Great Green Con

I’ve just returned home from my holiday at Knysna on the Garden Route. In our bathroom was a notice informing us that the Garden Route was suffering its worst drought in 130 years and to therefore use water sparingly. Whether or not this drought is an effect of climate change I am not qualified to say, but it did lead me to think about our concern for the environment, and what we are being encouraged to do about it.

The messages the public gets seem to fall into two distinct classes, the first of which contains the general exhortations to be conscious of our impact on the environment, minimising our carbon footprints and so on; and the specific, commercial messages as corporations attempt to cash in on the new environmental awareness. It is with this second class of message that I have a problem.

Here’s an example: we know that plastic bags are clogging landfills and suffocating sea birds, so the obvious thing to do would be to use reusable bags instead of the disposable plastic bags. Retailers have leapt onto the bandwagon, offering for sale a variety of bags for a range of prices. People have bought these enthusiastically, enjoying the sensation of saving the planet for a small outlay. But is it actually making environmental sense? One website I consulted suggests that each reusable bag must be used 171 times before it repays its manufacturing energy cost, compared to the flimsy plastic disposable bags. So the warm fuzzy feeling may have been purchased at an environmental cost hidden from the user, who thinks he has paid to protect the environment, when he may in fact be harming it. Either way, the manufacturer makes his profit.

And then there are the truly cynical, like Nedbank who offer a thing called a “Green Affinity Account” which–they boast–offers their clients

the opportunity to participate in the conservation of our environment and the upliftment of local communities, at no cost to the client.

Bullshit. Nedbank’s fee structure is one of the highest around, so to claim that there is “no cost to the client” is disingenuous at best. In this document (pdf) Nedbank witter on nauseatingly and incomprehensibly about the environment and how wonderful they think they are. Here are a couple of examples:

THE DEBATE ON CLIMATE CHANGE, WHAT IT IS OR WHY IT’S HAPPENING, IS OVER. THE QUESTION NOW IS HOW BUSINESS SHOULD OPERATE IN A CARBON-CONSTRAINED FUTURE.

No, Nedbank, the debate isn’t over. No scientific debate is ever over–that is in the nature of inductive reasoning–but this one is less over than almost any other. Whilst there is a consensus that climate change is a fact and is at least partially anthropogenic, our understanding of the climate and our ability to model it is primitive, to say the least. This debate will continue to rage, and our conclusions at present must be regarded as provisional.

To position Nedbank and its clients appropriately for a carbon-constrained future, Nedbank Capital has a dedicated Carbon Finance Team to view carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions holistically. This team is part of the African Treasuries, Carbon & Financial Products unit and, through a multidisciplinary approach, has created a niche centre of excellence that interfaces with other business units. Ultimately, the objective is to leverage specialist skills to enhance our client service offering.

Oh, boy. Do they teach you to write like this as part of your MBA? Or is the meaninglessness of your drivel a manifestation of the deficiencies of your thinking apparatus?

Enough of Nedbank’s opinions. Let’s see if what they say matches what they do.

This report, Bankrolling Climate Change suggests that Nedbank has financed coal mining and coal-fired power stations to the tune of 119 million Euros between 2005 and 2011. Enough said.

Knysna Forest


OK, rant over.

The Garden Route is a part of the world that I have been meaning to visit for a long time. I regret having left it for so long.
This beautiful place is one we shall visit again sooner rather than later.

Knysna 48


Apart from the beaches, forests (with elephants, although we didn’t see them) and lagoons, we visited the Knysna Yacht Company to see what they have up their sleeves. Scallywag and I have this ridiculous ambition to do a round-the-world trip under sail before total decrepitude overtakes us and we can no longer remember who or where we are. We were very kindly given a tour of the boatyard and a complete Knysna 48 by Kevin Fouche. This stunning craft will be on view at the Miami International Boat Show from the 16th to the 20th February 2012–go and see it!

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

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5 Responses to Great Green Con

  1. scallywag says:

    Brilliant post Mark 😉

  2. Con-Tester says:

    Two broken links, Mark: “this document (pdf)” and “This beautiful place”.

    Car manufacturers who supply hydrogen-powered vehicles also lie by omission through their teeth. They’ll smugly and enthusiastically inform you that running the vehicle releases only water vapour into the environment — which in itself is true enough! What they do not tell you about is the vehicle’s total environmental impact, specifically the horrendous energy and material costs of dissociating water into hydrogen and oxygen. The total negative impact of a hydrogen-powered vehicle is between two and three times that of an equivalent fossil fuel burner. Similarly, hybrids that charge deep-cycle electric batteries by burning petrol or diesel lose hugely on the cleanness side due mostly to the substantial dirtiness of battery manufacture. Indeed, it has been estimated that over their respective lifespan, a Toyota Prius is about as environmentally friendly as a Hummer H3.

    The whole climate change issue is increasingly becoming a business. Companies try to outdo one another in appearing concerned, which fuels the public’s belief that it’s all got tremendous merit. In turn, this spurs companies on in the race to be the most concerned. As with many other things, what’s needed is less hot-headed money-grubbing/bandwagon-hopping, and more level-headed consideration and appraisal. Not that I expect we’ll see much of the latter anytime soon. There are far too many opportunists on both sides of the debate.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for the heads-up re the broken links. WordPress break the link at the space and I’m not sure how to make them stop, but have asked and look forward eagerly to their reply. The links are:

      http://www.banktrack.org/download/bankrolling_climate_change/climatekillerbanks_final_0.pdf

      and

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_Route

      Regarding the hybrid cars: yes, I have heard that from a variety of sources, but could not find a definitive study that tracked total environmental cost of, say, a new Toyota Prius v. a new Ford Fiesta over the entire life of the vehicles. I think it depends a lot on where they are driven; hybrids are at their best in urban, stop-start traffic conditions and lose their edge on the open road. If you know of such a study I would be grateful if you would point me in its direction.

    • Con-Tester says:

      As far as WordPress breaking URLs at spaces goes, have you tried replacing the spaces with the 3-character string “%20”? Alternatively you can try and hand-code the relevant HTML. AFAIK, WordPress allows you to switch between WYSIWYG and raw HTML views while compositing posts.

      I’ve looked but I cannot find the Prius-vs-Hummer report I was thinking of. I read it about six years ago and it was presented mostly in tabular form. The investigation was done by an ostensibly independent US consumer advocacy (which of course doesn’t mean that it wasn’t paid for by General Motors). The nearest I could find is the CNW Marketing Research report From Dust to Dust. (It’s an easily located PDF file. I tried twice to supply a link – different ones – but in both cases WordPress thought I’m spamming…)

      However, that report’s objectivity has, probably rightly, been questioned (Pacific Institute, Dr Peter H Gleick, Hummer versus Prius: “Dust to Dust” Report Misleads the Media and Public with Bad Science. Again, Google should have no trouble locating this PDF file).

  3. Green Company…

    […]Great Green Con « Grumpy Old Man[…]…

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