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Eco-Branding the White House on the Eve of Climate Doom

In this grand battle of the titans, Capitalism vs. the Environment, we’re in the last round, with the Environment down for the count but still moving. In this 11th hour, scientists and bureaucrats are warning that it’s a crap call whether or not civilization can live out the century. The scientific consensus is that, if we unite globally and take radical measures now, we can perhaps adapt to the climate change that has already happened and the changes that are already in motion and unstoppable while preventing the worst of what is barreling at us, thus saving human civilization. This is what passes as “hope.” We’ve got to knock it off with consumerism, private automobiles, disposable disposables, and of course, the obscene excesses of the rich. Or we all die.

Of course there’s another side to this story. While 97 percent of the scientific studies are in consensus that global warming is real and caused by humans (anthropogenic), there are another three percent, often creative fictions replete with pseudoscientific jargon, funded by the oil industry, written by misanthropes and consumed by sociopaths and hopeful morons.

In referring to most of the climate change denial “studies” as “scientific,” I myself have surrendered to the doom lobby’s bastardization of the language. “Science,” for better or worse, refers to an empirical quest to solve questions using evidence and reason. I agree with religious fundamentalists and other sorcerers that scientists are often too full of themselves and too certain of their unproven theories. But their quest for knowledge moves on, with earlier studies either proven or disproven by subsequent studies and, more importantly, lived experiences—what we call reality. The warnings about global warming that scientists issued in the 1950s and early 1960s were theories, albeit already backed up by evidence. The climate change that we’ve experienced since then is reality. The fact that 97 percent of scientific studies recognize this reality is what we call a “consensus.” There is no denial here that rises to the definition of a “debate” or “controversy.” We just have reality and delusion.

On the delusion side of the argument we don’t have science—we have PR. The father of the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, said in the 1920s that it’s the job of a PR practitioner to create circumstances, in effect engineering perceptions of reality. Sometimes the perception creates the reality. But that’s not the case here. We’re pigging out gluttonously at a picnic on the train tracks. We can’t, however, ignore away the speed train about to decimate us. PR has its limits, and in the case of global warming, these limits will define the destiny of the planet. There’s no escaping the consequences of our actions and inaction. But the oil titans still want us to party like it’s 1955, even if this means unleashing a destruction that their own children and grandchildren will not escape.

My magic Bloomberg decoder ring

I often try to figure out capitalism by reading Bloomberg Businessweek while wearing my magic decoder ring. Global warming denial is what the doom lobbies serve up to their stooges—the useful idiots who watch Fox News. To be successful in business, however, means having to be in touch with reality. And for money in the know, climate doom presents a bonanza of opportunities both in destroying the world and in adapting to that destruction. A successful sociopath will make money both in extreme energy and resource extraction, and in rebuilding and adapting infrastructure and providing health services for places and people destroyed as a result of that extraction. Make your money coming and going, then at the last moment, when the tide is about to inundate Miami, get out and find your mountaintop survival bubble, stolen from its native inhabitants and sold to you by another successful adapter.

Last time I perused Bloomberg Businessweek I came upon an ad for a new get-rich book entitled Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century. The “opportunity” here is what sane minds see as a death knell for the global environment: what the ad terms as the rise “of a new 2.5 billion-person middle class in Asia” that “will create an unprecedented demand for oil, steel, land, food, water, cement, and other commodities.” The book promises to teach wealthy enterprising sociopaths “how to turn a worldwide crisis into a game-changing opportunity.”

The authors revel in the triumph of the philosophy of Adam Smith over Thomas Robert Malthus, who warned that growing global population would lead to famine. Smith, by contrast, believed that productivity could increase faster than consumption, feeding and caring for the growing population, or, as it’s worked out two industrial revolutions later, at least its luckiest half. Resource Revolution, like eco-branded capitalism, wants to stay this course, continuing growth of all sorts which will magically be supported by a supposed leaner and greener consumerism. The idea is we can extend the cult of consumerism to 2.5 billion more adherents as we teeter on the verge of environmental catastrophe, as long as they all drive Teslas.

