Twenty years after the first Earth Day in 1970, the corporate polluters have learned something called environmental public relations. For Earth Day 1990, these companies have applied hefty doses of advertising deodorants to their little changing operating realities.
Coming off nearly ten years of Reagan-Bush deregulatory government of the Exxons, by the General Motors for the DuPonts, when environmental contamination scarcely felt the hand of law and order, corporation after corporation now wants us to think they are green.
On the Mail in Washington, D.C., huge tents cover a multiple exhibition of pollution control equipment and pristine pretensions called EarthTec. There, companies like Westinghouse, Bechtel and DuPont parade their greenness. Westinghouse of the atomic energy plants, Bechtel which helps constructs them and fuming petrochemical factories, and DuPont of the ozone-depleting CFCs. Sprinkled between these giants are small firms genuinely striving to show the practicality of solary energy, wind power and composting.
“Innocence by association” was the way Peter Bahouth of GreenPeace described the presence of these large companies at EarthTec. “They and others like them are greenwashing,” he said, while lobbying Congress to weaken the air pollution legislation and opposing even the tepid efforts to issue health regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Then, of course, there was ole General Motors trotting out another one of its electric cars and posing another one of its distant expectation that it may produc them in mass numbers within a decade. In the late Seventies, GM came forth withprototype electric: vehicles, a little different, and indicated that the assembly line time for these non-polluting vehicles would be the mid-Eighties.
Back in 1939 during the great World’s Fair in New York, GM assured wondrous spectators at its elaborate pavillion that electric cars were the wave of the future. Now GM is vigorously opposing proposed fuel efficiency standards of 40 mpg for its cars by the year 2001 AD — a level that could have been met in the mid-Fifties of the Twentieth Century.
And the world’s largest motor vehicle manufacturer still tells Washington that a 2 1/2 mph collision protection bumper is good enough for cars, when the cars of the Nineteen Thirties had bumpers protecting their fenders and grilles at 5 mph crash levels.
So, Earth Day, indeed Earth Week, 1990, requires a healthy doese of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Unlike the first Earth Day in 1970, the emphasis is much broader than the earlier concern largely with air and water pollution and pesticide poisoning. This time, there is the cumulating data on global warming, the ozone depletion over Antarctica and acid rain. Tropical rain forests are shrinking, grasslands are giving way to advancing! with all their awesome power efforts by legislatures and government agencies to deserts and the oceans have become the gigantic sewers of 3 humanity that numbers a fast growing 5.3 billion people.
There is also a much greater and more detailed focus on changing consumer habits. Newspapers, magazines and hooks are full of lists about how to conserve water in your homes, use fabric shopping bags instead of plastic or paper bags, rediscover the cleansing uses for vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice in your household. And above a recycle, recycle, recycle. All this is to the good. Good ecology in both practice and public policy can find solid roots in changing consumption patterns. There are few sources of awareness, apart from being victims of pollution, that surpass the ability to move to citizen action from a base of becoming an ever more efficient consumer.
Yet there is a disquieting absence unlike the original Earth Day, of placing the spotlight On the corporate polluters, brand name by brand name. On the television talk shows, leaders of various environmental groups argue the need for pollution prevention and a sustainable society quite well. They urge fundamental changes in the kinds of technology that bring forth more solar energy more organic farming, more conservation.
But most do not choose to place the belongs — on the shoulders of the giant companies who selected the technology abused the precious water and soil that sustains life on Earth and blocked curtail their contaminating predations over the gears.
All environmentalists need to remember the distinctions between perpetrators and victims and assign the proper accountabilities to the former while they motivate the latter to organize.