Use an "environmentally responsible" credit card to ease your conscience while you buy your TV's, VCRs, designer clothes made in Chinese prisons and the gas to feed you new Sports Utility Vehicle!
"Every time a species goes extinct, we're bouncing a check in
the trust fund that God called us to manage."
-- Peter Illyan
That is much better than liberal do gooders a la Ben & Jerry, or green corporate philanthropy a la Working Assets -- who, in their foolish hope to produce "capitalism with a human face," ask people to consume more of environmentally safe products (but still, *consume more*) or turn indigenous peoples in the Brazilian rain forest into petty capitalists (with the disastrous effects, as the big time capitalists enter the market niche created by the do gooders).
Recently, I received a letter from the Fleet bank that manages the Working Assets Credit Card accounts. The letter, written in convoluted "business English" (as comprehensible as any other form of pidgin English), informs the customers about "changes in the original agreement" which, if you read that gem of obfuscated writing really carefully, means a substantial interest rate hike (from about 12% to about 18%).
When I called the toll free number on my credit card bill (printed, of course, on the recycled paper with Working Assets letterhead), I got a Fleet bank representative who was very evasive, but after I insisted, confirmed that Fleet is going to jack up their interests rates. When I asked why I am dealing with Fleet rather than Working Assets with whom I signed the original contract because I believed in their cause, the answer was "we merged."
That explains all. Market environmentalism, socially responsible capitalism and similar oxymorons are but advertising campaigns aimed at gullible Lefties by corporations like Working Assets, that act as head hunters for big time capitalists. Of course, Working Assets, Mother Jones and kindred "socially responsible" corporations may be staffed by naive do gooders who can believe that can they turn around the capitalist race to the bottom with their good intentions, but ... if they only read Karl Marx, who showed the naivete of such hopes...
In that context, someone who casts his/her environmentalism in a language that rejects the logic capitalist "rationality" altogether acts more realistically than yuppie do gooders who hope to ride the capitalist steamroller to save the environment. As Baran & Sweezy aptly observed, monopoly capitalism is a system whose means are rational, but the ends are mad. The value-rationality of religious activists is better equipped to alter those mad goals than purpose-rationality of "market environmentalists".
BTW, these were the final moments of my "market environmentalism." Acting in self-interest, I did not consent to the "changes in the orginal credit card agreement" and closed my Working Assets account to preserve my right to pay the existing balance on the conditions I originally accepted. Working Assets may devote 1% of its proceeds to green charity, but the remaining 17% will be duly directed toward corporate profits and executive salaries. I will trully miss the Ben & Jerry coupons they periodically sent me in appreciation of my custom.
Institute for Policy Studies
Johns Hopkins University
Why I Am Not a Vegetarian."
Dr. William T. Jarvis
YOU AREN'T WHAT YOU EAT
Fresh Fields sells the myth of a better world,
one overpriced vegetable at a time.
January 21-27, 2000
Why I Love Corporate Culture
Yuppies Just Don't Understand
By Kenneth Knies
The Sacramento Bee Special Report
"In this five-part series, Tom Knudson, The Bee's Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental reporter, examines the high-powered fund raising, the litigation and the public relations machine that has come to characterize much of the movement today. His stories are based on exhaustive research conducted over 16 months with travel to 12 states and northern Mexico. And what he has found is that the movement established, in part, to combat the influence of the powerful has itself become big business."
Sunday, April 22: Price of Power:
A century after John Muir served as the Sierra Club's first president, environmental groups have successfully traded on his legacy, becoming bigger and richer than ever before. But in their quest for power and money, have they cashed in their tradition?
Monday, April 23: Cause or commerce?
When you give $20 to an environmental organization, you expect it to go toward protecting the environment. But creative accounting hides the myriad ways groups can fold a hefty chunk of that donation back into their fund raising and bureaucracy.
Tuesday, April 24: Strongest suit
Suing the government has long been one of the environmental movement's most important tools. But today, the targets and proliferation of environmental lawsuits are yielding an uncertain bounty for the land.
Wednesday, April 25: Apocalypse now
Scientists say Western forests are gigantic tinderboxes inviting disaster, badly in need of thinning. But many environmental organizations are ignoring -- and sometimes manipulating -- that message.
Thursday, April 26: Hope, not hype
A new kind of conservation is blossoming at the grass roots that focuses on results, not rhetoric. Its goals include buying, protecting and restoring land, and making commerce and conservation work together -- without crying wolf.
* * * * *
Follow Up: Environmentalists' tactics face review
"Water in Tap Beats Bottled, Group Says"
New York Times
May 6, 2001
GENEVA, May 5 People looking for the purest, healthiest and maybe the tastiest water need look no further than their kitchen faucet, the world's largest environmental group says.
In many cases the only difference between expensive bottled water and tap water is the container, the World Wide Fund for Nature said this week. "Bottled water may be no safer or healthier than tap water in many countries while it sells for up to 1,000 times the price," the Swiss-based conservation group reported.
