Europe is Covered in Greenwash

Five years after the Paris Agreement, consensus reigns among governments, yet emissions continue to rise nonetheless. Ben Wray, Bella’s European Feature Writer, finds that government greenwash is now our biggest threat, and the European Commission is one of the worst culprits.

With Donald Trump out of the White House, governments are, almost without exception, formally committed to tackling climate breakdown again. The Paris Agreement, signed this day [22 April] five years ago by the majority of the world’s governments, now has the United States back among its ranks. US President Joe Biden’s virtual summit today is an attempt to place the US back at the head of global efforts to reduce emissions, with a climate accord with Beijing signed last week one of the few areas in which the US and China can find agreement. When it comes to climate change, consensus reigns.

And that is exactly where the problem now lies. The greatest danger before us in ensuring a hospitable planet is no longer those who deny the problem of man-made climate breakdown or play down its importance. The risk comes from those in power who fraudulently claim to be tackling the problem.

Beware the ones who declare a ‘climate emergency’ in the morning and take a meeting with fossil fuel lobbyists in the afternoon. Who loudly proclaim their ‘world-leading’ targets for emissions reduction in ten years time while signing off on infrastructure projects that will lock in emissions for the next two decades. Who tell us that the recovery from the pandemic will be green while throwing public money at flight companies so that they can survive the pandemic crisis. The greenwashers are our biggest threat now.

Greenwashing Brussels

There was a remarkable example of this yesterday, one which reveals just how all-pervasive greenwashing has become in government. The European Commission published its ‘Delegated Act’, which is supposed to create an ‘EU taxonomy’ which would be the anti-greenwashing standard bearer for Europe, defining what is and isn’t ‘sustainable investment’. Except the anti-greenwashing watchdog has been greenwashed.

Tree logging (‘forestry’) and the burning of trees and crops for energy (‘bioenergy’) have been defined as having “no significant harm” to biodiversity and making a “significant contribution to climate mitigation”. A leaked version had also approved the inclusion of some fossil fuels as a green investment, which led to uproar from scientists. Brussels has now delayed a decision on this part of the Taxonomy until later in the year.

“The EU taxonomy was conceived as a science-based gold standard to avoid greenwashing,” 266 scientists wrote in an open letter to the European Commission. “With such a proposal the taxonomy itself would become a greenwashing tool.”

The ‘NextGenEU’ recovery funds for member-states is another example of what, on the face of it, looks like a sea-change in terms of climate action: 37 per cent of funds have to be spent on ‘climate protection’. But scratch beneath the surface and all is not as it seems.

As FT commentator Wolfgang Münchau has pointed out, “the European Commission classifies investment in terms of 0%, 40% and 100% green content, and rounds up the numbers to the next higher target. So 1% becomes 40%. 41% becomes a 100%.” In theory, then, if a member-state handed over all their recovery funds to the fossil fuel industry, as long as they spent 1% of that money on windfarms, they would have met the Commission’s criteria for climate protection. No wonder environmental groups are warning about the potential for “fake green projects”.

“I also don’t believe this charade will work politically,” Münchau adds. “When the mendacity of the EU’s climate policy becomes apparent, the centre will not only have lost the victims of the economic crisis, but an entire generation of young voters. This is the thing with smoke and mirrors: when the smoke lifts, you see clearly.”

A lobbyists ‘Green Deal’

To understand how this can happen, just take a look at the sort of people the EU Commission’s senior climate & energy representatives held meetings with in the 100 days after the EU’s ‘Green Deal’ was launched. 151 meetings were held with big businesses, while 29 were held with public interest organisations, the European Corporate Observatory (ECO) finds. On average, the Commission’s top Green Deal people were having two meetings with fossil fuel lobbyists a week in that time. And that is just the meetings of top officials which have to be officially recorded: about 300 people out of a total staff of almost 30,000.

The revolving doors between the Brussels corporate lobby and EU staff matters too.

“Aleksandra Tomczak…whose responsibilities include the internal energy market and the Just Transition Fund, worked for almost five years until 2015 for the World Coal Association, the lobby group for the coal industry,” the ECO’s ‘A Grey Deal?’ report states. “Although the time elapsed between both positions is long enough that it is not covered by EU ethics rules, she’s the official most targeted by the fossil fuel industry for Green Deal meetings.”