It’s called greenwashing, the art of eco-branding the consumer culture that’s killing us. Those who market us the instruments of our own destruction are well aware that most of us don’t watch Fox or read their sister publication, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. We’re actually worried about global warming. And we’re feeling a twinge of guilt over our participation in soiling our planet. For us, the doom industries produce 17-miles-per-gallon SUVs with Eco-Tec engines, so we can eco away our guilt as we eco up the planet.

Disney Cars Eco Potty Toppers

Once consumers, as industry prefers to term us, admit to our global destruction problem, that problem can be rebranded as the solution to itself. Take the retail giant Target, for example. They are one of the country’s largest suppliers of the disposable plastic crap floating in our oceans, filling our landfills, and toxifying our garbage incinerators. Their environmental statement, however, argues that “from the way we build our stores to the products on our shelves, environmental sustainability is integrated throughout our business.” This sounds good, until you peruse their eco-products, like the Disney Cars Eco Potty Toppers, which are Disney themed disposable plastic toilet seat bibs for the germ-o-phobic.

Eco-branding is an industrial adaptation to the reality of global environmental destruction. With eco-branding we see not just the destruction of the planet, but language as well. One eco-branding agency, smartly named “Eco Branding,” explains their art: “Eco Branding provides public relations services designed to garner the attention of media, investors, partners and customers. We identify, create and leverage media opportunities to establish lasting brand credibility.” The path to “brand credibility” nirvana involves “thought leadership,” “product advocacy,” and “message positioning.” Ultimately, they explain, “Eco Branding facilitates custom marketing programs that utilize our cleantech expertise and expansive industry network.” Their clients seem groovy, ripped from the pages of Resource Revolution.

One of the highest profile current eco-branding campaigns is the rebranding of the “drill-baby-drill” Obama administration into some sort of Al Gore redux. Replacing the solar panels that Ronald Reagan removed from the White House in 1980, about 22 years after the scientific community first warned about global warming, was a good first step in the campaign to greenwash the White House and eco-brand the Obama administration, but that seems to be where their smarts derailed. Last week Obama announced the White House’s new focus on climate change. But he announced it at a press conference held in the aisle of the world’s largest retailer of disposable petroleum-based crap: Wal Mart. Perhaps the White House could have benefitted from some of Eco Branding’s “thought leadership.”

It gets worse. When you go to the White House website to read about their newfound eco-ego, under the heading of “Safe and Responsible Domestic Oil and Gas Production,” they boast, “Domestic oil and natural gas production has increased every year President Obama has been in office.” Specifically, they explain, “In 2012, domestic oil production climbed to the highest level in 15 years and natural gas production reached an all-time high.”

I’m sure it’s eco-green, red-white-and-blue, American-fracked oil and gas, but it’s not cool. Another botched roll-out.

Who killed the hope meme?

The Obama plan to save the climate ignores the pleas of climate scientists to take drastic and immediate action. Instead the administration announced that it is partnering with 300 corporations, representing some of the worse climate criminals, to take a number of eco baby steps in what appears to be the largest cooperative eco co-branding initiative in the short history of eco-branding. This is the Resource Revolution. It’s also a throwback to early in the Obama administration when the White House’s strategy to save the economy was to bail out and partner with the financial crime syndicates that caused the economic collapse in the first place. This move seemed to kill off the hope meme and might have cost the Democrats a generation of newly energized voters.

The Obama administration certainly seems to understand the gravity of the environmental challenge we now face. The fact sheet they released last week reads like eco-doom porn. Their new climate initiative confronts this problem like someone trying to put out a raging wildfire with a squirt gun. If there is any chance of Democrats reinvigorating the lost-hope generation, we’ll need to see some real action, really fast, starting with a resounding “no” to the Keystone XL pipeline and the continuation of oil and coal subsidies. And this voice will have to continue getting louder and clearer for the next two years. There is no accommodation to be made with the beast that is killing us. Mr. Obama, these corporate climate criminals are not your friends. They will screw you, and all of us, the first chance they get. And time is too short to allow ourselves to be screwed.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at SUNY Buffalo State. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.