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Green propaganda

By Emily Dickson, www.newsday.co.tt

HAVE YOU ever heard of the term "greenwashing"? It's not a fabricated word it was actually added in 1999 to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, which defines "greenwashing" as "disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image." Or, in other words, greenwashing is what organisations do in order to make themselves appear more environmentally friendly or "green" than they truly are.

Greenwashing takes many forms and is generally used as a public relations gimmick to make it seem that a company/ministry/corporation has a country's environment as a top priority. These forms may include one or more of the following community activities/photo opportunities building "green" parks, changing a corporate logo, sponsoring environmental activities such as tree planting or litter pick-up days, large donations, and the use of full page, full colour newspaper advertisements carrying pictures of smiling children and happy pan-players, proclaiming the company's good environmental deeds.

If you want an every day example of a company pretending to be "green", look at a car advertisement on television. Usually they feature Sport Utility Vehicles driving through the beautiful, unspoilt wilderness of mountains, lakes, beaches and waterfalls. The intention is to show that by purchasing the SUV you can go to these beautiful locales but it also serves to plant the idea in our heads that an SUV is in fact part of nature. Advertisers want you to associate an SUV with positive environmental images, instead of making you think about unpleasant things such as fossil fuels, pollution, the high price of oil, oil spills, oil leaks, "blood-for-oil" or other things directly or indirectly linked with the SUV that may affect your choice when it comes to purchasing a vehicle.

Another good example of green propaganda would be a certain oil company (which I shall leave unnamed) running a series of advertisements in the inside cover page of the National Geographic Magazine, with beautiful pictures of oceans and coastlines, using trendy environmental keywords such as "sustainable development", "alternative energy", or "renewable resources" juxtaposed with its corporate logo, when in fact the company is responsible for some of the largest and most damaging oil spills in history. If you see a company going out of its way to project a clean image, ask yourself why. Green propaganda is especially used by multinational multibillion-dollar corporations, many of which are involved with environmentally-damaging energy industries in a variety of countries, most of them in the Third World. Corporations will spend millions of dollars to convince the locals that their oil wells and refineries and whatnot can peacefully coexist, hand in hand, with tiny rural communities behind God's back, without harming their way of life, their health or their natural environment.

Greenwashing also includes pretending to "empower" local communities through "consultations", "information sessions", or the formation of "stakeholder groups" to supposedly allow residents to share their feelings, worries, opinions and concerns. The company will in the end maybe relocate a few people who are living too close to their perimeter, make some donations, put up some benches in the area, or maybe sponsor a football field. Some press releases will be faxed to the media and the company will get some favourable coverage, and everyone goes home happy. Right? But greenwashing is not only used by environmentally-unfriendly foreign corporations and evil energy giants trying to improve their sullied image. Greenwashing is at its worst when it is practiced at the governmental level, and it happens right here in Trinidad and Tobago. Such an example would be national and international "green" events such as World Environment Day/Week, Earth Day, National Clean-Up Week, World Water Day, or any other one-day wonder that supposedly focuses on the preservation of our natural environment.

This, I believe, is the worst kind of greenwashing because it means that our elected representatives and our so-called environmental agencies use our hardpaying tax dollars to pretend to care about the environment for one day of the year, while allowing environmental rape to continue the other 364 days of the year with their blessings. Although the cause is worthy, it is a farce to commemorate the theme for this year's World Environment Day "WANTED! Seas and Oceans Dead or Alive?" when our government does nothing to put legal steps in place to protect our oceans from all forms of pollution. It is a joke to separate my garbage for one week if for the rest of the year the government is more interested in a billion-dollar aluminium smelter plant than a recycling plant. There is no point in one day of symbolic tree planting when last year the country sat back and watched our forests burn to a crisp without batting an eyelid or trying to stop it.

I am not saying that it is not a worthwhile practice for a community to come together to clean up the beach or plant some trees what I am saying is that it is a lost cause for us to try to do random environmental good deeds while our elected legislators allow our natural resources to be destroyed, our forests bulldozed, our rivers filled in, our seas polluted, our wildlife captured, our people displaced, our legally protected mangroves destroyed to build cinemas and hotels and our savannahs quarried, all in the name of the almighty dollar, whether it be local or foreign. We have a long, long way to go before we can truly and honestly commemorate World Environment Day, and until then, it will sadly remain just another greenwashed public relations event.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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