Monday, December 03, 2007

survival vs profit

I picked up that leaflet a couple of weeks ago at the London Business School Global Energy Summit 2007.

The day opened with a stark speech from Professor Ralph Sims. He's a Lead Author on the world's definitive statements on climate change, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Assessment Reports.

He made clear what pretty much everybody knows. If we have global temperature increase of more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, we risk runaway climate change. The IPCC say it, the UN and EU overtly accept it, and governments around the world find ways to fiddle their figures to make it appear like they're aiming for it.

Professor Sims talked of the drastic cuts in emissions this would require. Indeed, some new research suggests it means zero emissions by 2050.

In the afternoon, there was a panel discussion about Corporate Green vs Corporate Greed. A guy from PepsiCo called Martyn Seal told us earnestly how they were being incredibly bold because they can't wait for regulation to take the lead, how they were now using some renewable energy, aiming to get it up to 20% for their UK use. 'And that's a real target,' he explained.

Oh well, that's OK then. Nobody ever misses a real target. More, they have 'an aspiration' to, maybe, one day, use 100% renewable electricity.

As if they wanted to be sure that we didn't believe a word from the corporate sector, he was followed by GE's Adrian Haworth. He proudly clicked us through his Powerpoint, showing us GE's initiative called - I shit you not - Ecomagination. It even has a sunflower logo.

Under this scheme, GE's projected carbon emissions won't increase by as much as they otherwise would have. He was really proud of this.

All through it I had two thoughts going round my head. One was throttling these fuckers, the other was something the panel's token radical, Claire Fauset from Corporate Watch had said.

The legal structure of corporations means that they must be committed to profit above all other concerns, even if those concerns are our survival. Given two ways to make the same money they will choose the one that means the least murder, blatant theft and environmental devastation. And then pat themselves on the back for being so responsible. But if there is any conflict between responsibility and profit, profit will win every time.

Even if the loser is survival!

Rather like Heathrow Airport, the UK's worst emitting site, parading itself as green because of the way a new terminal will be built, so these guys were knowingly tinkering round the edges and then patting themselves on the back, and expecting us to join in.

I put it to them that Pepsi, for example, use huge amounts of aluminium in their drink cans and crisp packets. Aluminium smelters emit fluoromethanes, gases with a climate impact literally thousands of times greater than CO2. What are they doing about reducing that, or, as they can't, reducing their sales? Why only 20% renewable electricity and just a vague 'aspiration' for more when 100% green tariffs are available right now?

And as for GE, they make aircraft engines! They still make fucking incandescent light bulbs! How can they be proud of a projected increase in carbon emissions?

They know the science as well as we do. They were there earlier when Professor Sims had walked them though it. Less than a 60% global cut in 30 years is not enough. To do these minor projects - even if we take them at face value as heartfelt rather than as just PR - is like a driver telling you they won't drive you over a cliff at 70mph, they'll slow down and drive you over at 50mph instead.

The only way those companies could act responsibly is by a drastic reduction in their operations, with a commensurate reduction in their profits.

To which they replied that they couldn't do that, because it would mean a reduction in profits.

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