Friday, September 28, 2007

That's Ecofantastic!!! Day 5...

This whole week I will be honoring ecofantastic items...

Ecofantastic: A product/method/ideology so absurdly priced/developed/formulated that its irrationality transcends any purposeful usage and/or implementation into the present-day green movement, to the point of almost becoming fantasy.

While my clan continues to recover from the glory that is 11 month-old food poisoning, hazmat suits be damned, let's continue with part 5 (actually part 4, but who's counting?) of the Ecofantastic series.

Ecofantastic: Agrciultural fuels are the wave of the future...

Agrofuels have many noble charachteristics but they are not, in fact, going to save the world. Many misconceptions range from the simple notion that agrofuels are clean and green, all the way to the exotic, lofty insinuation that agrofuels can make magic, spurring rural development and boosting economies. Many --if not all-- of the biofuel praises could not be farther from the truth.

This "solution," while founded on good-natured principles, might be (ok, it is) hurting the industry and the planet more than it's helping.

How big is the picture?

Industrialized countries are going biocrazy, but their current vision of the future might be bigger than their stomachs. They hope to provide 5.75% of Europe’s transport fuel by 2010, and 10% by 2020.

As points out, those goals lead to some major problems:

These targets far exceed the agricultural capacities of the industrial North. Europe would need to plant 70% of its farmland to fuel. The U.S.’s entire corn and soy harvest would need to be processed as ethanol and bio-diesel. Northern countries expect the Global South to meet their fuel needs, and southern governments appear eager to oblige.

And oblige they do...

Currently, smaller nations like Indonesia and Malaysia are jumping on the biofuel bandwagon, rapidly cutting down forests to expand palm-oil plantations.

In Brazil, bio-fuel crops already occupy an area the size of Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Great Britain combined. They're also planning to increase sugar cane acreage 500%.

In Columbia, the government is "acquiring" land (see: stealing from indigenous people and minorities) in order to produce biofuels. Paramilitary forces insure that anyone caught resisting will be happily relocated to a more favorable locale below the crops.

And that's just a small glimpse at the "progress" in the other half of the world. Read the rest of the foodfirst article and get a much, much bigger picture of the whole story. It's wonderfully written.

Not surprisingly, chimp whisperer extraordinaire Jane Goodall is especially critical of the deforestation caused by bifouel farming. She's witnessing the production-effects firsthand:

We're cutting down forests now to grow sugarcane and palm oil for biofuels and our forests are being hacked into by so many interests that it makes them more and more important to save now.

Hardest hit? Hard to say.

Here's a small glimpse at Borneo.

The well-intentioned switch to biofuels in the West is destroying Borneo’s rain forests - one of the greenest places on Earth. Environmentalists claim that an area of forest the size of Wales was cleared last year as Indonesia cashes in on the new “green gold” and plants miles of palm oil trees to meet surging demand.

The UN says the entire rain forest will be gone in 15 years, and the native wild orangutan extinct in just 10...

Groups trying to highlight the destruction are being threatened by the developers...

Ninety new biodiesel factories are under construction here - the developers encouraged by far-away countries “going green”.

Doesn't sound very promising, Earth-wise or otherwise. Another one bites the dust.

With all this data against biofuel (insluding the economic predictions), it's amazing to see that it still moving forward: Airplanes, Corporate Alliances, more Airplanes,

As that author noted, the biggest frustration with biofuel is its well-intended beginnings. What was supposed to be the wave of the future is now turning out to be a tsunami of destruction. And while we (now) might be quick to criticise the rush to action, you can't help but look at the ecofantastic trend market and wonder: What's the next biofuel occurring right now? What is its comprehensive effect on the environment? What's green simply for now, and what's green for now AND for later?

We are living and working under the auspicious roof of Web 2.0 - a name give to the intertube with an understanding that the old days of Gen-1 design and structure are over and done with. There are new ways to operate, analyze and function, so much so that the original model has been broken. So my question is this:

At what point do we begin to conserve/develop/implement/function in Green 2.0? Will we ever learn faster than destroy?

Camp out here and wait for some news...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Technical difficulties...

This whole week I will be honoring ecofantastic items...

Ecofantastic: A product/method/ideology so absurdly priced/developed/formulated that its irrationality transcends any purposeful usage and/or implementation into the present-day green movement, to the point of almost becoming fantasy.

