It is fairly common among climate activists to condemn corporations for “greenwashing,” that is, pretending to be carbon-neutral and environmentally responsible purely as a matter of PR and without actually reducing their footprint. But Alex Epstein suggests that it’s worse than they think, because the reason even very woke outfits like Starbucks are faking it rather than making it isn’t that they’re lazy, greedy or hypocritical. It’s because genuine carbon neutrality is a pipe dream they share but cannot grasp when they get up from the couch and face the light of day.
It’s not just companies, of course. A great many governments are in a similar position, having made glittering promises that were as sincere as they were popular, only to go home and continue to burn fossil fuels or even burn more. For instance Japan, which talked a good game at COP26 (though not good enough for the usual suspects), while actually busy building 22 new coal-fired plants because it went to ill-advised war with its own nuclear industry after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. And now they’re trying to do something else with the coal plants, like burning ammonia or hydrogen. They really are. It just can’t be done in any economically sane way.
For all the abuse big corporations take Toyota is right on board, along with hundreds of Japanese firms big and small. Companies really love this stuff, and not only for the PR. A lot of their staff, from front-line sales to management, and many of their customers, are very much committed to the green vision. In Toyota’s case hydrogen cars not conventional battery-powered EVs. (Which Elon Musk has called “stupid”, incidentally. But then, he’s a battery guy.)
So where to get hydrogen? Especially if you’re allergic to nuclear? Well, you simply burn fossil fuels in large amounts, then capture and store the carbon. But as the BBC blurted out, “Climate change campaigners are horrified by this plan. They say the technology to capture and store greenhouse gases is unproven and it will lock Japan into digging up vast quantities of brown coal for decades to come.” Which it will.
The BBC goes further, in an economically sensible direction for once, and quotes an expert that “Using fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage will always be more expensive than using fossil fuels alone, and now in many parts of the world renewable electricity is already cheaper than fossil fuels without carbon capture.” The first part of which is true. Besides, as Paul Homewood points out, if carbon capture works, it’s more efficient to use it directly on coal plants generating power, and never mind coal plants generating hydrogen or other “pie in the sky”.
Nuclear doesn’t need carbon capture, of course. And as of 2010 about a third of Japan’s electricity came from nuclear. But now it’s down to about one fifteenth. And you have to get power from somewhere. Even if you’re a big company or a super-woke government.
In fact NBC recently produced an exposé on a “Crude reality: One U.S. state consumes half the oil from the Amazon rainforest” and it’s not some deep red Trump state. It’s woke California, whose government cannot possibly be supposed to be full of people cynically faking it. And yet “As oil companies carve up more of the rainforest, a new study says no place in the world uses more oil from beneath the Amazon than California.” Well boo oil companies. And for that matter, if you want, boo the Ecuadorian “state-run oil company that subcontracts its field operations to the Chinese… building a road to reach what will be a new section of wells deep inside Yasuní.” But boo Gavin Newsom?
Even activists are vulnerable. In a revealing Guardian essay “Why climate-change gardening means breaking all the rules” Kim Stoddart, “a gardening journalist and editor of The Organic Way magazine” who also “runs climate change gardening courses through her social enterprise Green Rocket”, talks about having moved to Wales a decade ago to escape the rising seas and grow organic veggies. “Concerns about the climate crisis were at the heart of my move: I was living at sea level, near an underground river, and worried about flooding…. After considering the options – Spain (extreme heat) and New Zealand (attractive but too far away) – I decided on Wales.”
Which turned out to be cold, so to growth her veggies required her to put up “polytunnels.” But Eric Worrall swoops in to observe that “Polytunnels are cheap plastic greenhouses… the cheap plastic Polythene is produced from ethylene, a petroleum product.” And then he says “But a Guardian gardening expert expressing surprise that Mediterranean vegetables refuse to grow on a Welsh hilltop, without lots of help from our friend plastic – what was she expecting? Did she really think global warming had already made Northern Welsh hills a suitable location for warm climate vegetables?” Even though “The BBC predicted in 2005 that Britain would have a Mediterranean climate by 2050.”
As for companies, NBC reports that “Corporations are turning to forest credits in the race to go ‘carbon-neutral.’” But, it immediately adds, “Advocates worry about ‘greenwashing.’ Environmental groups warn the system doesn’t deliver the carbon reductions promised but offers companies a way to avoid the tougher work of actually cutting emissions.” Now it would be tempting, to a certain mindset, to assume that right-wing denialist CEOs are cooking the books and the planet. But what if the executive suites are staffed by people who have believed since college that carbon offsets work and that, indeed, simple solutions are available if only someone cared.