Even when the ‘Green Deal’ is funding genuinely green projects, it is using a mechanism which looks suspiciously like a huge corporate subsidy scheme. The Green Deal report by McKinsey, a hugely influential consultancy firm, finds that out of the €28 trillion in investment which it believes is needed to decarbonise the EU over the next 30 years, at least half “would not have positive investment cases.”

“Without targeted intervention, businesses and consumers would likely make decisions different from those laid out in our cost-optimal pathway,” McKinsey add.

In other words, tackling climate breakdown doesn’t fit into capitalist business models. There are two ways to address that: 1) take capital out of the equation and instead rely on public investment for publicly-run decarbonisation projects, or 2) throw huge public subsidies at the private sector to make green investments profitable. It’s the latter option which is prevailing, you can tell because the fossil fuel industry appear very happy with the EU’s Green Deal.


“The EU…will use public money to guarantee private investments, “de-risking” them in an effort to seduce capital to participate in the decarbonisation process,” David Adler and Pawel Wargan of Diem25’s ‘Green New Deal for Europe’ campaign write. “In other words, the Green Deal is a privatisation scheme: it seeks to enclose the opportunities afforded by the green transition — to rebuild Europe’s infrastructure, to create new sources of renewable energy, to develop technologies that can drive decarbonisation — in service of private capital accumulation, rather than exploiting them to expand public ownership and democratic control.”

The false dawn of the pandemic

Once one looks past the nonsense verbiage of the greenwashers, the raw facts are that we are running out of time and still moving in the wrong direction. Earlier this month the world reached a new landmark of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, at 421 parts per million.

“It’s halfway now between the pre-industrial level of CO2 in the atmosphere [280 parts per million] and a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere,” said Professor Andy Pitman, the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes. “So that’s quite profound. It took 80 years to do half of that work and 30 years to do the second half of that.”

For a time, the pandemic shut down the global economy, bringing hope that one ecological crisis could help alleviate an even greater one. Alas, that was another false dawn. Although emissions did fall at the peak of the crisis, the first two months of 2021 saw global emissions greater than January and February 2020, before the world entered lockdown.

Europe is no exception, with emissions up 2.9 per cent on the previous year in the EU + UK. Despite emissions from aviation falling by over 60% and ground transport by 3.8%, increases in emissions from housing (14.4%), power (11.2%) and industry (0.1%) more than made up the difference.

The International Energy Agency say 2021 will see the second biggest rise in emissions in history. 2022 could see even higher emissions as air travel returns. As soon as the juggernaut of globalisation could rev up its engine again, it has done so, with the full blessing of governments around the world desperate for the return of GDP growth by whatever means necessary. That’s the brutal truth about the real priorities of the powerful.

COP26 without Greta

A new legally binding EU Climate Law was agreed on Wednesday [21 April] which will see an “at least 55%” greenhouse gas emissions reduction above 1990-levels by 2030 (up from  a previous target of 40%), bringing the EU in line with its Paris Agreement commitments just in time for Biden’s summit. That summit will be laying the ground for COP26 in Glasgow, where world leaders will once again meet to pat themselves on the back for their increasingly ambitious targets for a date in the distant future. And all the while the world burns.

Greta Thunberg has said she will snub COP26, arguing it should be delayed until the whole world had vaccines to ensure there was equal opportunity for participation. She also questioned the true value of these summits until there is genuine evidence of urgency on the part of world leaders.

“To be frank, the changes need to come from people demanding climate action,” she said.

“We can have as many of these meetings and conferences as we want but as long as we are not really treating the climate crisis as a crisis, we won’t see any real changes coming from them,” Thunberg added.

Amen to that.


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  1. SleepingDog says:

    It may one day be possible to construct a far less ambiguous human language, accessible by machines, like Iain M Banks’ Marain, that can be used by scientists, bureaucrats and the sentient being on the Clapham hoverbus.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      There’s a long tradition in psychology called ‘eliminative materialism’, which argues that natural languages and the ‘folk’ psychologies implicit in them are inadequate to the task of measuring our so-called ‘mental states’ and need to be replaced the more adequate artificial language of neuroscience. As a student of philosophy and psychology in the 1970s, Ian Banks would have been familiar with this tradition, which was much discussed at the time. The goal of this tradition is to ‘eliminate’ from our discourse all misleading qualitative talk of ‘minds’, ‘beliefs’, ‘desires’, etc. and replace it with the more precise quantitative talk of neuroscience. A classic text is Patricia and Paul Churchland’s Matter and Consciousness (MIT, 1984).

