Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dawson gets it partially right

then characteristically manages to get the rest wrong. In Gaming the Greens, he describes one of the more recent bits of silliness to come from the Oil industry - namely a computer simulation game (called Energyville) that, for lack of a better way of putting it, amounts to little more than providing propaganda for Chevron. I'll quote a bit from his post, since he does manage to say something useful:
But there’s one very huge unmentioned catch: In Energyville, all “your” city’s sources of energy demand (as opposed to energy supply) are fixed by Chevron and The Economist! You have no choices about transportation or urban layout or housing density or any other kind of commodity production!
That, of course, is because corporate capitalism has zero capacity to withstand any substantial alteration in those all-important factors. Shrinking demand to save humanity and the planet would spell doom for our overclass. Ergo, no demand-side choices will be tolerated or even mentioned.
He then loses it in the concluding statement:
The extra scary part of this little propaganda “game” is that the green activist-intelligentsia seems to be naively gobbliing the candy and bounding right into the witch’s house.
We are in very deep trouble…
If you follow the link to the Greenpeace blog post to which he references, the "green activist-intelligentsia" to which he refers is probably considerably less naive than he contends. Yes, someone named Martin Lloyd plays the game (which he describes as somewhat like SimCity), and describes it in some detail. But then Lloyd goes on to say,
The more I look at Chevron's Energyville game the more I think it's a fantastic example of oil industry greenwashing. Here are some of the things that really stand out for me.

Business as usual
In the game no matter how much you choose to spend on energy efficiency between now and 2030 demand for energy will increase by 50%. Banning incandescent lightbulbs, legislating for fuel efficiency, carbon taxes, more efficient electrical appliances, better public transport... forget it. Energy demand will grow by 50% in the game, forcing you to build more stuff. The notion of a future with less stuff, or even the same amount of stuff is literally unthinkable within the game. You see this kind of thinking in the real world in things like the energy scenarios released today by the IEA for India and China, "business as usual" thinking is code for accepting catastrophic climate change.
Security of the energy supply has become a fantastic catch all for the fossil fuel industry lately. Once you accept that parts of the energy supply might be in the hands of people who may not want to share it the discovery of more oil or gas anywhere is, defacto, a good thing. It's even better if that oil or gas is close to home, perhaps in the Alaskan Wilderness, or as shale oil in Colorado, or beneath the newly accessible arctic ocean. New, secure, domestic oil, that's what the world needs, say the energy companies. Of course no-one is talking about closing down oil wells in the Middle East to compensate for this.
Security is also a handy stick with which to beat renewable solutions, partly because most people are really bad at assessing and comparing risks. Geo-political situations cause problems for nations oil and gas supplies every day, but the game considers the possibility of a successful terrorist attack on a city's power supply (something which has never happened) to be equally likely. I'm not sure how the Economist's Intelligence Unit came up with that one.
It's Energy, not the Climate!
And then of course there's the biggest frame of all. This game isn't really about our energy problems at all. It's about Chevron's image problem over climate change. Chevron launched this PR campaign to make it look like they were doing something, while drowning the discussion in irrelevant concepts like the ones mentioned above. The fossil fuel industry wants to talk about energy, and geo-politics and how we support business as usual because it doesn't want to face up to the fact that if we're going to get through the next fifty years without dramatically harming the entire world then the one thing that definitely cannot continue as usual is the fossil fuel industry.
Oh, and the numbers don't add up. Oddly in a game stuffed full of precise sounding factoids the total energy demand of all sectors of your economy comes to 105%. In some ways I think that says it all...
Did Michael Dawson bother to read either of the posts, or did he just look for a blog title via Google or something in order to find a "naive green" who had presumably fallen into a trap laid out by corporate elites? I'm guessing the latter.

As an aside, Dawson has this annoying habit of trolling any editorial appearing on Dissident Voice involving so much as a favorable mention of Ward Churchill, whom from what I gather earns Dawson's ire for allegedly making "the antiwar left look bad" when he referred to those working in the WTC as "little Eichmanns." The dude's at it again, in Mickey Z's latest, One Little, Two Little, Three Little Eichmanns. I guess Dawson gets hung up on there being a few low-wage workers in the WTC on Sept. 11, 2001 who where killed (indeed a few folks who'd crossed La Frontera all the way from Chiapas, Mexico, were killed that day, as John Ross mentions in his book, Murdered By Capitalism). That said, Dawson loses the forest for the trees:
To the extent that many working for the corporations housed in the WTC were unreflective careerists who had given nary a thought to the impact that they and their employers were having on those affected by their decisions, I find the term [Little Eichmanns] to be dead-on accurate. I would say the same for the technocrats working for the IMF, to the extent that many unreflectively pursue actions that lead to starvation, disease, displacement, and social death for many in the Global South, as well as to those working for the US government and those in the academic and punditry classes who give them intellectual cover.
But then again, maybe I should not say such things. After all, what would the neighbors think?

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