much effort expended on the margins of this issue, it’s frustrating. The individual efforts are not going to matter, nor help drive industry to deliver sustainable products cheaply enough to be affordable.

    This is where gov’t is best: incenting industry. We *still* provide incentives for ExxonMobile to drill for more oil, but very little for them to consider any other type of energy production.

    If we can’t get those types of dynamics changed, the rest is a waste of time.

    .//A.

    http://greeninharlem.com

  42. The Green movement is used to control us based on fear that originates from lies that pass as scientific fact. The goal of the green movement is to cripple the free market by means of Government regulation. Global Warming is the biggest scam in History.

  43. Fear imposed on man now that is the biggest scam of all.Nobody does that besides “there is nothing to fear but fear it’s self” WC… or unless your guilty!

  44. Perhaps some of these readers life in a box. If they traveled a lttle and say the world, they’d see the devastation man has brought on his planet. I do disagree with some ideas about solutions, I challenge to everyone to keep in mind that putting CO2 into the environment is serious. The problem I have is it can be explained by science and mathematics and as is true in mathematics is there are two side to every equation. We seeme to be focused on keeping the input side of the equation from growing. In reality, growing the other side of the equation is a real posibility and an economical one. 70% of all the CO2 in the atmosphere is removed by the algae in the ocean. The algae is the basis of the entire food chain of the ocean. By increasing both, we can reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and increase the productivity of the oceans that are being dratically depleted. The deminimus variable in sea water that supports algae growth is iron. Where you have high concentrations you have abundant sea live and were it is scarce the ocean is a desert. Iron is cheap and there are many ships crossing the oceans that could be adding it. It would take a global effort but global cooperation as always in short supply…humanities memesis.

  45. I have lived in Ottawa Ontario Canada for over 50 years and the nature and severity of winters has not changed materially. Prove to me that gobal temperatures have increased alarmingly over this period.

  46. if its says green or eco or manmade global warming its a lie a scam a myth a hoax and someone is selling you something

  47. Rather than get embroiled in who does what and with whom, we’d better look at the clock.

    From here, it looks like time is running out.

    While we still can, let’s start doing something like n-o-w.

  48. There will always be Good and Bad.
    That is life, for the short time man has been here we have tried to do Good. As for the Others who Prey on the Good.
    I would not want to be in there shoes.
    Mankind has free will and judgment we are the only ones with this gift/power.

    Use it with care and others will see that you are just .Use it unwisely and you will have misery for you actions.

    When Good is more visable than Bad, Bad is much more visable.
    right now there seems to be more bad.
    Let us all show more Good.

  49. I really enjoyed reading this article. It was part of an assignment for class. I found the article and the statements that he made about the “green fad” interesting. A lot of companies try to make us feel that they are totally green and that they are helping the environment but in actuality they are not able to do it alone and everyone needs to step in and help make changes. A lot of the companies are not able to make some necessary changes to help the environment because of monetary issues and the fact that they will not be able to profit out of the changes. I think that they government does need to realize that we understand that their are things that need to be done but this is something that a few companies or a couple citizens cannot do on their own.

  50. It is hard to believe that Wal-Mart spent $500 million dollars on the whole ‘go green’ thing and their emissions of CO2 still increased. From what I have been taught in an Environmental Biology class, our worldly emissions have decreased in the past 10 years, so you can expect that I was shocked when reading this article. I know going green is expensive at first, but I would think that after so many years, it would eventually be worth it. If we want to get something done, before it is too late, these big businesses are just going to have to spend some big money. Solving this problem is apparently not as easy as I thought is was. If the companies that make things such as solar products made those items much more cost efficient, I am sure they would sale more. Maybe then, we would start seeing more positive changes in our climate. Our actions need to be intensified before anything can be accomplished. I think this would be a good article schools should require students to read, so that they become more aware of what is going on. I love the honesty in this article.