      1. John S Warren says:

        The Churchlands had a problem with ‘consciousness’; but I do not think they really understood the nature of the ‘Unconscious’ (Not Freud’s idea, who I doubt never recovered his credibility from burying ‘The Aeteology of Hysteria’; Freud borrowed the idea from a badly conceived interpretation of Hartmann’s overwrought interpretation of Schopenhauer). I have been inclined to think the Churchlands were reheating, in slightly more plausible and sophisticated form, old fashioned Behaviourism (because what they want is what is measurable and quantifiable; if that is too difficult, it doesn’t exist).

        1. Pub Bore says:

          I’m not sure that the Churchlands did have a problem with ‘the unconscious’; that is, with the cognitive processes that occur automatically and aren’t available to introspection. These processes can be more efficiently explained in purely mathematical terms of neurophysiology, without recourse to the more figurative and therefore more problematic language of folk psychology. I think they had more of a problem with those processes, such as pain, which are available to introspection and the phenomenal character of which is much more difficult to explain away in purely neurophysiological terms. The thing about pain is that it’s not just some chemical activity in a nervous system; it’s also sore.

          My ‘bottom-line’ argument against eliminative materialism has always been, however: why would anyone, except a neuroscientist with his or her neuroscientist’s hat on, ever want to eliminate the poetry of folk psychology anyway?

          1. John S Warren says:

            I wrote that the Churchalands had a problem with ‘consciousness’, but also with the ‘unconscious’, for the specific reason that the ‘unconscious’ was only identifiable, and properly describable in its relationship with ‘consiousness’; if there was no consciousness, the ‘unconscious’ would not exist. I do not agree that it is a matter of evidence; or rather in the Churchlands’ case, it is precisely the poverty of evidence – a philosophical failure. If they can’t measure it with the tools available to them (a function of the limiting factors of science at any point in its development), it cannot exist. This relies on a very primitive interpretation of the philosophy of science. Read Feyerabend, or Lakatos.

          2. Pub Bore says:

            Yes, John, that’s true in a ‘trivial’ analytic sense; as in tautologies, the intension of the word ‘unconscious’ is indeed delimited by that of the word ‘conscious’ (and vice versa).

            However, unlike tautologies, the two words are logically unrelated in their respective extensions; they refer, if you like, to different things.

            The whole point of eliminative materialism is to eliminate from our scientific discourse all and any terms that extend to the immeasurable ‘mental’ entities that are presupposed in folk psychology.

            Eliminative materialism is more than just logophobia; it’s the attempted elimination from our scientific discourse of what I referred to elsewhere as ‘the transcendental subject’ or ‘mind’. It’s an anglophone form of what’s more generally called ‘antihumanism’. I mention this only to guide any further research you might wish to carry out on the subject.

            To reiterate the point I made earlier: while this elimination might be possible (at least in principle) in relation to the processes we call in folk psychology ‘the unconscious’, the possibility of doing so (even in principle) in relation to ‘conscious’ processes is much more doubtful.

            (God, this takes me back!)

          3. John S Warren says:

            No, you are quite wrong; I begin to understand why you conceal yourself behind the pseudonym ‘Pub Bore’. I provided genuine sources in the interest of understanding – take them or leave them; and you offer soft-centred, rigour-free guff in return. I did not know there could actually be windy anachronisms like you still knocking about philosophy. Your way of thinking is in perfect harmony with your name. Have a nice day.

          4. John S Warren says:

            Final observation: “The whole point of eliminative materialism is to eliminate from our scientific discourse all and any terms that extend to the immeasurable ‘mental’ entities that are presupposed in folk psychology.”

            This quaintly begs the question. It attempts to reduce the philosophical understanding of the nature of science itself to mimicking the actual methods used by science. What is measurable changes, along with that which is measured. The ‘Gold Standard’ for ‘eliminative materialism’ is physics (notably ‘materialist’, although even that is changing), which is seductive but it confuses scientific objectives with philosophy, which is applied to science. For example, the measurements made by Michelson-Morley to confirm the existence of the ‘imponderable ether’, and failing; is nothing like the understanding of the ‘measurement’ to discover gravitational waves. Not only is what was not measurable now measurable, but what is measured has changed as much as that which is measured, although both arise from a common history of doing physics. The two go together.

          5. John S Warren says:

            That should read “but the process of measuring has changed as much as that which is measured, although both arise from a common history of doing physics”

          6. Pub Bore says:

            Eliminative materialism does indeed belong to the tradition in which philosophy would ape science or, at least, serve as its handmaiden. Which is another reason why I think it sucks.

