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Progressives Didn’t Kill Manchin’s Permitting Reform Deal—but It Did Deserve to Die

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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

On Tuesday afternoon, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin threw in the towel: Facing opposition left, right and center, the Energy Independence and Security Act he wrote will not be included in the continuing resolution that needs to pass this week in order to keep the government funded. The Energy Independence and Security Act was a vehicle for what is known as permitting reform, which speeds the federal approval of new energy projects. Manchin’s proposals had been criticized by climate progressives for being possibly too favorable to fossil fuel companies and insufficiently sensitive to environmental justice concerns, and criticized by the right for not going far enough in reducing barriers to new projects.Announcing that he had asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to remove the permitting language, Manchin lashed out at the bill’s critics. “The last several months,” he wrote in a statement, “we have seen firsthand the destruction that is possible as Vladimir Putin continues to weaponize energy. A failed vote on something as critical as comprehensive permitting reform only emboldens leaders like Putin who wish to see America fail.” The people who blocked his version of permitting reform from being included in this particular package, apparently, are letting America’s enemies win. It’s hard not to read his statement as a swipe at progressives, particularly as he closed it with “inaction is not a strategy for energy independence and security.” But Manchin isn’t the only person who’s gotten his feelings hurt in this process. As acrimonious as the fights were on the progressive side—some felt this version of permitting reform was critical for bringing renewables online quickly—it’s strange for anyone to focus their ire on people trying to stop their water and air from getting more polluted, like the grassroots organizations opposing Manchin’s pet Mountain Valley Pipeline.Behind closed doors, Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer brokered a deal designed to piss off just about everyone. That included the likes of Bernie Sanders, who threatened to vote against the continuing resolution, but also centrist New Democrats riled up about their votes being taken for granted. Former Hillary Clinton running-mate Tim Kaine—hardly a left-wing firebrand—didn’t love the idea of two people from outside his state speeding along infrastructure that would traverse it. And it would have been damn near impossible to find 10 Republicans willing to vote for something that didn’t pledge to light the planet on fire. Progressive forces do not control the U.S. Congress. As The American Prospect’s David Dayen observed, progressives were chided for not supporting a deal that never existed in the first place. While many climate advocates would agree that some reform is necessary if we’re to transition quickly to renewable energy, there’s a big difference between permitting reform as a broad conceptual category and the permitting reform legislation that was actually under consideration. Manchin’s bill was a fossil fuel industry giveaway with some decent goodies for energy transmission grafted onto it. Significant parts of it had been previously floated by the Trump administration and were then presented in Manchin’s proposal as the cost of doing business in a divided Senate; one such provision altering the Clean Water Act was stripped out at the last minute. For the most part, the climate and environmental justice groups who rallied against Manchin’s language spent their time pointing out the obvious: that ceding so much ground so quickly to the fossil fuel industry probably wasn’t worth the cost of what good might have been done for interstate transmission lines. The costs of new fossil fuel installations are not hypothetical. New oil pipelines, a recent study from Global Energy Monitor found, are “dramatically at odds with plans to limit global warming to 1.5C or 2C.” The United States is the world leader in building those, with 1,758 miles under development. More than twice the amount of pipelines are under construction as compared to the last time GEM did the same analysis in 2019, now totaling 15,016 miles. Data is limited on how many barrels per day each of those would produce. Those that GEM did compile numbers on, about two-thirds of the total, would add another 21.8 million barrels per day to the global supply and 4.61 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of 1,000 coal plants—per year. Manchin’s pet Mountain Valley pipeline alone would add the equivalent of 26 coal plants. And all of those emissions calculations are in addition to the direct effects on neighboring communities’ health: from poisoned water to spiked rates of rare cancers near easier-to-build gas petrochemical plants and export terminals. The boost provided by Manchin’s bill would be more dramatic for gas than for oil, though both would see upsides from bypassing the kinds of legal challenges that have helped stop projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline in their tracks. GEM found that in the U.S. just a small portion of planned pipelines are currently under construction; permitting reform could offer a leg up to firms to get financing and approval. “The U.S. has its best shot in years at securing durable reforms to oil and gas pipelines permitting potentially unlocking additional U.S. gas production,”  the consultancy Energy Intelligence wrote in August. “If permitting reform squeaks by in the U.S. Senate this fall it could help to clear natural gas bottlenecks in the Northeast and the Permian. The reforms also could help insulate pipeline developers to some extent against costly green litigation.” This isn’t the time to be taking such projections lightly. Right now, there is a massive hurricane barreling through the Caribbean toward Florida and a pipeline leak belching an estimated two million cars’ worth of emissions into the atmosphere. If there’s a silver lining in the last few weeks, though, it may be the rough consensus that has formed among climate advocates of various stripes that the way the U.S. builds things could use some work. With the immediate pressure off, there might be room for a more constructive debate about what good permitting reform might look like and how to build democratic buy-in for the enormous amount of energy infrastructure that needs to be build in the coming years. Ideally, those changes won’t be written behind closed doors by a few guys getting an inordinate amount of money from the fossil fuel industry. 

