A Few Things Ill Considered

Coolest billboard ever? Not so much…

Coolest Billboard Ever?” asks a HuffPost article posted a couple of days ago.
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The billboard certainly seems “greenie“. I mean come on, it is not just made out of renewable resources, it is one! It’s alive. It breathes. It photosythesizes. Photosynthesis is the essence of “Green”.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that this typically elaborate and ultimately meaningless gesture really epitomizes what is wrong with corporate politic’s view of and use of the green movement. It is not the essence of green it is the essence of greenwashing.

Coca cola is no friend of the environment. Global corporate policies can not be forgiven because of one, or a hundred, concept billboards. But the real kicker is that even the claimed benefit, 46,800 pounds of CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere, is just a shell game.

Yes, each of these Fukien tea plants sucks the CO2 it needs to grow from the atmosphere, but where will that carbon go when the plant dies? That’s right, via rot and decay, it will go right back where it came from. The benefit of this “pollution absorbtion” is only as long lived as the billboard itself. Given the 1000 yr scale of CO2′s atmospheric timeframe, it is hard for me to get too excited about this.

This concept suffers from the same misunderstanding of the carbon cycle that plagues the whole “breathing causes global warming too (nyah nyah!)” meme used to ridicule those of us concern with fossil fuel emissions. Breathing and growing, be you plant or animal, is carbon neutral. You and a Fukien tea plant are but a momentary pause in a carbon atom’s circulation through the global cycle. The carbon you exhale into the atmosphere was very recently drawn out of this same atmosphere, just like the tea plant’s carbon. Now, planting a forest, that is potentially effective, because a forest, unlike an individual tree (well, most individual trees!) has a potential life span of thousands, and 10s of 1000s, of years if not more.

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The problem with fossil fuels is the fossil part. Strictly speaking, this carbon too is still moving very slowly through a natural, though ommitted, part of the above cycle. Left on its own, it might eventually move to the surface and be eaten by bacteria or carried down into the magma to eventually return directly to the atmosphere through the mouth of a volcano. Those are not the only possible routes. It is, one way or another, eventually brought back into the fast part of the cycle. What we do by digging it up and burning it is short circuit these processes and release millions of year’s worth of the stuff in a handful of a years.

Sorry, but this billboard is just green opiate for the masses, given so we will feel better about it, but at all costs keep drinking the coke-flavoured kool-aid.

Comments

  1. #1 Amoeba
    July 1, 2011

    Nice debunking of Coca Cola. Not quite as bad as Koch-a-Kola.

  2. #2 Colin
    July 1, 2011

    I can see that advertising meeting:

    “OMG! We make the billboard…OUT of plants!”

  3. #3 guerra
    July 1, 2011

    Soylent Green IS MADE OUT OF PEOPLE… AH screw it. It tastes sooo good! :P BRING ME MORE :P

  4. #4 stripey_cat
    July 2, 2011

    Not to mention the production and maintenance costs of a green wall like that: growing plants in intensive nurseries (possibly under heated glass), watering the wall, feeding with fast-release fertilisers, replacing plants as they get shabby or overgrown. A paper poster is a lot cheaper to make and to run.

  5. #5 Guerra
    July 2, 2011

    The term “Green” is just a way to take your money.

  6. #6 jimB
    July 8, 2011

    But…there is no correlation between CO2 levels and temperature (global warming). CO2 is up and increasing, but global temperature is…stable to cooling. So what is the big deal about using fossil fuels?

  7. #7 coby
    July 8, 2011

    2010 was the hottest year in one of the major datasets:
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.A2.gif
    and the second hottest another:
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcrut3/diagnostics/global/nh+sh/
    and the 2001-2010 decade was the warmest decade on record in every global temperature dataset. It is hard to characterise this as cooling. As for stabilising, there is far too much natural variability in inter annual temperature fluctuations to get any statistically significant trend out of too small a dataset, which is what you have when you cherry pick 1998 as your starting point.

    There is no expectation in theory or prediction from modeling that calls for a good correlation between CO2 levels and global average temperature on anything but multi-decadal timescales. On this scale the correlation is indeed unequivocal. CO2 is a “slow but steady” climate driver, like an incoming tide. If you only watch the individual waves coming and going, you will get your feet wet.

    I suggest a starting place for you is here:
    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2008/10/what_is_the_evidence_that_co2.php

  8. #8 adelady
    July 9, 2011

    jimB You might have noticed China’s economy going gangbusters during this period. We’ve also noticed the aerosols produced by their coal-fired power plants (and the filthy brown smog over their cities).

    And it seems the climate has noticed too. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/06/27/1102467108

    It won’t take long for the smog to clear, but the CO2 that was produced at the same time will be with us for the next few centuries. So the aerosol cooling effect will decline while the CO2 continues to warm.

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