The main way to turn "green" into profits is getting government subsidy 

If governments won't lead us toward slowing climate change, maybe business will.

Environmental journalists seem to love this topic. I can imagine a few reasons for this: (a) it's contrarian in some ways, which is always a draw for journalists; (b) it allows greenies to maintain that they are not totally anti-business.

But such stories often end up vague and foggy, because they never get around to explaining just how businesses can, in fact, profit, from addressing climate change.

This column, by the New York Times' "Green, Inc." columnist Tom Zeller, embraces that foggy vagueness -- in part by putting the question mark at the end of the headline. 

Here's Zeller's thesis statement:

while the globe’s biggest industrial emitters, led by the fossil fuel industries, may have successfully helped to stymie the development of a binding treaty at Copenhagen — and, as my colleague John Broder reported late last week, to defang cap-and-trade legislation now pending in the American Congress — there is more pressure than ever on big business to come up with solutions.

Just what those "pressures" are is never made explicit in the column, typical of this sub-genre. Later in the article, there is the suggestion that "a strategy of ‘doing good’ will not only be its own reward, it will also enhance shareholder value."

Zeller's conclusion: "while businesses had an important role to play in curbing emissions, governments still needed to provide a policy framework to make it happen."

It's an interesting read, but it fails to fully edify, because the two spinning gears in the article -- government and business -- never quite engage. The column dips its toes into lobbying a few times, twice to talk about the Chamber of Commerce and the fossil fuel lobby, and once to make this odd claim:

businesses also spend much time and treasure attempting to influence the rules of the game — and ensuring that any changes to the rules, however broad or obvious their potential social benefits, do not affect their bottom lines.

This is The Big Myth: the lie that Big Business just wants to be left alone. Believing in the Big Myth requires ignoring heaps and heaps of factual evidence. Such as:


  • General Electric's relentless lobbying for cap-and-trade policies that force people to buy the carbon offsets that GE is producing through a joint venture called Greenhouse Gas Services.
  • Nike's lobbying for cap-and-trade that will knee-cap their competitor New Balance, which actually makes some of its shoes in the U.S.
  • Goldman Sachs owns a share of the Chicago Climate Exchange, which would become a real grownup business if cap-and-trade passes.
  • Alcoa lobbies for cap-and-trade in the U.S., which drives business to its lighter, but more expensive aluminum car frames. 


None of these businesses are lobbying to make sure policies "do not affect their bottom lines." They are lobbying to ensure policies DO fatten their bottom lines while imposing costs on consumers, competitors, and taxpayers.

This is why so many of these industry-climate stories end up un-anchored. The anchor is regulatory robbery.

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Timothy P. Carney

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