its a green green green green world

There was a time when the term green applied first to the colour of leaves and grass, and then to the American greenback dollar, and thence to money…

There was a time when the term green applied first to the colour of leaves and grass, and then to the American greenback dollar, and thence to money in general.

Today green has come to stand for everything that is good, healthy, and responsible on Planet Earth. Green is the buzzword of the 21st Century, but scratch the surface, and it still means money.

The grocery shelves are now stocked with green products, usually at a hefty mark-up. Green toilet paper costs more than the non-green paper on the shelf below, despite being made in part from cheaper recycled paper.

Pay a little extra and get bio-degradable garbage bags which, if you fill them with trash and throw them in the landfill, will bio-degrade some time after the oceans rise and flood the dump.

Green marketing extends to politics too.

When Canadian big-business supporters and old Mulroney apparatchiks wanted to cash in on the success of green branding, they borrowed the name of the European socialist Greens to form the Green Party of Canada, and have succeeded in duping millions of sincere but ill-informed lefties into purchasing their political product.

When Green leader Elizabeth May declared her old boss Brian Mulroney, one of the authors of today’s container-ship economy, “Canada’s greenest prime minister” it should have set off alarm bells with any thinking environmentalist. But May has captured the green brand in Canada, and so Mulroney got the back-pat and the Greens moved ahead in the polls.

So it’s little wonder that corporate lobbyists in Ottawa are now flying the green flag, despite the current government’s blatant hostility toward any form of environmental responsibility.

When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a $2-billion subsidy to the ethanol industry in his 2007 budget, he did so largely in response to lobbying by Robin Speers of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, whose web page is all one colour — you guessed it — green.

Last month, still under the influence of Speers and the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, the government introduced a bill into Parliament that will require all gasoline to contain at least five per cent ethanol by the year 2010, so that those companies that took advantage of the $2-billion giveaway will be guaranteed a healthy return on the taxpayers’ investment.

According to UC Berkley scientist Tad Patzek, ethanol from corn, the commonest source, costs as much in fossil-fuel-output to produce as it replaces on the consumer end. According to Patzek, ethanol subsidies in the US have done nothing but “channel money from the society to big agribusiness.”

There’s evidence that as well as being environmentally pointless, ethanol is socially destructive. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, wrote in Fortune Magazine that “overuse of our agricultural resources (to produce fuel) … could leave much of the world hungry.”

So who is the very green Robin Speers, that he’s able to squeeze $2 billion for a useless green marketing project out of a government that’s busy slashing programs to pay for tax-cuts?

Speers is a former staffer for Gerry Ritz, Canada’s agriculture minister. Before that he worked for the Canadian Alliance and on a number of Conservative campaigns.

But Speers didn’t act alone to convince the government to cough up some green for the green fields of corporate corn.

He was joined by Phil Von Finckenstein, former senior adviser to then-opposition leader Stephen Harper, Ken Boesenkool, a corporate lobbyists and one of Harper’s best friends and favourite campaign advisers, and Tory Teneycke, who recently quit his job as president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association to become director of research for the Conservative Party.

In short, despite campaign promises to curtail the influence of insider lobbyists, the new Green Tories are giving away lots of taxpayers’ green to their green buddies in the green bio-fuels industry.

The massive subsidies and favourable legislation will enable the government’s bio-fuel pals to make massive green profits while doing nothing for the environment and increasing world food shortages.

And in the world of green marketing, it doesn’t get much greener than that.

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.