Have you noticed over the last year how virtually every large corporation is trying to make consumers believe their products are "Earth friendly?" Everything from toxic cosmetics to smog-producing cars are now being positioned as "green" products, and just recently I actually saw a package of mercury-containing compact fluorescent lights with a marketing logo that claimed the product was, "Helping protect the planet!" I have yet to understand the logic of how buying and throwing away mercury-contaminated products has any real benefit to the planet.
Defenders of CFLs claim these lights are good for the environment because even though they contain toxic mercury, they use less energy than incandescent lights. And since coal-fired power plants release mercury into the atmosphere, the use of less energy means less overall mercury is being introduced to the environment. While this sounds sensible at first, it's still junk logic: How does harming the planet slightly less than before deserve a "green" claim of any kind? If I poke you with ten sharp sticks, and then reduce it to just five sharp sticks, I cannot claim that my actions are suddenly "good for your health!" It's still a harmful action with negative consequences.
Corporations, it seems, can claim that practically anything is eco-friendly or environmentally friendly, regardless of all the toxic chemicals it contains or produces. That's what this cartoon is all about: "Greenwashing" or the practice of corporations claiming their products are green when, in reality, they're not at all impressive as eco-friendly products.
I recently saw paper plates positioned as "eco-friendly biodegradable tableware." I remember when we used to just call them "paper plates" and we avoided buying them because we wanted to save the trees. But today, paper plates are positioned as green living products. Fascinating how things shift so quickly, isn't it?
Nowhere is greenwashing more overhyped than in the ethanol biofuels industry, where gullible consumers are being told that we can simply farm out way out of an oil crisis by -- get this -- converting most of our food into fuel! Ethanol from corn is so energy inefficient that it takes almost exactly one barrel of oil from somewhere else to farm, harvest, process and produce one barrel of oil equivalent energy from corn. In other words, it's just a massive U.S. energy shell game with absolutely no net gain in energy production, but a huge net loss in food production. Corn prices are already skyrocketing because of the ramp up in ethanol production from corn.
The only people promoting ethanol production from corn are corn farmers, politicians or complete idiots. Some people are all three.
But let's face it: Consumers like to buy products that they think are "green" in some way, even if the green-ness of those products is highly exaggerated or even entirely fictitious. Why? Because it removes their guilt for driving SUVs, eating meat products and spraying pesticides on their lawns. Somehow, buying a little corn ethanol and a few packages of paper plates puts it all back into balance for these people -- folks who live remarkably unsustainable lifestyles that would require five Earths to support if everyone lived that way. Simply eating meat products is so destructive to the environment that you could actually do more to reduce global warming by going vegetarian than by ditching your car.
Magically, the purchasing of a handful of green products each week causes all that guilt to just melt away. The more green products we buy, many consumers believe, the greener the planet will be! Americans are the only people in the world who believe we can save the Earth by going shopping.
Be skeptical of manufacturers' claimsIt's more important now than ever to be skeptical of "green" claims by product manufacturers. Everybody's on the green bandwagon, it seems, and even products that are extremely hazardous to the environment often carry some type of green claim. Consumers need to be sharp and do their research on these corporations before blindly buying into their claims of being Earth friendly.
Most fabric softener products (dryer sheets), for example, are positioned as being at least somewhat Earth friendly thanks to a claim in the ingredients list that reads "Biodegradable fabric softeners." Unfortunately, the second ingredient in fabric softeners is "fragrance," and the fragrance chemicals are so highly toxic that they cause cancer in humans and are extremely destructive to aquatic ecosystems downstream. Merely drying your clothes with common dryer sheets, then washing them the next time you do laundry unleashes a chemical tidal wave of toxicity that is shockingly harmful to the environment. But that doesn't stop these companies from positioning their fabric softener sheets as being green, does it?
There are too many examples to cover here, but they're easy to find if you just look around with some degree of intelligent skepticism. Many products that carry "green" claims may in fact be slightly less damaging to the environment in one particular and narrowly-defined way, but if you look at the overall product and consider where it came from, how it was manufactured and what impact it will have downstream, you'll realize it's actually quite harmful to the environment.
No regulation of "green" claimsToday, there is absolutely no regulation of claims of "green" or "Earth friendly" products in the U.S. marketplace. Manufacturers can essentially print anything they want on their products, and there's no requirement that such claims reflect reality.
Some certification companies are trying to change all that, but none have yet achieved a critical mass of consumer recognition. GreenSeal is one such organization (www.GreenSeal.org) that's trying to publicize its certification of environmental responsibility, but many corporations don't like to participate in the GreenSeal program because they don't want to have to reformulate their products using more environmentally responsible (and more expensive) chemical alternatives. The current list of GreenSeal-approved products and companies is frighteningly short: http://www.greenseal.org/findaproduct/index.cfm
The FDA, for its part, has no interest whatsoever in requiring that the products it regulates are Earth friendly. And you know why? Because the fastest growing source of harzardous consumer products are, in fact, pharmaceuticals, and if the FDA admits it needs to start enforcing environmental safety in food and drug products, it would have to face up to the fact that medications are now a primary source of global pollution of rivers and oceans. (Take a guess what all those HRT drugs are causing down stream...)
So what about the EPA? Why doesn't the EPA regulate pharmaceuticals as environmental pollutants? The answer is obvious: Because the EPA mirrors the FDA in its kow-towing to the financial interests of powerful corporations, and it's far easier for the EPA to bury its head in medication-contaminated sand than to take meaningful action to protect the environment from Big Pharma.
Greenwashing is big business, and so is pushing more toxic products to consumers that they will spray on their lawns, shove down their throats, put in their cars or pee away into the sewer system. Most consumer products are highly toxic for people, animals and nature, and before long, nearly all of them will likely carry some kind of greenwashing claim that declares how good they are for the environment.
It's the Big Lie of consumerism, and the American economy depends so much on the continued purchasing of throwaway products that it simply cannot survive unless people keep buying -- and tossing -- products that are mostly harmful to the environment. We've already sent the climate into a tailspin with carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, but that's only the beginning of this story. The Earth is being poisoned, day by day, by greenwashing corporations and gullible consumers, and it's only a matter of time before it all comes back to bite us so hard that we become a race of chemically-induced genetic mutants.
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