            And measurability does indeed change historically, both in terms of the criteria against which we measure things and the means by which we measure commensurable things against those criteria.

            But the fact remains that only quantities (‘matter’ – extended or ‘physical’ stuff) can be measured, because only quantities are scaleable; objects of introspection – qualia – are not.

            Think about it! We both hit our thumbs with a hammer; against what possible scale can the quality of my pain and the quality of your pain be compared?

            Our respective qualia are incommensurable; they can never be measured even in principle.

            (Feyerabend, by the way, is one of my philosophical heroes. I used to prescribe his article ‘How to Defend Society Against Science’ to baby scientists who attended my History and Philosophy of Science tutorial groups back in my student days.)

          7. John S Warren says:

            You really have drunk at the well of Churchland. It is only immeasurable “in principle” because it is already defined in the terms you presuppose. What Churchland presupposes is established at a point in time, with given tools, and an array of assumptions. They may not hold; and if that proposition was false, I doubt if there could be ‘science’. Lete me quote, from a very characteristic, but not exceptional observation of Feyerabend (‘The Tyranny of Science’, Polity Press, 2011, p.54): “You may have noticed that I do not proceed in a very systematic fashion. Well, we we are living in a chaotic world and introducing a system into it means introducing an illusion”. Feyerabend was a Philosopher of Science, not a scientist manqué; he understood the problems of ‘system’, the limits of science and its tendency to fall under the spell of its own illusions. I actually have hopes for neuroscience, but it does not yet quite have the tools, and the theory remains open; as it should. Feyerabend always took the long view, and I think he is right to do so in neuroscience.

          8. Pub Bore says:

            Okay. So, addressing the argument I presented above (rather than the shortcomings of my character): how is the quality of the pain I feel measurable, even in principle?

            In sum:

            Eliminative materialism is the argument that qualia, such as the quality of the pain I feel when I hit my thumb with a hammer, aren’t measurable (for reasons I rehearsed earlier) and, since they aren’t measurable, all such talk of them (as occurs in folk psychology) should therefore be eliminated from our scientific discourse, since our scientific discourse should only treat of measurable (that is, material) things. This isn’t an argument I’ve much time for (again, for reasons I’ve rehearsed passim).

          9. John S Warren says:

            I confess I have long wondered what is the point of framing the question in the form of; ‘how do I measure the quality of my pain’? The issue was ‘consciousness’ and the Churchlandian framing of the question seems to me a form of escape; to dismiss a really difficult problem in order to devise a question that is easier for science to answer. Neuroscience is not physics; it has not made the same progress as physics in the last three hundred years, for difficult, understandable reasons, but that does not make the difficulties disappear; the discipline has limited observational tools and has not made the same theoretical advances either. The problem, it seems to me is that of the subject (the discipline), more than the object (the phenomena). It seems to me the matter of ‘consciousness’ is simply unknown, it is perplexing and is open to examination (but not disproved, a mystery yet to be adequately addressed); the Churchlands do not solve the problem, they are waving a magic wand we can all see has no magic properties. All science is provisional and all theory contingent (and I think Feyerabend would concur, although sadly I cannot test that).

            I am reluctant to go further, but if I was to be drawn there have been advances in probing that area between ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ activity that could be fruitfully explored, for example in Kandel’s rigorous scientific work on memory (in which he distinguish two forms; declarative, and non-declarative memory), and simply request the Churchlands to parse that distinction in terms of their tests; but that is an ‘off-the-cuff’ observation. I rally think more open-mindedness is required here: be more Feyerabendian!

          10. John S Warren says:

            I took some time to dig out Hardcastle’s ‘When a Pain Is Not’ (Journal of Philosophy, (8), 1997) because I recall, she emphasised the complexity of our sensory system, and of the pain sensory and pain inhibitory systems. In particular Hardastle underscores the weakness of philosophy in handling the complexity; indeed extending Hardcastles’s critique, there is now more general criticism that ‘pain’ is a suitable standard entry point (as it has long been) for the study of consciousness. Hardcastle did not go so far in 1997, but still observes, “we should not be using the experience of pain as an intuitive and unproblematic example of consciousness”. (p.384)

          11. Pub Bore says:

            It is precisely because they can’t see the point in framing the question in the form of “How do I measure the qualia that comprise my consciousness (such as the quality of my pain)?” that eliminative materialists prescribes that it’s framed instead as “How do we measure the neural activity that a subject reports as ‘pain’.” They don’t see the point in framing the question in mentalistic terms because what that question asks can’t be done; therefore, they prescribe that we eliminate all such mentalistic talk from our scientific discourse.

