Blackspot

Progress Isn’t Green

The corporate appropriation of the green movement suggests that traditional environmentalism is dead.

I remember when the call to “be green” had some revolutionary potential: it served as a rallying point for those of us who felt that corporations were trashing our planet in favor of short-term profits. By demanding that corporations go green, we hoped to draw attention to the long-term consequences an economic model based on infinite growth had on our planet’s finite resources. Although “being green” was never clearly defined, it had something to do with acting in accordance with nature. The implicit argument was that the current way of doing business was essentially not green. Looking around at advertisements today, however, I notice that the corporations who claim to be the most “green” are the same ones that we hoped the environmental movement would defeat: oil companies, large-scale developers and warehouse-size shopping centers.

The other day I passed a huge fleet of machines cutting down trees and digging a massive hole in the ground. Before I could even start to think about the physical destruction of the natural environment, I saw a sign explaining that this was actually “Green Construction.” I felt comforted for a moment and then I realized that I had been tricked: there is nothing green about construction. There are two competing visions of what it means to be green: the original meaning and the appropriated meaning.

The original vision of “green” was that it would represent a cultural and economic shift – a point from which the future would look drastically different from the past. To imagine a green future was to imagine a world that did not resemble our own because we had, as a civilization, turned away from the path of industrialization. The second, more contemporary, meaning of being green is the one appropriated by the mega-corporations. According to this definition, anything permitting the continued, linear progress of industrialization is green. For corporations, any system that will enable humanity to continue to consume and ravish the earth forever is considered green. This definition creates the oxymoronic and paradoxical situation we have today: the top global polluters claim to be green.

We wanted a revolution but corporations want more of the same. So how is it that the green movement was so easily appropriated? My suspicion is that the appropriation of the green movement represents the death of traditional environmentalism. It demonstrates that concern over the desecration of our physical environment is important but not primary.

Advertisers appropriate every revolutionary idea and use them against us. We ask for a “greener” world and we get million-dollar ad campaigns calling our dying world green. As long as corporations are able to lie to us through glitzy advertisements, our desires for change will always be in vain. Only a movement for a clean mental environment, one that silences corporate communication, can give us the intellectual clarity to address the environmental problems that face us as a species.

Let’s clean up the info-toxins polluting our worldview and then stop the physical-toxins poisoning our world.

Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He is writing a book on the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org

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38 comments on the article “Progress Isn’t Green”

Displaying 1 - 10 of 38

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Nicholas

Before anyone flames this article: I think the point (in less flammatory terms) is that the corporations are doing their green campains to be reactionary. Once they feel that fervor has died down, they'll revert. This means that fervor must be maintained in the absense of visible resistence. So really, it could be considered a sort of trick.

Nicholas

Before anyone flames this article: I think the point (in less flammatory terms) is that the corporations are doing their green campains to be reactionary. Once they feel that fervor has died down, they'll revert. This means that fervor must be maintained in the absense of visible resistence. So really, it could be considered a sort of trick.

Emily

"My suspicion is that the appropriation of the green movement represents the death of traditional environmentalism." Maybe I am misinterpreting this, but I feel that traditional environmentalism has been dead before "green" hit the corporate advertisements. For example, John Muir created Sierra Club to fight for the preservation of our lands, and today he would be turning in his grave if he saw what Sierra Club is doing. Environmental groups themselves have completely gone mainstream and are full of legislative compromises. I think traditional environmentalism died when people left the streets in protest to writing checks for groups that call themselves environmentalist. Whatever you may think of the Green-washing, I think it is important to remember that the consumer has more power than corporations and their advertisements and it is ultimately up to the people to resist the temptation to buy these "green" goods. I worry that people will want to replace their old technology with new green technology when instead they should just use their old technology less. You don't need florescent energy efficient light bulbs to save energy or to be green, all you need to do is turn off the lights...

Emily

"My suspicion is that the appropriation of the green movement represents the death of traditional environmentalism." Maybe I am misinterpreting this, but I feel that traditional environmentalism has been dead before "green" hit the corporate advertisements. For example, John Muir created Sierra Club to fight for the preservation of our lands, and today he would be turning in his grave if he saw what Sierra Club is doing. Environmental groups themselves have completely gone mainstream and are full of legislative compromises. I think traditional environmentalism died when people left the streets in protest to writing checks for groups that call themselves environmentalist. Whatever you may think of the Green-washing, I think it is important to remember that the consumer has more power than corporations and their advertisements and it is ultimately up to the people to resist the temptation to buy these "green" goods. I worry that people will want to replace their old technology with new green technology when instead they should just use their old technology less. You don't need florescent energy efficient light bulbs to save energy or to be green, all you need to do is turn off the lights...

Anonymous

Corporations seek to make money. They make money by selling products that people want. People are demanding "green" products. Corporations respond to popular demand.

Anonymous

Corporations seek to make money. They make money by selling products that people want. People are demanding "green" products. Corporations respond to popular demand.

Sam

I think the corporations are inadvertently doing us a favor in the long run by proliferating the concept that we have all been doing things wrong to the mostly-oblivious population. The "green" fad may be temporary, ill-conceived and misleading; but ultimately everyone is receiving a kernel of knowledge that in many cases will become an enormous boon to real environmental causes.

Sam

I think the corporations are inadvertently doing us a favor in the long run by proliferating the concept that we have all been doing things wrong to the mostly-oblivious population. The "green" fad may be temporary, ill-conceived and misleading; but ultimately everyone is receiving a kernel of knowledge that in many cases will become an enormous boon to real environmental causes.

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