Saturday, 27 January 2007

27 January 2007

How’s this for a Green policy agenda? More use of solar and wind power to generate electricity; more investment in research to find new ways of producing bio-fuels; reduce petrol consumption by 20 per cent over the next decade -- and a mandatory requirement to produce 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels by 2017.

It sounds, I reckon, like something you might find in a Green Party election manifesto. In fact, it comes, almost exactly word for word, from President Bush’s State of the Union address to the US Congress. Surprised? Thought so.

OK, here’s another one: A promise to become carbon neutral and stop sending any waste to landfill sites by 2012. Who’s promising? Marks and Spencer. And another one: all US stores to be run entirely on renewable energy. Says who? Says Walmart, the largest retailer in the world. And another one: a carbon label to be attached to all goods. Whose goods? Tesco’s, the largest British retailer and the third largest grocery retailer in the world.

So what’s going on? Well, here’s the verdict from the environmental campaigner and writer George Monbiot, in The Guardian: “The superstores’ green conversion is astonishing, wonderful, disorienting. If Tesco and Walmart have become friends of the earth, are any enemies left?”

Now, I’m a professional sceptic by nature. I tend not to believe in promises. I like to see them fulfilled with my own eyes before I applaud. But just for a moment, let’s be charitable: let’s assume that Mr Bush, and Walmart, and Tesco, mean what they say.

So I repeat, what’s going on? My explanation goes something like this: in the White House, as in the boardrooms, the penny has dropped – voters, shoppers, you and me, we’re worried about the state of the planet. We’ve seen the storms, the hurricanes, the droughts, the floods, the dry winters, the hot summers – and we don’t like it. Political leaders and corporate executives don’t like it either. They especially don’t like it if we start blaming them.

So going green has become good politics and good business. Correction: appearing to go green is good politics and good business. Let’s give them two cheers for saying the right things, but let’s hold back on that final cheer until they do the right thing as well. And yes, I suppose it might help if we turn off our TVs and computers at night and invest in some low energy light bulbs.

Meanwhile, I did enjoy our old-fashioned snowy London morning this week. Just a light dusting where I live, glistening brightly on the bare branches of the trees in the park, scrunching under foot as I walked to the bus. All gone by mid-morning, so no nasty grey slush. Sorry if it was worse where you are – but just occasionally, the weather still does exactly what I want it to.

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