Monthly Archives: October 2010
This is one Yes Men prank that seems to ripen with age: It’s been nine days since the cause-related impersonators committed their latest spoof — a collaborative and multilayered effort targeting Chevron.
The oil giant, still smarting from “CRUDE,” the documentary accusing it of polluting Ecuadoran rainforest, was readying a glitzy new ad campaign that strikes a distinctly a good corporate citizen pose. That is, before the activists went to work rewriting the ambiguously worded ads to send another message entirely.
News outlets seemed to yawn at the first reports that The Men had struck again, this time with help from the Rainforest Action Network and other environmentalists. But this gag hasn’t so much happened as unfolded, gaining momentum as it goes along, sort of like satirical scatter shot ricochetting off of corporate brands and news organizations. Today, the group kept on rolling by reveling some of the backstory about the activists who tipped them to Chevron’s ad plans. And there’s even a video about the role DC street artist César Maxit had in the caper:
Some news stories seem to reoccur year after year despite their urgency. Today’s page 3 story in the Washington Post, “Global extinction crisis looms, study says,” is one of those. Here’s the first graf:
“A growing number of creatures could disappear from the Earth, with one-fifth of all vertebrates and as many as a third of all sharks and rays now facing the threat of extinction, according to a new survey assessing nearly 26,000 species around the world.”
At the annual GreenAccord gathering of environmental journalists last week, Utah State University professor Joseph Tainter pretty successfully nixed the notion that technological innovation will save us and the planet from climate change.
Tainter, who studies how people respond to environmental problems, argues that the world has been living through such a robust era of innovation — the internal combustion engine, the telephone, the computer, to name but a few — that we take such breakthroughs for granted, though maintaining the pace of innovation indefinitely is just not possible.
Why? Well, it has to do with all those past inventions and the complexity they have introduced (think of computer chips or solar panels). Because all those existing inventions have built on the complexity of the inventions that came before them, each new innovation is necessarily more complex, and so on. Such increasing complexity requires ever-increasing quantities of time and money. Tainter argues that proof of this trend can be seen in the growing number and size of research teams, and the declining number of patents per inventor, among other things.
Whether we have enough of both to solve climate change is one question that fits into the bigger picture. Tainter concludes:
“[W]e can foresee that the age of innovation as we have known it will be a passing phase of human history. It will not last forever.”
To read his whole paper, click here and scroll down to the list of Speakers’ Abstracts and Presentations. (Unfortunately, no one seems to have a copy of Tainter’s PowerPoint presentation that had a number of charts and graphs that back up his words. I emailed the professor and asked him to send me a copy and will update this post when he sends it.)
GreenAccord is an annual gathering of environmental journalists hosted in Italy each fall by a dedicated group of volunteers. In the last three years that I’ve attended there have been some wonderful speakers such as Bill Rees, who coined the expression (and concept) of the ecological footprint; and Walden Bello, winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize. Also present both this year and last was D.C.’s own Erik Assadourian, a senior fellow at WorldWatch Institute, who made a compelling case that our burning need to “shop until we drop” is not a natural instinct but one we “learned,” Pavlovian-style and with the help of advertising — and we could just as easily unlearn.
This year, other standouts included a couple of complimentary presentations by ecological economists Robert Costanza and Fritz Hinterberger. Interestingly, in the course of their detailed discourses, Costanza and Hinterberger both mentioned research correlating happiness and affluence around the world. It’s not new research. I had heard it before but, each time it makes me *happy* to hear again that, while we all need some economic security to be happy, after a certain point, money won’t by you contentment.
Conclusion: While innovation may not solve global warming, living simpler is still looking viable.
Small Business Majority, an upstart trade association that is challenging the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the sole voice of the country’s business sector, has come out with a report concluding that “the Clean Air Act’s economic benefits have far exceeded the costs imposed on businesses.”
And that’s not the only eco-friendly position taken by the group, which says it represents the tens of millions of small businesses in the country. It also opposes limiting the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that it would penalize entrepreneurs who have already taken the carbon-busting plunge.
The venerable U.S. Chamber, in contrast, has challenged the EPA’s plans to use the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions and opposes any crackdown that would increase the country’s electricity rates. Those stances have prompted outrage from environmentalists (and this spoof by The Yes Men).
The Washington Post has a story about how “geoengineering” — let’s just call it the mad scientist approach to stopping global warming — is gaining ground in the absence of political will in Washington to deal with the problem through more conventional means such as capping and/or taxing carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency, and phasing fossil fuels out of the economy.
What is geoengineering? As the story points out, the ideas gaining the most traction generally aim at reflecting the suns rays away from Earth and hoovering up the excess greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Sound like science fiction? Well, these ideas are still more sci-fi than sci-fact though we may be seeing some of them deployed as global warming becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. But nobody really knows what kind of reactions such evasive measures will take. Reporter Juliet Eilperin quotes House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.):
“The more you know about it, the more you’re concerned about if we can ever implement it,” Gordon said in an interview. “However, there may be a point where we’re up against the tipping point, and the consequences of climate change are even worse.”
Brings to mind a dieter who doesn’t really want to stop eating Twinkies or go for a jog, instead turns to untested diet pills, and ends up with irreparable heart damage.