  51. How Do We Fix This Mess?

    Corporate taxes and taxes in general need to be simplified and a lot of corruption can be stopped in the process. And a great deal of expense can be avoided. First let’s all agree that a progressive tax is required. All other democratic nations have adopted this. It is a fact that without the little guys there would be no big guys. They make much of their money on the backs of working Americans, enough said.
    Corporations need to be taxed on profit. Dividends ought to be an expense. Those receiving them ought to count them as ordinary income. Same for interest. Medicare and social security would be charged on dividends and interest until the individuals pass the threshold limit for social security. Otherwise, those living on inheritance and never working never pay into the system.
    Capital gains must be taxed as ordinary income too. There should be a significant tax increase on any very short term gains. We are supposed to be investing not gambling on wall street. All the computer trading that in done, is at the expense of the long term investor and does nothing to improve any aspect of the investment. Trades with ownership of less than a day 60%, less than a week 50%. The idea is not to create some exorbitant amount of income. It is to create a deterrent for market corruption. These changes will bring a lot of integrity to the system and restore fundamental principles of investing.
    Deductions: First let’s understand that the tax system must be an income producing activity for government……not a tool to create incentives. If you want create an incentive for some thing, do just like a business does. “Do this and I’ll pay you this after it is done.” If it is a legitimate cause, the private sector will be happy to finance it, not always the government. The main purpose for this is that currently no one knows how much we are paying for what or even who is getting it, nor do we have any means of accounting for the spending of our money! This will save an unimaginable amount of money and make the appropriate accounting of expenditures possible. Forget ear marks. Nothing breeds corrupting quite like they do.
    The basic and only deduction should be equal to the poverty level for all workers and their dependents and adjusted annually for inflation. Same with the brackets. Keep IRA and Roth systems as they are. Have simple progressive steps after that basic deduction. The rationale is that if you can’t support yourself above the poverty level, you surely can’t support anything else. Secondly, those making far more than they need, must support the system with a greater contribution. After all, it is the morally right thing to do and the only way the system will ever work. Income above 2 million a year (more then Average Joe makes in a lifetime) ought to be at 45%, 1-2 million 40%, 100K-1 million 33%, 25K-100 K 25%, 15K-25K 18% and less than 15K 10% with no deductions for anything besides the basic deduction. This will provide more than enough revenue. What most don’t realize is that the wealthy have so many loopholes that the net percent they pay is far less than Average Joe does. This will make the system simple enough that nearly everyone can do their own taxes. This will simplify and improve state income taxes too.
    Want responsible accountable government? Easy, require a balanced budget. Here is how. The government and everyone else’s fiscal year must be from July 1 to June 30. At the end of the fiscal year, Uncle Sam will report how the budget went for the year. If it is over spent X% than everyone, corporations included, will be required to add X% to their tax liability for the year. If it under spent X% than we all get to deduct X% from our tax obligation. Taxes will be due October 15 and the election will be 3 weeks later. That should be all the incentive we need to hold our representatives accountable and they will know it!
    If you want to deal with corporate greed and help social security become more solvent, try this. All income above 2 million annually should have to pay social security, medicaid, and be matched by the employer. Share the greed!
    In regard to inheritance tax. First let’s keep in mind this is income for the living, not taxes on the dead. Nothing is done to dead people aside from burying them. There are deductions in place and that can be debated, but in the end the monies received should be taxed as ordinary income. I don’t think we need to increase the incentive for so many to never have to try and be productive citizens.
    One final note, quality of life is mostly based on the quality of our infrastructure and secondly by personal wealth. So let’s get together and start working on the infrastructure of the future. We all know what is needed, so let’s get started. Our children are our future. Let’s educate them well and leave them with a future they can improve on, not one they will fear.

  52. I have always cared about our environment but became more concerned about cutting down on my carbon emission as an individual last semester in my Human Ecology class. We were studying about human impact on the environment and the planet. We did an experiment where we had to calculate our ecological footprint (something I have never done before). I was shocked at my results and decided to make some effort to cut down on my footprint.
    I am somehow not surprised about this article but more concern. It is not easy for one to cut down on his/her footprint as many factors come into play and can understand why bigger companies are having difficulties as well. But as individuals, we can collectively make a big different and a change. We obviously do not have wait on congress.

  53. Monopolies and Oligopolies of every and any kind are the self-serving unreasonable forces driving unchecked pollution.

    A monopoly/oligopoly can be a political party, a labor union, or a commercial supplier of a natural resource (oil) or service (news information), (shipping), etc.

    Natural selection is a proven method of weeding out life’s failures from successes. Natural selection is competition at its best!

    Monopolies & Oligopolies violate nature by preventing competition.

    Look around: Oil, Pharmaceuticals, Insurance, Food, Shipping, News, Stock Trading, Entertainment, Education, Journals, Movies, TV Shows, Magazine Articles are rapidly being consolidated into oligopolies! Since all 80 news sources in the USA were taken over and consolidated into an oligopoly run by 4 movie companies in the early 1990’s, the threats to the survival of the human species have multiplied exponentially.

    Any species that violates nature is quickly made extinct by the laws of Nature!

  54. You’ll be OK, there is no climate problem. Certainly not one we understand or can do anything about. The first step would come when we understand how the climate works, then we could perhaps model it. Or perhaps not, as it is immensely complicated and inter-connected. Nigh on 17 years now since the global temperature stopped rising, which the computer models on which all these Green policies, taxes and other burdens are based, didn’t see coming. As a branch of Marxism, the Greens are certainly doing better destroying the Western economy than the Soviet Union ever managed.

  55. I BELIEVE there is not one line in Comment 54 that is true.
    Not one.
    There is, however, one line that bespeaks a sense of humor. “As a branch of Marxism, the Greens are certainly doing better destroying the Western economy than the Soviet Union ever managed.”
    Good one, mate.

  56. Personally for what its worth I believe this entire Going Green campaign is a corporate Multinational political inter-governmental whitewash money-grab. OK; human industrialization in the last 150 years has made its contribution on pollution in the world. But not at the propaganda stated B.S. corporate owned global media say. That said; however, I’m more apt to believe realistic scientist today who claim the earth has cycled through numerous warming and cooling trends every so many 1000’s of years. This can easily be substantiated. All it takes is two or three massive volcanic eruptions and it can change the weather patterns and cooling trends around the earth. Governments and Corporate owned Big Global Media can’t be trusted because they both feed off each other in the Going Green Money Grab game.

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