Sunday, May 18, 2008

On Climate, Symbols Can Overshadow Substance

Lights-Out Event More Showy Than Practical
By Shankar Vedantam Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, May 17, 2008

In March of last year, the World Wildlife Fund in Australia teamed up with Leo Burnett, the multinational advertising agency that created the Marlboro Man, to come up with a new environmental campaign called Earth Hour. The idea was to get 2 million residents in Sydney to turn off all the lights in their homes for one hour. The campaign generated wide publicity, but the energy saved was small -- the equivalent of taking about five cars off the city's roads for a year.

Tension between substance and symbolism runs through the modern environmental movement. After years of conflict with climate-change deniers and a White House that has resisted mandatory efforts to address global warming, the movement has become a crusade that is partly moral statement and partly fashion statement. Earth Hour, Earth Day and the Miss Earth beauty pageant -- "saving the planet, one pageant at a time" -- generate lots of publicity, but they also tend to prompt people and companies to choose what looks good over what works. (link)

Comment: I could not have said it better. Modern environmentalism is about making a statement, not about making a difference. Consciousness has already been raised. We don’t need another Al Gore Earth Aid concert. We don’t need another self-indulgent celebrity showing us how much they care by flying their “green” car around the world so they can be seen driving “green.” We don’t need another company selling phony carbon offsets. Enough already of the “green washing.” Feel-good environmentalism and symbolism over substance brought us the ethanol mistake and the Energy Independence and Security Act 0f 2007. When are environmentalists going to get serious about supporting policies that really work instead of silly symbolic gestures?

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories


  1. Rod,

    I must say we had very similar reactions to this story. I too believe we need to dispense with the noise and get down to creating some common sense, real solutions to the problems (and their causes) that are threatening us.

    Thanks for adding your voice to the fray!


  2. Did you see Harrison Ford showing us how painful it was to have his chest hair waxed off? Apparently it was to show us how we shouldn't be cutting down rainforests. I was so looking forward to the new Indiana Jones movie and this has spoiled it for me somewhat :(