Lately it's fashionable for news outlets to run stories about corporations grappling with ‘greening up’. This week, NPR is looking at Wal-Mart and their efforts to become more energy efficient.
In the promo, an executive describes how taking steps to lessen their carbon footprint is good for the bottom line, is in the interest of their customers and in the interest of their stakeholders. It was strikingly truthful, for these are the only metrics a corporation measures decisions on: revenue and shareholder profits and to publicize steps to raise these as climate action is misleading.
Win-win stories have been popular in the modern environmental movement. The first earth day was in 1970, the start of a decade that spawned our modern economy through massive deregulation and gutting of New Deal economic policy. When Americans were finally organizing around a consensus regarding carbon emissions, organizing to fight the worst polluters was precisely when corporations were set free to become larger and more powerful than the world had ever imagined.
A wilting bud in a massive and growing corporate shadow, much of the environmental movement has sought strategies to ingratiate themselves among the capitalists, privately and with a notable immersion with a neoliberal Democratic Party. Certainly the Democrats have a stronger record on the environment compared to the Republicans but even within the Democratic Party, mainstream environmental groups line up in the center. The Sierra Club, NRDC and LCV all endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary even though Sanders voting record and platform far exceeded Clinton’s. If they can please the destroyers, perhaps they can nudge them in positive ways, I imagine the logic being.
Win-win stories are also among the most popular news stories published about climate. With almost no good news to tell, it’s nice to read a Friday feature about everything working out for everyone.
The problem with win-win is it’s bullshit. The Wal-Mart exec glowed because carbon is expensive and analyzing data to lower their costs helps them get richer. Lowering output is a net positive for the environment but its insanely inadequate. Corporations need to take steps that will cause them to lose money, a lot of it, and any no measure proposing to lose money will make it onto a board room’s table, none.
Win-win stories are PR, published by news outlets owned by corporations. Even NPR is funded by corporations. Capitalism is at the core of our media. Men from Heart to Zuckeberg have made historic fortunes from media. So it’s no surprise that a website funded by Goldman Sachs would publish a piece about corporate morality in the wake of Charlottesville for instance.
All of this is to state the obvious: we need to act extremely aggressively on climate change, for our own survival and the habitability of the planet. The habitability of the planet! Like a early 90’s Honda that you’d rather run into the ground than put good money into. We have to act to prevent more wars, mass migration, starvation and killing and fear and worry. We have to act because there is so much cool shit at stake, so many weird and fascinating creatures who call Earth home, with incredible similarities and differences to us.
And in order to do so, we have to crush capitalism. Corporations have to suffer. Just 100 companies in the world are responsible for 71% of global emissions. They cannot grow or thrive. The system will have to undergo some shock and our country and the rest of the world will need robust left wing governments to weather such a shock and institute renewable energy systems, local food economies, sustainable communities and transportation between them. The result if we succeed will be a win-win, for humans and rest of the planet, for the atoning perp and the benevolent victim, but corporations are neither. Despite what the Supreme Court rules, corporations are not people, not of this earth at all. They are abstractions we’ve all agreed to support and that must, literally for the sake of the world, end now. When they lose, we'll win.