On Tuesday afternoon, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin threw in the towel: Facing opposition left, right and center, the Energy Independence and Security Act he wrote will not be included in the continuing resolution that needs to pass this week in order to keep the government funded. The Energy Independence and Security Act was a vehicle for what is known as permitting reform, which speeds the federal approval of new energy projects. Manchin’s proposals had been criticized by climate progressives for being possibly too favorable to fossil fuel companies and insufficiently sensitive to environmental justice concerns, and criticized by the right for not going far enough in reducing barriers to new projects.Announcing that he had asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to remove the permitting language, Manchin lashed out at the bill’s critics. “The last several months,” he wrote in a statement, “we have seen firsthand the destruction that is possible as Vladimir Putin continues to weaponize energy. A failed vote on something as critical as comprehensive permitting reform only emboldens leaders like Putin who wish to see America fail.” The people who blocked his version of permitting reform from being included in this particular package, apparently, are letting America’s enemies win. It’s hard not to read his statement as a swipe at progressives, particularly as he closed it with “inaction is not a strategy for energy independence and security.” But Manchin isn’t the only person who’s gotten his feelings hurt in this process. As acrimonious as the fights were on the progressive side—some felt this version of permitting reform was critical for bringing renewables online quickly—it’s strange for anyone to focus their ire on people trying to stop their water and air from getting more polluted, like the grassroots organizations opposing Manchin’s pet Mountain Valley Pipeline.Behind closed doors, Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer brokered a deal designed to piss off just about everyone. That included the likes of Bernie Sanders, who threatened to vote against the continuing resolution, but also centrist New Democrats riled up about their votes being taken for granted. Former Hillary Clinton running-mate Tim Kaine—hardly a left-wing firebrand—didn’t love the idea of two people from outside his state speeding along infrastructure that would traverse it. And it would have been damn near impossible to find 10 Republicans willing to vote for something that didn’t pledge to light the planet on fire. Progressive forces do not control the U.S. Congress. As The American Prospect’s David Dayen observed, progressives were chided for not supporting a deal that never existed in the first place. While many climate advocates would agree that some reform is necessary if we’re to transition quickly to renewable energy, there’s a big difference between permitting reform as a broad conceptual category and the permitting reform legislation that was actually under consideration. Manchin’s bill was a fossil fuel industry giveaway with some decent goodies for energy transmission grafted onto it. Significant parts of it had been previously floated by the Trump administration and were then presented in Manchin’s proposal as the cost of doing business in a divided Senate; one such provision altering the Clean Water Act was stripped out at the last minute. For the most part, the climate and environmental justice groups who rallied against Manchin’s language spent their time pointing out the obvious: that ceding so much ground so quickly to the fossil fuel industry probably wasn’t worth the cost of what good might have been done for interstate transmission lines. The costs of new fossil fuel installations are not hypothetical. New oil pipelines, a recent study from Global Energy Monitor found, are “dramatically at odds with plans to limit global warming to 1.5C or 2C.” The United States is the world leader in building those, with 1,758 miles under development. More than twice the amount of pipelines are under construction as compared to the last time GEM did the same analysis in 2019, now totaling 15,016 miles. Data is limited on how many barrels per day each of those would produce. Those that GEM did compile numbers on, about two-thirds of the total, would add another 21.8 million barrels per day to the global supply and 4.61 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of 1,000 coal plants—per year. Manchin’s pet Mountain Valley pipeline alone would add the equivalent of 26 coal plants. And all of those emissions calculations are in addition to the direct effects on neighboring communities’ health: from poisoned water to spiked rates of rare cancers near easier-to-build gas petrochemical plants and export terminals. The boost provided by Manchin’s bill would be more dramatic for gas than for oil, though both would see upsides from bypassing the kinds of legal challenges that have helped stop projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline in their tracks. GEM found that in the U.S. just a small portion of planned pipelines are currently under construction; permitting reform could offer a leg up to firms to get financing and approval. “The U.S. has its best shot in years at securing durable reforms to oil and gas pipelines permitting potentially unlocking additional U.S. gas production,”  the consultancy Energy Intelligence wrote in August. “If permitting reform squeaks by in the U.S. Senate this fall it could help to clear natural gas bottlenecks in the Northeast and the Permian. The reforms also could help insulate pipeline developers to some extent against costly green litigation.” This isn’t the time to be taking such projections lightly. Right now, there is a massive hurricane barreling through the Caribbean toward Florida and a pipeline leak belching an estimated two million cars’ worth of emissions into the atmosphere. If there’s a silver lining in the last few weeks, though, it may be the rough consensus that has formed among climate advocates of various stripes that the way the U.S. builds things could use some work. With the immediate pressure off, there might be room for a more constructive debate about what good permitting reform might look like and how to build democratic buy-in for the enormous amount of energy infrastructure that needs to be build in the coming years. Ideally, those changes won’t be written behind closed doors by a few guys getting an inordinate amount of money from the fossil fuel industry. 