            Anyway… you’ve dodged my question. How is the quality of the pain I feel measurable, even in principle?

            You’ve also failed to engage with the basic argument of eliminative materialism, which is:

            Folk psychology should be eliminated from our scientific discourse, because:

            a) Our scientific discourse should treat only of measurable (i.e. material) phenomena.

            and because:

            b) The qualia of folk psychology aren’t measurable phenomena.

            And qualia aren’t measurable (i.e. are incommensurable), because:

            c) Each quale is sui generis (i.e. unique unto itself).

            and because:

            d) Sui generis entities are incommensurable (e.g. the quality of your pain is incommensurable with the quality of my pain).

            What’s wrong with this argument? What’s your beef with the sort of eliminative materialism that might provide a model rationale for Sleeping Dog’s ‘far less ambiguous human language, accessible by machines… that can be used by scientists, bureaucrats and the sentient being on the Clapham hoverbus’?

            My beef with it is encapsulated in the rhetorical question: Why on earth would the sentient being on the Clapham hoverbus want to replace his or her natural language, in all it fecund ambiguity, with a wholly unambiguous articifial one?

          12. John S Warren says:

            Pain is a bad entry point to the study of consciousness. That is not even a radical philosophical position any more; you do not require to have the boldness of a Feyerabend to see it. Everything you have written is the regurgitation of a now doubtful, moribund conventional wisdom. Whatever issues I raise, you just plough on repeating the same dense clouds of unilluminating waffle, which is dressed in this faux-informative private language that adds nothing to knowledge. One of the problems here is again found in Feyerabend; how often does he examine the issues of neuroscience to inform his philosophy of science? I have not looked hard, but I certainly cannot recall any. You merely remind me how much philosophy toils in backwaters since his passing. I am not going to go back-and-forward on this matter endlessly; you began this with a series of over-confident assertions (try reading them again). I responded by asking specific questions, which you have simply failed to answer; but like Boris Johnson at PMQs your “answers” just ignore the question, repeat the wrote learning (like lecture notes), and in an act of simple deflection ask the questioner a different question.

            Philosophy is not philology. Science doesn’t need philosophy to police its discourse; it has its own tools and languages: mathematics, experiment, engineering. Great scientists use language in informative and imaginative ways to illuminate their own problem solving with their mathematical and measuring tools. There are extraordinary, profound, illuminating descriptions by great scientists such as Feynman: of what he is doing, and expressed in beautifully pellucid, simple language. The whole project you describe above is redundant: a dreadful misuse of philosophy, a pointless game played by narcissitic, professional philosophers, that will never be seen in science because it has no point (a prescription rather than an illumination); a puffed-up fantasy created by philosophers who have forgotten all about science. I leave you to your game playing.

          13. SleepingDog says:

            @Pub Bore your representation of my position is incorrect. I wrote of a language that could be used by various groups, not a language that would replace and eliminate use of any other language. Indeed, my familiarity with various computing languages does not seem to have driven out my use of English. So you have created some sort of straw man (again), and built a wicker man of unreason upon your opposition to it.

          14. Pub Bore says:

            Well, if you’re not going to engage with the argument I’ve laid out, John, there is indeed little point in continuing.

            Science does not indeed need philosophy any more than a horse needs a cleg. As Feyerabend says, it stumbles quite merrily on its way, without rhyme of reason, one more or less epistemologically anarchic language game among the myriad others that comprise the rich and ever-mutating polyphony of human culture.

            Long may that situation continue, John! Long may we, as epistemological anarchists like Feyerabend, continue to defend society against science!

          15. Pub Bore says:

            Then for that I apologise, SD. The construction of a more perfect universal artificial language, in which all humans and at least some machines could communicate with minimal misunderstanding, would of course eliminate neither the need for less perfect natural languages nor the identities that depend on them.

  2. David B says:

    I voted Remain but things like this really do make me wonder about the Green Party position of rejoining the EU following independence.

    The only thing I’d query in the article is the pejorative and inaccurate description of forestry as ‘tree logging’. Forestry a complete discipline covering the creation, maintenance and use of woods and forests for multiple purposes. It provides quality skilled manual jobs in rural areas, has benefits for biodiversity and hydrology, and done well it can provide sustainable fuel and materials.

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