The Big Ideas of 2008

Changing Climate

Once the preserve almost exclusively of environmentalists and scientists, 2007 was the year when climate change went big business. But this corporate volte-face raises some serious problems about† whether we should accept this overture or steer clear of what still looks like industry greenwashing.

Once the preserve almost exclusively of environmentalists and scientists, 2007 was the year when climate change went big business. After years of being public enemy number one to green campaigners, business seems to have decided that it too needs to work within a habitable climate. But this volte-face raises some serious problems. In recognition of the global emergency that is climate change should we accept the corporate overture or steer clear of what might be industry greenwashing?

Bringing businesses on board the environmental movement has certainly created some strange bedfellows. Long a voice of climate change contrarianism, Rupert Murdoch has declared that he wants his News Corp. media empire to beam out climate messaging to its entire global audience. But capitalism is nothing if not flexible, and other businesses are spotting new opportunities in rebranding themselves as low-carbon options.

Exxon-Mobil, the greatest corporate denier of them all, now claims to be following a climate-friendly agenda, and its donations to far-right front groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute are beginning to look embarrassing. But Exxon is still a long way from putting its money where its mouth is. The company refuses to make significant investments in renewable resources, and declares quite brazenly that its major focus will continue to be fossil fuels for decades to come – whatever the risks to the world's climate.

Perhaps a greater challenge to the environmentalist worldview came with the sudden and unexpected conversion of Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, from a very big bad guy into apparently a very big good guy. Wal-Mart's efforts are less easy to dismiss than Exxon's: the company has already sold 100 million low-energy light bulbs (meeting a self-set target three months early), opened two "high-efficiency" stores, brought solar power for 22 more stores and has even started to demand that its suppliers sign up to the climate-friendly agenda.

But Wal-Mart? Isn't this the same corporation whose big-box approach to retail has hollowed-out communities up and down the United States, and whose aggressive stack-'em-high sales philosophy has brought mindless consumerism to new depths of extravagant wastefulness? You can't shop in Wal-Mart without a car, and you can't buy anything local there, so its entire business model helps raise transport emissions throughout the economy. If the company is serious about signing a peace agreement with the planet, it is going to have to do a lot more than shift a few light bulbs.

With capitalism shifting to accommodate the green agenda, free-market politicians (as most are these days) have also begun to shift their policies and rhetoric. In Germany, Angela Merkel has laid out a surprisingly progressive equal-rights plan for future climate negotiations. In the UK, the government has outlined a climate change bill which would actually set carbon budgets for the entire country – a colossal step forward. With the corporate world's about-face, George Bush has found himself without significant allies and even his administration has been forced to change its focus from questioning the science to getting other countries to leave the UN process and accept climate negotiations on America's terms.

But the Earth is now setting the pace on climate change, not Bush. With scientists telling us we need to stabilize global emissions by 2015 in order to keep rising temperatures within relatively tolerable boundaries, there is a pressing need to shift the energy direction of the entire global economy, not tinker at the margins. Massive public pressure now needs to be put on world governments to negotiate a successor treaty to Kyoto which dramatically reduces emissions within a 20-30 year timescale. And that is something that big business still has a hard time contemplating.

40 comments on the article “Changing Climate”

Displaying 1 - 10 of 40

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John Flyg

For real change to take place within the realm of a new progressive era toward climate change exxon mobile can't and never will be the face of that change. Its up to the public population to make our lawmakers and lobbyists to step up and focus on the
new big deal.

l pullar

I agree with your point of view. but if we can get people and businesses to change one thing or more, its that much closer to really making the environment a better place. I for years never even thought about it. And honestly I feel ashamed. Now I am a true activist to make changes every where and way I can. But I love that you challenge for more from them and not just accept their word but push to see action. Thank you for being someone that can think and ask for more from those who talk the talk but wheres the walk. Gods Speed to you.


1, Fine! Where I live, in Russia, not enough people are concerned to these, unfortunately.. take away me from here.

Isaac Bonyuet

In a capitalist economy, the consumers could have a major impact on the services they consume, so the changing of policies made by these companies reveals to us that people are very much informed about climate change, it doesn't matter what the current government decides, our job as individuals is to inform our neighbors and that would lead to people making more conscious choices and guide the market to a more environmentally friendlier one.

Mike Smith

The gist of the article is that change is happening. It's not a rapid change, but it IS change. You have to remember that privately-run companies' main focus is making money, if they can make money or more money doing it environmentally-friendly, they will do it. If they can't, they won't unless forced to.


I believe that most of the changes we now see are simply fronts that the corporations are putting up to appease the distress of the population.
What has to be changed is the general manner consumers see themselves and what/how they consume. We can no longer afford to play the ignorance card and believe that we have no power over our future; unfortunately too many peoples still think that they have no power as individuals and believe they cant make a difference, therefore we must boycott products and thus pressure the powerful corporation to make ecologically friendly changes in their daily operations that are costly to the in the short run, yet less costly to them and the environment in the long run, where they would lose market shares and the nonrenewable raw materials they use are no longer available.
Life is about choices and we must make hard choices now in order forgo making extremely difficult decisions in the future.

judo pooh

i my self live in southern california, and i find it very difficult to be an environmentally friendly, because of the constant bombardment of advertisements that come with the location. somtimes the people here sicken me with there extreme wastefulness. hopefully people will snap out of this consumer frenzy that is america.

A guy on an oil rig

Speaking from the dark heart of the industry. It is all very well to pontificate, but alas people are more concerned with cars and just existing from day-to-day than in tree's. The big corporations are in control of almost every aspect of our lives. How do we take back control? Have we ever had it? The face behind the faceless corporation cares about money & power & keeping hold of that power. All obstacles in their path will be met with extreme disdain. We are slaves to the combustion engine. What to do? For the record I don't drive. I Walk!

Finding my way back

Thank you Mark Lynas and Adbusters, and to fellow readers for your thoughtful comments...I have spent much of my adult life in and out of various stages of working for a just and more eco-friendly society, and usually living a fairly low-impact lifestyle. However, the last few years, somehow I've been taking more flights, eating less organic food and more commercial meat, watching more TV and Hollywood BS, driving vs. walking or riding, and reading less Adbusters. I've been simultaneously internalizing the culture of consumerism and feeling less alive than ever. I'm starting to wake up lately to the idea that our state of mind and heart is directly related to our impact on the planet, and that the corporate culture's greenwash output is as dangerous as the junk science on climate change put out still until very recently. And it's all connected...Now that being green is in style again, it's just that much more ripe to go OUT of style when it starts getting in the way of never ending economic growth. What's shocking to me is that I had started to buy it: I heard about Walmart's eco-acres and light bulbs, Murdoch's carbon neutral, even Exonmobil and Bush have been spewing platitudes lately. Reading your article and comments here and embedded within Adbusters has helped me realize how much I've been swallowing regarding climate change and many other things, and that the emptiness inside of me is proportional my acceptance of their BS, and may be even proportional to my increased impact on our planet.

Thanks and let's do this.

Caitlin M.W.

Carbon credits are a major issue relating to corporate greenwashing that was not mentioned explicitly here. Much of the major legislation that is being considered is hinged on trading of arbitrary 'credits' that enable corporations to keep on shirking responsibility. I think this is a poor decision by lawmakers who need to be putting in provisions for a real impact, not another way to balance the corporate accounts.


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