Rachel Carson was correct in her biological Superman doomsday story Silent Spring. No matter how many (organic) anti-bacterial cleaners we use, our 11 month-old son still manages to bring home ebola-esque viruses. The more we clean, the worse off we are.

I'm currently taking care of a projectile-vomiting son, so no posts today. Seriously, it's bad enough that an umbrella is in order.

I'll return as soon as humanly possible.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

That's Ecofantastic!!! Day 3...

This whole week I will be honoring ecofantastic items...

Ecofantastic: A product/method/ideology so absurdly priced/developed/formulated that its irrationality transcends any purposeful usage and/or implementation into the present-day green movement, to the point of almost becoming fantasy.

Ecofantastic: Companies cleansing their bodies with green showers...

I'm sure if you had a chance to travel back in time and talk with Joey Stalin, maybe in a casual face-to-face at a Russian bar or something, if asked, he would probably consider himself to be a "nice guy." Similarly, if you asked two coal executives to produce a video extolling the virtues of their company, it might turn out like this parody ad [via The Sietch]:

The global market's edges are stressed at the welds with marketing manure, to the point that we no longer know what to believe. Picture a dump truck (like Mack's new hyrbid) stacked to the brim with a hay-like substance. In this "hay" you'll need to find some "needles," with said "needles" representing truly green companies (it's a difficult metaphor, so I hope you're able to follow). Basically, to put it lightly, the social atmosphere representing the green movement has been compromised, and among these needles are a bunch of pricks.

The movement has been flooded with media spin, lobbied officials, government cover-ups, corporate manipulation, and faux environmental groups. Heartening, I know.

Let's give some examples...

The press is always the most interesting, with their reporters vulnerable to every aspect of the CEO puppet shows. We are fair and balanced no more. Take Guardian reporter Terry Macalister and his obvious empathy for the sheepishly disguised wolf, Jeroen van der Veer, lead mafioso of Royal Dutch Shell [link]:

There is no stylish new shirt or contrasting tie...just a barely ironed shirt with frayed cuffs and a well-worn tie.

Van der Veer, a cost-conscious Calvinist who cycles to work at weekends "because petrol is expensive", is unwilling to discuss pay in any detail
[Ed: $10.4 mil/year], saying only that he is focused on what he can do for the company, not on pay.

Right now I'm picturing Wavy Gravy on a wind-powered yacht saying, "Man, gas is righteously expensive!"

With this picture painted, you'd almost forget that the CEO's are the only swimmers in a sea of immediate change. Simply put: if they pull the plug, the power is out. Without nervous sweat, the kind of sweat reporters are empowered to create, what good does this article do? Why not focus on the big(gest) picture, the controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell? [Ed note: can you imagine fudging up so much stuff, that your fudges get their own Wikipedia page?]

Oil companies notwithstanding, take any field rife with pollution and look at what they've done. Most companies have simply washed their websites. Take Michelin's stunning interweb home, A Greener World, that gives conservation tips.

Unfortunately, 99.8% of those tips have abosultely nothing to do with the tire industry. While they do take a small portion of time and devote it to a newly developed "eco-tire," they don't even bother to quantify its purported environmental impact. Nevertheless the voluptuous white tire character is quite adorable, though. He makes me want to hug something.

And no, green-washing doesn't need to be complicated. It can be basic, well below the realm and reach of corporate behemoths. Take smaller companies like Chipotle (small in the sense that McDonald's divested their interest). They're odd marketing campaign, ripely brave in the face of American eating stigmas, distributes pictures of farm-raised animals to prove to you that the animals cooked up are, in fact, vegetarian fed and small farmed.

While research shows that this campaign does contain some green merit, only 50% of their beef is vegetarian fed. Additionally, only 66% of their chicken is naturally raised and only 25% of their beans are organic (don't worry, the sour cream is good). Keep in mind that vegetarian fed is not the same as naturally raised, with the former referring to a corn-only diet, a diet unnatural to cows.

So in all earnestness, if Chipotle wants to distribute pictures such as these, their pictures should also include A) 50% of the beef being injected and slaughtered in inhumane conditions B) 33% of the chickens pictured should be sucked up through vacuum tubes on their way to the kill foloor, and C) 75% of the bean fields need to be photographed next to acidic soil caused by inorganic fertilizers.

