Saving the world (again)

These days it seems that everything we do is potentially saving the world. If you believe advertising, that is. The mighty no-brains of the advertising “industry” have noticed that we seem to care that the planet upon which we live might be in fatal breakdown. So they have decided to use this worry in order to sell us stuff we don’t need. What heroes they are…

And now we are assailed by an avalanche of crappy copy – “Buy this and save the world!” Just today I saw a road sign that proclaimed “Pump up your tires and save the world!” This was referring to the fact that under-inflated tires can lead to you using more fuel than is necessary to move your worthless arse from A to B. So just force some more air in there, you great big hero you, and save us all! (And save yourself 500:- per year into the bargain, which you may spend on driving even more than you planned.)

This constant evoking of “save the world!” to sell us piss and peanuts devalues the whole idea. It turns it into a cliché and that is a very dangerous thing indeed.

A better way to save the world would be for car drivers to take the fucking bus. Or perhaps get an environmentally-friendly car. Of course, this idea is flawed too, because there are no environmentally friendly cars. Really, there aren’t. Cars come in 2 environmental flavours: extremely damaging, and fairly damaging, and that’s it. You can’t call a car “environmentally friendly” just because it has the ability to burn a different kind of hydrocarbon. Or because it is much more fuel-efficient. A car, simply by existing, damages the environment.

And there are no environmentally friendly fuels either, despite the billions of dollars being spent to convince us that ethanol cars are “green”. They’re not. Ethanol must be produced, stored, transported and burnt and, even more dangerously (as pointed out by George Monbiot) ethanol production fuel puts cars into direct competition with food. And who will win a spending competition between middle-class drivers and poor people who want to eat? Hmm, now let me think…

We’re not saving the world by buying more stuff, and we won’t do it by letting advertisers press our guilt buttons either. We may do it by piling all the advertising executives into a downdraft gasifier, burning the combustible gasses in a gas turbine and sequestering the carbon dioxide produced. And even if we don’t, it would still be fun to watch.

/ paddy

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5 thoughts on “Saving the world (again)

  1. Only slightly related to this…
    A quote from an airline chief executive in ‘Flight’ magazine in relation to carbon off-setting.
    ‘If you were giving up smoking and you paid someone in Africa to smoke for you, do you think that would be effective?”

  2. Making the phrase “Save the World” a cliché is maybe not such a bad thing. Just think how young minds that develop in such a milieu might actually accept it for granted that their local decisions should always be made within a global context.

    What is despicable is the use of the cliché as an advertising goad. It’s not a bad thing that producers tout the benefits of their product (assuming such benefits are authentic and fairly presented). It is a bad thing when false associations are made via advertising to an issue of real importance.

    Yet, I can’t fault the effort to have drivers keep their tires properly inflated. As far as I know, it does make a real difference. True, taking the bus would make more of a difference – but given that some people will drive anyway, I’d rather they keep their vehicles in a “green sensitive” condition.

    As for ethanol putting pressure on food crops, I think that’s mostly a red herring. Sure, ethanol is not a silver bullet for all problems petrochemical, but it does offer significant advantages over gasoline with regards to its “greenness.” Keep in mind that corn based ethanol is only one source. Admittedly, it and other “food” based ethanol production does compete with other uses of such food components. On the other hand, other ethanol production techniques don’t have such a (direct) problem (e.g. cellulosic ethanol). One reasonable suggestion might be: “First, shift to an ethanol base infrastructure, then work on the new (lesser but still important) problems that obtain.”

    Net net, I don’t think it’s very useful to rail against any promotion of behavior change that moves our communities towards a healthier relationship with the environment. True, some changes have more impact than others but I prefer inclusive over exclusive choices.

    Rather than “Don’t bother with X because Y is so much more important” I ask you to consider something like “It’s good that you’re doing X and if you focus on Y you will achieve even more – especially when you combine their effects. Even so, X by itself remains a valuable contribution.”

  3. just me: Thank’s for a well-constructed comment!

    You say “It’s not a bad thing that producers tout the benefits of their product (assuming such benefits are authentic and fairly presented)”. I am not sure I agree. Encouraging over-consumption, even if it’s for something useful, is, in my opinion, bad. And how are we ever really sure that advertisers are not lying?

    And also bad is making people believe they are “doing their bit” for the environment in cases where they are doing almost nothing.

    Your points on ethanol are interesting, although I am still not really sure if ethanol is so much better than gasoline or not, from a total-cycle point of view. Although ethanol production will, of course, become more efficient in the future. And the fact that big governments (such as Mr. Bush) are supporting ethanol makes me also very nervous indeed. If they support it, then what is the catch…?

    “I don’t think it’s very useful to rail against any promotion of behaviour change that moves our communities towards a healthier relationship with the environment. True, some changes have more impact than others but I prefer inclusive over exclusive choices.” I agree completely, but I still dislike being lied to, and I still dislike the utter cynicism of advertisers as they try to convince us that they are “green” while carrying on with business as usual.

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