The Buying and Selling of Jared Diamond

On December 6th the New York Times published an outrageous op-ed piece by corporate cheerleader Jared Diamond, who states, “I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.” The examples he provides? Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Chevron.

His title asks, “Will Big Business Save the Earth?” That’s not a difficult question to answer: No. No, big business will not save the Earth. Instead of being honest, though, Diamond, answers the question in the affirmative and subjects us to a poorly-argued, mind-warping, illogical and denial-drenched apology for some of the most destructive corporations that curse our planet with their existence.

His overall argument doesn’t hold up to even the most casual scrutiny. He spends the whole column arguing that we shouldn’t hate big corporations because market forces are causing them to make changes to help the planet. “Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run.” He attempts to show that Wal-Mart, Coca Cola and Chevron are transforming their production practices to reflect their concern for the natural world (and that this also improves their bottom line, so it’s a big win-win).

His actual agenda is revealed in the last paragraph, which is partly a plea for the government to give corporations incentives like tax breaks and money for research to facilitate these changes. But if they’re already modifying production practices to help the environment because that is good for profits, then why do they require incentives? I don’t get it.

Mainstream liberal environmentalist groups lack credibility among real environmentalists for many reasons, one of which is the presence of corporate executives on their boards, and another of which is the huge amounts of money that they accept from corporations. The World Wildlife Fund, for example, landed a $3 million contract with Chevron in the early 1990s to implement an “Integrated Conservation and Development Project” in Papua New Guinea, where Chevron’s oil drilling was vehemently resisted by the affected indigenous people. (See “Shilling for Chevron: Jared Diamond Greenwasher”).

Diamond happens to serve on the WWF board. I’m sure it’s purely by coincidence that he praises Chevron’s efforts to improve the environment in his book “Collapse,” and again in this NYT op-ed piece. I can imaging him hanging out with his fellow board members, business execs who complain of being misunderstood while sending him meaningful glances brimming with unspoken promises of millions of dollars in donations. I can imagine him deciding, “Hey, these guys aren’t so bad! I’m going to convince the American people to give them some love, damn it!”

In his op-ed piece he states, “I … have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies.”

In contrast, he seems to have carefully avoided speaking with even one of the countless victims of these companies. There’s not a single quote by an indigenous person in the Amazon whose forest home was leveled for oil exploration and contaminated by oil spills. Not a single statement by a farmer in India whose crops died because Coca-Cola depleted and contaminated the village ground water. Not a peep from a single exploited factory laborer in China suffering with illnesses caused by the pollution generated by producing cheap plastic crap for Wal-Mart to import and sell to us.

The motivations for these companies to reign in their destruction of the world are, without exception, self-serving and purely concerned with the bottom line. It costs too much to clean up oil spills, retrofit factories, and crush angry natives. Diamond’s sympathies are 100% in line with this, and his only desire seems to be to assist these corporations in their accumulation of profit. “We should reward companies that work to keep the planet healthy,” he urges. He doesn’t express the slightest concern for the well-being of the natural world itself or for the living beings who comprise it.

He talks about the challenges that Coca-Cola faces in finding acceptable sources of water, and tries to convince us that “Hence Coca-Cola’s survival compels it to be deeply concerned with problems of water scarcity, energy, climate change and agriculture.” But the obvious point remains unsaid: Coke is not a necessity. It is in fact harmful to those who drink it. We don’t NEED to solve the problem of how Coca-Cola obtains water, or provide incentives for them to do it less destructively, because they could just fucking stop making it. Now there’s a simple solution.

Diamond tries to confuse us by conflating slightly restrained rates of massive destruction with a net positive effect. Even if companies make changes that cause them to destroy nature at a slower speed than they have been accustomed to, this is hardly the same thing as not destroying it at all (which is what sustainability means), and the exact opposite of helping the planet heal.

As a collaborator with and propagandist for ecocidal corporations, Diamond should not be granted space to spread his lies. Both he and the NYT deserve scathing contempt for this op-ed piece.

STEPHANIE McMILLIAN is the creator, with Derrick Jensen, of the graphic novel “As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial.” She also draws “Code Green,” a weekly editorial cartoon about the environmental emergency.

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