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European Union milking the green vote?

Pour milk over cereal and it will find the path of least resistance to the bottom of the bowl. Give politicians a chance to make the public responsible for their toothless efforts to curb big business and their failure to be mindful of their civic and environmental responsibilities and they will find the path of least resistance, too…

In a recent but not unusual departure from reality, civil servants are attempting to get people in Britain to drink UHT milk to save the environment:

“It’s enough to put the nation off breakfast. Civil servants have suggested that Britons put long-life milk in tea and pour it on their cornflakes to save the planet from global warming. Officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have made a serious proposal that consumers switch to UHT (Ultra-High Temperature or Ultra-Heat Treated) milk to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

OK, how’s about this for an alternative idea: why don’t those same civil servants get the top executives of each major company in Britain to not drive around in hugely inefficient cars and off-roaders, or fly around in private helicopters and jets? Let’s face it, that alone would offset our carbon footprint by a tidy amount.

Of course, that would never happen. That would mean actually being impolite to the very businesses that fund the Labour and Conservative parties — the principle political parties over here in Britain.

Instead, it’s much simpler to heap the burden onto the tax payer, ‘coz they’re not landed gentry, and don’t have peerages, nor do they have the ear of a major politician to whisper into, should they be irked enough to do so.

Yes, I appreciate that every little bit of effort helps, but why does it feel that we the consumer are the ones being burdened with all of the responsibilities of going green?

“You go into the supermarket and you buy a microwave meal along with your regular shopping. You get home, you unwrap the meal, discard the wrapping. You cook the meal and eat it. Chances are, you also discard the shopping bag the meal came in, as well as the receipt, plus the cartons for your milk, for the eggs. You get the idea, right? My issue is, we don’t get a choice. As consumers, we .. well, consume stuff. We buy stuff that comes in packaging that we can’t ordinarily refuse to accept, and in most cases would be foolish to do so. Yet once we unwrap all of the stuff we’ve bought, we’ve got a huge heap of stuff to get rid of.”

And that’s the thing that gets me; by making the manufacturers make more of an effort, we wouldn’t have all of this waste when we get back from the supermarket. But that’s just one small example.

Another example would be the near allergic reaction by certain freight logistics companies to using rail transport for shifting goods up & down the country. And another would be knowingly pouring effluence into rivers because the fines levied by the government are cheaper than actually paying for the pollutants to be disposed of properly.

What the government has in mind is like arresting all of the drug users to try and kill off the narcotics industry.

Big businesses make little difference?

“Multinationals have gained such wealth and power because governments have systematically removed barriers to trade, while failing to balance these new market opportunities with global rules to prevent exploitation of the environment and local communities. This potent cocktail of greater power and weaker regulation is contributing to growing levels of environmental damage.”

That’s according to an Open Democracy report discussing the growing powers of big business and their influence on governments. And in a Guardian Unlimited article discussing how big businesses in Britain are failing to meet with climate change issues, the situation becomes much more bleak:

“The UK’s top companies are failing to face up to climate change, with less than half of the FTSE 350 companies introducing schemes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report released today.”

However, it would appear that the importance of climate change and environmental issues aren’t lost on big businesses entirely:

“The [Carbon Disclosure Project] report showed that some 80% of the public-owned companies that responded to the survey saw climate change as presenting both commercial risks and commercial opportunities. Despite the low number of corporate emissions reduction schemes, the response rate to the CDP survey among the UK’s 100 largest companies was 92% – the highest response rate of any CDP sample in the world.”

I find myself wanting to paraphrase the Riddle of Epicurus:

Are big businesses willing to prevent environmental damage, but not able? Then they are negligent.
Are they able, but not willing? Then they are malevolent.
Are they both able and willing? Then why cause environmental damage in the first place?
Are they neither able nor willing? Then their entire board of directors should to massively fined, the company wound up, sold off and the proceeds distributed among the shareholders.

A global problem shared is a problem halved

It’s the businesses with the power and influence who should be leading the way. And there’s real money in being environmentally aware and friendly, too:

“Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have claimed that UK businesses could save £78m in electricity bills and slash CO2 emissions by 485,000 tonnes a year by switching from PCs to thin clients.”

If these guys were to just spend a fraction of their marketing & advertising budgets on raising environmental awareness, they could make a real impact, not just for themselves, but for everyone.

I know it’s not their job to do this, but if some of these businesses are going to draw our kids into eating fast food and high sugar drinks and confectionaries, I think it’s about time they reset their collective moral compasses and do something for the greater good instead of being in pursuit of the green .. no, the other green…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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