Read the full story here.
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Michigan Regulators Approve $500M Pipeline Tunnel Project Under Channel Linking 2 Great Lakes

Michigan regulators have approved a $500 million plan to encase in a protective tunnel a portion of an oil pipeline that runs beneath a channel connecting two Great Lakes

Michigan officials approved a $500 million plan Friday to encase in a protective tunnel a portion of an oil pipeline that runs beneath a channel connecting two Great Lakes, leaving just one more regulatory hurdle for the contentious project.The state's three-person Public Service Commission approved the project in the Straits of Mackinac on a 2-0 vote. Commissioner Alessandra Carreon abstained, noting she just joined the commission four months ago.The commission's chairperson, Dan Scripps, said that an oil spill in the straits, which link Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, would be catastrophic. The tunnel is the best way to mitigate the risk as the state transitions to renewable energy sources, he said.The plan still needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is still compiling an environmental impact statement. A final decision may not come until 2026.Enbridge Energy has been operating the Line 5 pipeline since 1953. The pipeline moves up to 23 million gallons (87 million liters) of crude oil and natural gas liquids daily between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ohio. A 4-mile (6-kilometer) portion of the pipeline crosses the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. After an Enbridge pipeline leaked about 21,000 gallons (79,500 liters) of crude oil into a Kalamazoo River tributary in southern Michigan in 2010, the state formed a task force to review petroleum pipelines across the state, including Line 5.Enbridge officials revealed in 2017 that engineers had known about gaps in Line 5's protective coating in the straits since 2014. That section of pipeline was also damaged by a boat anchor in 2018, raising concerns about a spill. Later that year, then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's administration reached an agreement with Enbridge calling for the company to build a tunnel 60 to 375 feet (18 to 114 meters) beneath the lakebed to house a new section of Line 5 and shut down the existing segment at a cost of $500 million.Current Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has said she opposes the continued operation of Line 5 under the straits — even with the new tunnel — agreeing with Indigenous tribes, environmentalists and tourist businesses that it is at risk of causing a devastating spill.She ordered Enbridge in November 2020 to close the 68-year-old line, revoking a 1953 state easement allowing its placement in the straits. Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, contends the line is safe and ignored the governor’s shutdown deadline.Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a state lawsuit in 2019 to void Enbridge's easement in the Straits. A federal appellate court is reviewing whether the lawsuit belongs in state or federal court. The state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy in 2021 approved construction of the tunnel. Liesl Clark, who was the director of the Michigan agency at the time and a Whitmer appointee, said the company’s application satisfied state legal requirements.A federal judge in Madison, Wisconsin, this summer gave Enbridge three years to shut down part of Line 5 that runs across the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.The tribe sued Enbridge in 2019 to force the company to remove about 12 miles (19 kilometers) of pipeline crossing its reservation, saying the pipeline is prone to spills and land agreements allowing it to operate on reservation land expired in 2013.The company has proposed a 41-mile (66-kilometer) reroute of the pipeline to end its dispute with the tribe. It has appealed the shutdown order to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; the case is still pending. Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

