Monday, April 14, 2008

Is all the talk about green really about the green?

Two stories caught my attention this past week. The first was a cover story by TIME® Magazine about ethanol, which describes this alternative fuel as a scam. A great deal of money is being spent to promote ethanol, which is made from corn and sugarcane. It is supposed to make the U.S. less reliant on foreign oil. At least one domestic automobile company makes a majority of its cars and trucks to run on both conventional and ethanol fuels.

The other story involves former Vice President Al Gore’s $300 million campaign to mobilize the nation for a huge reduction in greenhouse emissions. An article in the Washington Post® newspaper called “Gore Launches Ambitious Advocacy Campaign on Climate” says that Gore’s campaign is, “One of the most ambitious and costly public advocacy campaigns in U.S. history.” I’ve seen the spots; they’re very well done.

I’m all for anything to make our planet cleaner, we waste too much, pollute too much and I know that we can do better. Our own efforts in providing Video Professor® tutorials online, uploaded directly to your computer instead of using CD-ROM’s with all the packaging, could certainly be characterized as a green initiative. Truth be known, it’s simply a quicker and more efficient way for you to learn from our ever-growing list of computer tutorial lessons. Streaming directly to your computer does save a lot of trees. But, we think it’s both fair and honest to simply promote ease of use to you as a customer.

Another point about ethanol; producing it from corn actually takes more energy than it generates. It’s also impacting the price you pay for corn-based products at the grocery store. TIME claims that one person could be fed for 365 days on the amount of corn needed to fill up one SUV with ethanol, check out what passes for corn at some supermarkets. The puny little ears of corn are given to us, while the good stuff goes to ethanol plants.

TIME reports sugarcane-based ethanol does actually deliver as far as energy efficiency, but at the expense of potentially wiping out jungle areas like the Amazon rain forest. There’s a remarkable picture in the article to back it up, showing areas of the Amazon looking more like the plains of Nebraska.

Some supporters of Gore’s campaign are among those who rail against nuclear power and oil. Yet France, for example, produces 80 percent of its power with nuclear plants. Norway allows oil drilling along 80 percent of its coastline, which is as an example of all that is good about government and society.

In contrast, here in the U.S., regulatory rules make it all but impossible to build new refineries, or tap into the proven and immense oil reserves off the coast of California and Alaska. As for nuclear power, forget about it.

It seems, at least to me, that the biggest obstacles towards a genuine and productive debate about keeping this planet pristine are politics and the almighty dollar. You know, the greenback. Pun intended.

However, we cannot forget that not only are China and India emerging industrial powers, they are polluting far more than the U.S. More than one Olympic athlete is concerned about competing this summer in Beijing because of the incredibly polluted air. Bicycles are being replaced by extremely inefficient cars that cause pollution in both nations, as workers can now afford to buy them. These countries have far less stringent emissions policies than we do. One of the reasons gasoline is becoming so expensive is the demand from China and India.

To their credit, American consumers are turning more and more to hybrid cars. Ironically it was General Motors that had the technology decades ago, but they weren’t prepared to take the initial loss of actually producing a hybrid electric car. Gas was cheap and plentiful, and oh how we loved those big Buicks and Caddies. However, the situation has changed and this time it is Toyota who is ready to play the hybrid game. Game, set, match.

If we’re going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk. An hour on the evening of Saturday, March 29 was reserved for a so-called Earth Hour; a time to turn off the lights and everything electric. “NBC® News” promoted it heavily. “NBC” regularly reports on global warming, unless there’s a snowstorm. “NBC” is owned by GE and guess what? The lights on the GE building were ablaze against the New York City skyline during the whole hour, just like the hour before and the hour after.

I have nothing against people making a profit on green technology. Wind and solar power are two examples that come to mind. Two companies that produce wind-generated power are located here in Colorado. We welcome them. I hope they make a dandy profit for their efforts. My problem is with people who try and make a buck by marketing something as green when really it isn’t. Like ethanol.

So when the next big green thing comes along, read between the lines. I fear that the heavy marketing of going green may actually dilute the importance of the bigger message. Green could end up like the Atkins® diet. Hot for a while, then it simply disappears. Planet Earth and the maintenance thereof shouldn’t be a fad.

In the meantime, recycle. It’s a start and you know for sure you’re making a difference.

John W. Scherer, CEO & founder, Video Professor, Inc.
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