Thanks to the good ole San Francisco Chronicle for once again calling my attention to an oil company just begging to win our Greenwash of the Week award. Alright, Chevron, your new online video game Energyville is our big winner.
Your choices include solar, wind, petroleum, coal, and nuclear power among others and your choices are evaluated on their impact on the economy, the environment, and security. Sounds good right? Most greenwash campaigns do . . . at first.
The biggest catch here is that you must include petroleum in your plan. In fact, it is the only fuel source we can’t do without according to Chevron. Well, I guess that shouldn’t come as too much a surprise considering the source. Plus, at some level the basic idea that we can’t simply stop using petroleum tomorrow is correct. But this game doesn’t stop there.
Besides discounting the possibility of using solar power to get more than 25% of our energy needs due to cost, assuming that geographic and “other constraints” make wind power an unrealistic primary choice, and failing to even begin to include peak oil in the analysis, the game insists that we will need to rely on petroleum as a fuel source through at least 2030 and that we will have abundant supply to do so. Both ideas are highly suspect.
The whole game is framed to look like it is simply being practical and using basic economics to figure out the impacts that different energy sources could have on our society. But whenever you try to use more alternative power the game comes up with some vague excuse why it won’t work simply stating that the option is “cost prohibitive” or “inefficient.”
Um, ok. Sorry I asked.
The most upsetting aspect of the game, however, isn’t about the promotion of any particular energy source. It’s the fact that Chevron assumes energy use will just keep on growing forever. I guess they have to say that. If they say energy use could conceivably go down, their shareholders might freak out. Even if you choose “aggressive” energy conservation measures (note the framing) the game still assumes major increases in energy consumption in perpetuity.
In fact, this theme runs throughout Chevron’s “will you join us” greenwashing ad campaign.The real message of the ads is that consumption can’t be stopped:
Personally, I think we need to take the notion of reducing our energy consumption seriously. A 50% increase in the number of cars by 2030 is not inevitable. In fact, the very idea that our consumption will just keep on growing forever is at the heart of so many of the challenges we face right now. Behind global warming, behind mass extinction, behind a water crisis, is the fact that our culture organizes itself around consumption and we measure so much of both our collective wellbeing and our individual wellbeing by looking at how much we are able to consume.
So I offer Chevron our Greenwash of the Week award not just for glossing over serious alternatives to oil, not only for coupling destructive business practices with an ambivalent message about the environment, but for doing all that while consistently pushing the message that no matter what happens energy consumption will just keep growing forever.