New England's Decades-Old Shrimp Fishery, a Victim of Climate Change, to Remain Closed Indefinitely

Regulators voted on Friday that New England’s long-shuttered shrimp business, which fell victim to warming waters, will remain in a fishing moratorium indefinitely

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — New England's long-shuttered shrimp business, which fell victim to warming waters, will remain in a fishing moratorium indefinitely, fishery regulators ruled on Friday.The shrimping business was based mostly in Maine and produced small, pink shrimp that were a winter delicacy in New England and across the country. The industry has been in a moratorium since 2013 in large part because environmental conditions off New England are unfavorable for the cold water-loving shrimp.That moratorium will remain in effect with no firm end date, a board of the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Friday. The board stopped short of calling the move a permanent moratorium because it included a provision to continue monitoring the shrimp population and consider reopening the fishery if the crustaceans approach a healthy level.But it was clear board members saw little chance of a future for a fishery that once provided a beloved seafood item that appeared on restaurant menus and in seafood markets every year around Christmas.“I think we’re all done here with this stock. I see the water temperatures. I don’t think we’re coming back,” said Mike Armstrong, an environmental analyst and member of the panel.The warming of the Gulf of Maine, a body of water where the shrimp live that is critical to U.S. commercial fishing for species such as scallops and lobsters, is an ongoing subject of scientific study. In addition to the shrimp, other New England species, such as Atlantic cod, have also declined in the face of warming waters and overfishing.Previous extensions of the shrimp fishing moratorium have been for one year or three years at a time. However, the shrimp stock isn’t showing signs of improvement, said Chelsea Tuohy, a fishery management plan coordinator for the commission.“Recently, under no fishing mortality, the population continues to decline,” Tuohy said. “The Gulf of Maine is warming quicker than other areas of the ocean, and the shrimp tend not to do well in warming waters.”The commercial fishery for the New England shrimp, which are also called Maine shrimp or pink shrimp, was established in the 1950s and peaked at nearly 30 million pounds (13.6 million kilograms) per year in the late 1960s, Atlantic States commission documents state. Maine fishermen caught more than 10 million pounds of the shrimp per year as recently as 2011. Fishermen in Massachusetts and New Hampshire also once sought them.Shrimp are among the most popular seafood items in the world, and New England shrimp were once a small part of the worldwide shrimp industry, which includes wild-caught and farmed shrimp species from many parts of the globe. Canadian fishermen have long harvested the same species of shrimp as New England fishermen, and their exports of the shrimp are still sometimes found in U.S. seafood markets.Some U.S. fishermen have advocated trying to save New England's shrimp fishery with new management approaches. Glen Libby, a former shrimp trawler, said regulators need to gather more data before taking drastic measures to close a historic fishery.The shrimp panel also voted to investigate the possibility of an industry-based research program about the fishery.“A lot of people, mostly in the industry, don't think that we have a complete picture of what's going on,” Libby said. “Let's not open it up, let's just have a limited season. There's a hunger for more data, that's for sure.”Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Oregon Christmas tree supply, prices hold steady, growers say, but some shopping trends are changing

“Each tree has its own personalty,” said Anna Zerkel of the five-acre Little Z Christmas Tree Farm in West Linn, which has 10,000 trees that take years to shape and mature.

