“Coolest Billboard Ever?” asks a HuffPost article posted a couple of days ago.
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.
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.