Turning on the tap would help not only one's wallet but also the environment, it added, because 1.5 million tons of plastic are used each year to bottle water, said Dr. Biksham Gujja, head of WWF International's Fresh Water Program.
And toxic chemicals released during the manufacture and disposal of bottles can release gases that contribute to climate change, the group said, releasing a University of Geneva study.
Over the long term, Dr. Gujja said, the increasing popularity of bottled water threatens to erode regulatory standards for tap water. But for now tap water standards in Europe and the United States are higher than those governing bottled water, the study found.
"In fact, there are more standards regulating tap water in Europe and the United States than those applied to the bottled water industry," said WWF International, known as World Wildlife Fund in the United States.
Some bottled water, Dr. Gujja added, is simply tap water, but in a fancy container.
The $22 billion-a-year bottled water industry was quick to respond. "If municipal water is used as a source for bottled water, it typically undergoes additional processing and purification for quality, safety and taste," Stephen Kay of the International Bottled Water Association, based in Alexandria, Va., said in a telephone interview.
He added that the industry and governments are preparing to adopt worldwide standards this summer to assure uniform quality.
Still, bottled water is so popular that there are more than 700 brands of water produced worldwide. The champion bottled water drinkers are Western Europeans, who consume nearly half of the product.
Yuppie Coffee and Globalization:
May 17, 2001
"The Oxymoronic Outdoor Products Industry"
Colorado Central Magazine
(October 1999, p.12)
CALL ME NAIVE, but I thought the outdoor experience was about being outdoors. If I'm to judge by the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, held in mid-August in Salt Lake City, it's about the idea of the outdoors.
Salt Lake's tornado notwithstanding, it was a huge event. By my guess about 400 retailers set up elaborate booths in the Salt Palace Convention Center. One account said 18,000 people -- wholesalers and retailers -- were expected. I was there on my publisher's expense account to sign a book, but I snuck away to spend some time wandering the aisles. I wanted to know: What, exactly, are several hundred retailers trying to sell to us schmucks who consume the products of the outdoor industry (a fascinating term, if you think about it)?
Well, for example, there was the Macor De-Ticker, a tool for -- you guessed it -- getting ticks out of your hide.
There was a porcelain toilet adorned with beautiful images of trout swirling down the bowl. This item took the cake for Most Unintentionally Ironic Product.
And consider the Pacsafe, like a raincover for your backpack, but a mesh made of piano wire "to protect your pack from knife-wielding thieves." Yikes!
AlpineAire Foods was demonstrating self-heating food. Pull a little string on your pouch of spaghetti and meatballs to release water onto a magnesium tablet. The resulting chemical reaction generates heat, and steam, which whistles out a little exhaust hole in the top of the unopened bag. When it's done, dinner's ready.
Spectrum Electronics was promoting the Thunder Bolt Storm Detector, which detects thunderstorms up to 60 miles away and calculates their range and approach speed within 10%. It even has a "connector for eternal alarm," according to a brochure. I hope that was a typo, but you can't be sure.
The marketers did not ignore the special recreational needs of women, either. A Vermont clothing company called Juno unveiled its new line of "Dew Drop" shorts, pants and raingear for women who don't want to hassle with undoing their rock climbing harnesses or ski pants when they get the call of Nature. The garments all feature a nearly invisible full-crotch zipper called the "Split pea."
A couple of bodacious young women in teeny bikinis strolled through the crowded aisles. I found them later at the Islander Kayaks booth. They were in lawn chairs with a hunky guy, lasciviously smearing on sun screen beneath the low fluorescent lights. A dozen men stood around gawking. One was videotaping. It was eco-smut.
But sex sells everything, and there's no reason for the oxymoronic outdoor industry to be any different. The come-on by Islander Kayaks was intended to create the Me Want Now impulse in buyers -- just like the kayak demos in the big pool set up in the center of the hall, and the sport climbing wall, and the fake rain running off the awning leading into the Timberland pavilion.
I make my living in part by writing about outdoor activities for publications that are supported by advertisers whose wares were peddled in Salt Lake. And I am damn glad for things like Gore-Tex and fleece and polarizing lenses. I'm no modern-day Thoreau eschewing technology.
Nevertheless, after a day at Outdoor Retailer I felt like I wanted to take a shower. The beautiful imagery decorating the booths; the sleek packaging; the hip people; the eco-friendly colors; the elegant design; the clever innovation -- all of these things are simultaneously attractive and off-putting. Just as it is in the SUV ads, the marketing imagery is all about freedom and wilderness and self-discovery, but the reality is that buying this product -- any product -- will not get you those things.
I am as seduced as the next person by gear. But I try to remember that my old pack carries stuff just as well as a new one, and that no matter which boots I'm wearing it's my legs that will get me up a trail, and that no amount of electronic gadgetry can explain the glory of the mountain sky.