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 11 - 20 of 40

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Norma Webster

The down fall of the major issues relating to industries across the globe is valued more then actually preserving this earth? The companies that produce and reproduce products that contaminate the soil, water and the air. Our government and their policies need to grow up and think of the people and the future, This plastic world of industrialization is right in our face. what do we do well we keep build into this? The oceans and water are contaminating our sea food and what do we do we buy this food and contaminate ourselves. All I can say is dispose properly it might save your life for another day, think your children and what they have to face with our plastic and contamination that filters through the earth then rises then releases into our eco system. It is not hard to save what is left for our children that shall walk this earth.Does the disaster of the earth need to show us more? Thank you for the posted message they are very interesting.


it is an absurdity, that everybody believes in the lies of the multinationals. they are flexible because they have the money to be. in the end it is just marketing strategy, another kind of advertisement. scheduled in the budget of pr.
but the question is, how to make it public. and how to handle different. how to resist. tell your friends, support more forms of action like this, make it public, be active your self. boycott the multinationals. think about, what are our possibilities to achieve a change. maybe it is forlorn, but maybe a following generation will prevail over the system of capitalism. and our task could be to flatten the way.

coentel pro

Wow I cant believe I can cause the world to end.
I cant believe little me with my car. O wait I dont have one. Its dumb more fear mongering I'm tired of it. Yeah of course big business is getting in on this. It because a lot of misinformed people think that If they spend more money and change their light bulbs they are going to save the planet. The planet doesnt need to be saved from us. They corporations are doing this so that they can charge us more to live. The only people who are going to benefit in the end are the corporations and government. How does the government benefit? Simple 1.problem 2.reaction 3.solution, they say worming is real and we are all goanna die, 2. People panic and without getting all the facts demand for something to be done. 3. They come out with a solution which is tax the hell out of everyone for berthing because that produces carbon monoxide, and reduce the worlds population. So what Im trying to say is that we are not the enemy. We have to stay focus and keep our eyes on them! How do you know who they are? Simple they are the people who tell you its your fault the planet is dying, but that if you buy their product or allow a lot of retarded laws to pass that will safe you

Idkn guys I just hope when we all wake up from this deception its no to late

Zonked Out Zombie

So we did a zombie walk in WalMart for BND, and after they kicked us out, we got a pamphlet from them that talked about just how great they are. how they help small business, and how they are actually saving the world. What an age we live in..

Claudia Medusa

Thank you, M. Lynas for getting the word out. Media literacy is essential if people are to be shaken out of their apathetic brainless consumerism! Advertising and marketing are ever more sophisticated and people seem ever more susceptible. Thanks for the wakeup call.

WalMart Lover

I love the stuff there, i love the food they sell. i love the fish there, i think a stay awhile
i love how the employees always make me smile
boom di adad, boom di adad, boom di adad, boom di adad,


Good News.. After a long delay, Zenn and Dynasty Neighbourhood Electric Vehicles are DOT approved for sale in BC.

The swing to EVs has been slow because Gubmint needs that Exxon money to get elected.

NEVs first and soon PEVs, Plugin Electric Vehicles.

The flood begins and I am delighted! TG


I agree with the walmart lover's comments...they're the only one with the right attitude towards something that will never stop...or slow down.PROGRESS love it or destroy it but it ain't going away...I hope at least.


When it comes to greenwashing big business it is important to remember the scale of the issues we are talking about. Some of us may make changes in our lives in consideration of climate change, and of course this is great because all change starts small and we cant change the world without changing our lifestyles. But it is important to place yourself in the matrix of networks and the scales of communities that compose the planet. In limiting ourselves only to our lifestyle changes we often miss opportunities to let the fat cats know just what we think and what we demand. We cant let them get away with diluted climate change policies and hollowed-out gestures at change. The world needs more loud protest.


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