Diamond’s NYT op-ed

Among several interesting pieces in today’s NYT was this op-ed by Jared Diamond. Other than a cursory familiarity with Collapse, I’m not much of a Diamond-ologist, so I’d be interested in what others think of his essay.

The piece gets the usual unhelpful and misleading headline: “Will Big Business Save the Earth?”, a poor question on its own and one that Diamond is not really addressing in the essay. Instead, the piece is really about big business in the first half, and saving the earth in the second half. The first part is largely corporate PR that apparently comes from his experience rubbing elbows with business execs on the boards of WWF and Conservation International. Specifically, he trots out

a few examples involving three corporations — Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Chevron — that many critics of business love to hate, in my opinion, unjustly.

I’ll let others run these through the fact-checker.

In the middle of the piece, Diamond turns 90 degrees and dismantles many of the stock objections to pursuing more environmentally sound business practices: the econ v. environment trope, faith in technology, and several arguments specific to climate change. There is not much new here, but Diamond does a reasonably effective job of addressing the objections and showing that Business-as-Usual is ultimately not good for business.

I reckon the easiest way to read the article is that its audience is business leaders; defending the three “baddies” draws in this audience and gets them on side so they are more receptive to his latter arguments. Beyond this audience, though, I wonder how it plays, and what the implications are for environmental communication. His defense of the three companies is sure to raise the hackles of greens and charges of co-optation by other corporate critics. For example, while he says that his views are “more nuanced” than they used to be, his praise is full-throated and hyperbolic at times–he states that some businesses “are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability,” and “Not even in any national park have I seen such rigorous environmental protection as I encountered in five visits to new Chevron-managed oil fields in Papua New Guinea.”

In other words, one might argue that the piece is half greenwashing, half sustainability pamphlet. I’m not sure if that makes it incoherent, or a smart adaptation to its primary audience, or yet another text that reveals the contradictory character of environmental communication in the 21st century, or … ?

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One Response to Diamond’s NYT op-ed

  1. Stephen Rust says:

    Somehow this isn’t surprising. Chevron, Exxon, and Monsanto are currently among the largest sponsors of Public Television. So I’d agree that what makes Diamond’s piece a ‘smart’ adaptation to its primary audience is precisely because it is both half greenwashing, half sustainability pamphlet.

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