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Friday, June 13, 2008

The Big Company that Cried, “Green!”

Recently ExxonMobil has taken over the centerfold of the A Section of the New York Times, space they’ve used to trumpet their awareness of and concern about the problem of where future energy supplies will come from and the environmental impact of our use of fossil fuels. Generally, these ads have a personal element, featuring photos of company employees, clean cut and concerned, who are on the case, valiantly working to preserve The American Way of Life.

Truth and Justice? Not so much. Continued consumption? Oh yes! Oh yes!

One ad spotlighted a young, thin, somewhat preppy looking African American man, alongside a slightly older white woman.

Barack? Hilary! What are you two doing here?!

This is of a piece with British Petroleum re-branding itself as Just-Plain-BP and telling us that this stands for “Beyond Petroleum,” with GM telling us that the Chevy Volt is The Answer to our personal transportation problems (and/or to the Toyota Prius), with the nuclear power industry pushing the idea that nukes are a zero (carbon) emission source of electricity.

Working backwards, I am more focused on the fact that: our friendly neighborhood nuke people have long assured us that nuclear power is perfectly safe, although they can’t bear the cost of these accidents that will never happen; and forty or fifty years in, we have no permanent disposal site for nuclear waste (Yucca Mountain? Yucca Mountain?) so we’ve just been keeping it in pools at a-nuke-near-you for decades.

The Chevy Volt (due out in 2010), based on a battery that doesn’t yet exist, is quite appealing, at least as a stopgap, unless one hangs up on (who killed) the EV1. Burn me once. . .

As for BP, I’m a little queasy about relying on the kindness and the credibility of a company whose history includes complicity in the toppling of a democratically elected, if inconvenient, government: In 1953, BP (then the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) conspired with the CIA in Operation Ajax, helping to depose the government of Iran. This brought us the Shah. He brought us the ayatollahs. They brought us the Iranian Revolution. Among other dividends, this brought us Hezbollah.

So. . . like any card carrying cynic, I’ll plead reality here. The energy and transportation industries extant have every reason to plan for a post-carbon business landscape. At the moment, they have the capital—both human and financial—and the infrastructure to begin moving us toward more sustainable modes of energy generation and usage. They say that’s what they are doing. All we have to do is bear with them and keep those subsidies coming.

I don’t believe them.

They want us to clap for Tinkerbell. I keep seeing the Cowardly Lion, eyes closed, chanting to himself, “I do believe in hydrocarbons, I do believe in hydrocarbons. I do, I do, I do believe in hydrocarbons.”

“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” Don’t get fooled again.

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