Let's just get the ball rolling. Here are some prime examples of major corporate green washing/showering/bathing/anointing:

Conoco's plans to buy carbon offsets so they can go ahead with a $600 million expansion project in the Bay Area. That project alone is expected to increase carbon dioxide emissions by 500,000 metric tons EACH year. Their offsets include spending $10 million to fund a $7-million offset program under the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, a $2.8-million reforestation effort and a $200,000 wetlands restoration project. (In addition to their Maryland town hall meetings)

The Blue Planet Run by Dow, an ironic $10 million sponsorship, considering they could have spent the money cleaning up its human rights violations in Bhopal, India, where one of its Union Carbide companies leaked poisonous gases 22 years ago, claiming tens of thousands of lives. Oddly enough, the run is for cleaner water.

BP's Whiting Turner Refinery's glorious environmental Fact Sheet in relation to their earlier plans to dump an average of 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of sludge mixed with 21 million gallons of contaminated wastewater into Lake Michigan.

The Bush Administration's silencing of critics, including leading government climate scientists who warn of consequences from global warming.

Exxon Mobil and their cues from the tobacco companies.
Oil is good for you!

So if you wanted to really break it down, who are the notorious violators? How do you judge?

Officially, (according to, you follow the UN Global Compact, a partnership that asks businesses to adhere to nine principles derived from key UN agreements. It's about time we start defining and analyzing what is and isn't proper practice.

But what I really want to know: how does all of this begin?

How do corporations known decades prior as polluters wiggle their way back into our good graces?

How are we now numb to their marketing spells?

Global Issues has simplified the process as follows, and states that the process also works when applied to both green washers and lobby climate change discussions (see: Kyoto). The movement flows as follows:

Step 1: Deny it
With this step, we saw a lot of skepticism initially coming from US-based scientists, many accused of reporting for big business interests, such as oil and automobile industries.

Step 2: Fight it
With step 2, and with climate change, WRI notes that step 2 has become “blame someone else for it”, referring to Bush’s attempts to criticize the Protocol for not imposing reductions on developing countries.

Step 3: Dilute it
With step 3, it is interesting to note that the climate change negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol involved extremely heavy concessions on steps and measures to take, in order to get the United States in on the agreement. To criticize later the Kyoto Protocol for being a political document (see below) is a cruel irony.

Step 4: Delay it
With step 4, many have criticized the US and others of delaying effective action or in other ways attempting to derail effective action.

Steps 5 and 6: Do it and Market it
Steps 5 and 6 still have to unfold for the climate change issue. At the same time, while the Bush Administration has at least admitted it is not against action on climate change (just that it opposes the Kyoto Protocol), it is spending money on research and technology.

Yet, combined with delay tactics, this may be a way to ensure the US doesn’t lose its position of power by implementing climate change measures. If its companies can find ways to be more efficient and clean, then it can gain clout and prestige and recognition of help save the world.

By going its own way, it is ignoring international issues and concerns, and so this can be seen as a political move to ensure economic and geopolitical success on this major environmental issue without consideration of the rest of the world. Unfortunately it is often this “go it alone” approach that also creates a lot of resentment against the US in the eyes of many around the world.

I don't really know how to end this post. Part of me feels dead to the world, part of me is overwhelmed with corporate critisisms and criticism's corporate, part of me wants to continue the post, part of me can't tackle the (mis)information, and part of me just wants some lunch.

I'm off to Chipotle.

Monday, September 24, 2007

That's Ecofantastic!!! Day 2...

This whole week I will be honoring ecofantastic items...

A product/method/ideology so absurdly priced/developed/formulated that its irrationality transcends any purposeful usage and/or implementation into the present-day green movement, to the point of almost becoming fantasy.

Ecofantastic: The notion that green buildings are inherently good for the environment...

Normally, I would try to sum this up in my own words, but Geoff Manaugh at bldgblog has written a much better article than I could ever pen. So here's an infographic summary of the article instead:

Some highlights from their article:

Unless a "green" building actively remediates its local environment – for instance, scrubbing toxins from the air or absorbing carbon dioxide – that building is not "good" for the environment (see: Kunstler's eyeysore of the month, see: 9800 sf house). It's simply not as bad as it could have been...

If the U.S. military had solar-powered Abrams tanks, or hydrogen fuel-cell-powered long-range bombers, or wind-powered bases in the Middle East, would the sustainable design community be encouraging them to build more and more of the things? Probably not. But when a multimillionaire developer puts up a skyscraper in the center of London, or Paris, or New York, full of space devoted to, say, investment banking, with a few arbitrary wind turbines on top, the sustainable design community actually gives that person free publicity and encourages him or her to build more. There seems to be a moral issue here.

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