Interior designer Carolyn Allman always displays a real Christmas tree in her Ashland home, but this year, she decided an eight-foot-tall Noble fir, dressed in white twinkling lights, could still deliver a festive look from outside, on the deck, viewed through a picture window.“I can’t wait until it’s covered in snow,” she said, seeing the tree while standing near her dining table. “It loves being outside yet it feels like it is in the house.” She said it’s often hard to keep a real tree watered and fresh indoors for the whole season. “I miss the scent,” she said, but there’s more room for the family’s annual Christmas Eve sleepover. “For our seven grandchildren, space is important.”Allman is an early bird, who visits Wishing Well garden shop in Medford in late November with her husband, Wayne, to find an Oregon-grown Christmas tree.Wishing Well owners Dennis and Carie Trost say some customers arrive right after Thanksgiving to have the largest selection to choose from, “even though all of our cut trees are nice,” Dennis said, and “we predict we will have enough trees,” Carie added.Prices for Nobel firs ($79 for 6-7 feet) and Douglas firs ($59 for 6-7 feet) and greenery at Wishing Well are the same as last year.Over the years, the Trosts have seen increased interest in Silvertip fir trees (priced at $11 a foot) that grow in higher elevations with more space between the branches for ornaments. Another trend they’ve noticed is a preference for taller trees for great rooms with vaulted ceilings and clients who want their tree flocked to look as if it was still in the forest.Whatever the tradition, new or old, Oregon growers, who produce more Christmas trees than any other state in the nation, say sellers are well stocked for the holidays, with a variety of trees, in all sizes and sheared over the years into a classic cone shape or a looser, natural look.“Each tree has its own personalty,” said Anna Zerkel of the five-acre Little Z Christmas Tree Farm in West Linn, which has 10,000 trees that take years to shape and mature. “We don’t do it all the same, row after row, cookie cutter. Some are fuller, some tapered and tall. Everyone is looking for something different.”Little Z Christmas Tree Farm customers walk through groves of 13 varieties of trees, including the highly desirable Noble fir. Here, it’s $15 a foot for trees 5-8 feet tall, $17 a foot for 9 feet, $20 a foot for 10-13 feet and taller trees are individually priced.People pick out the tree they want, then the farm’s workers cut the trunk at ground level, carry the tree to a “shaker” to remove loose needles, then load it in the customers’ vehicle to be taken home.“Our focus is on the trees and the people,” said Zerkel, who founded the farm 25 years ago with her husband, Nate, who has a forestry degree from Oregon State University. She said their farm, with chores year round, is a labor of love and they look forward to seeing people they knew as youngsters return with their children.“There’s one girl I met when she was 5 and just barely able to peek over the counter at the candy canes we give out,” said Anna Zerkel. Since then, Zerkel has heard about the girl’s quinceanera celebration and plans to go to college.Anna Zerkel is proud her farm is part of people’s holiday traditions and that Oregon tree growers are environmentalists. “We love trees and their purpose here is to be cut down and we replant a younger tree that absorbs more carbon dioxide and emits oxygen,” she said.Often Christmas trees are grown on marginal lands, unsuitable for other crops, and the trees help hold the soil and prevent erosion or loss of top soil, according to the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.Environmental organization The Nature Conservancy advocates for real trees over petrochemical plastic ones that require intensive carbon emissions to produce.After the holidays, real Christmas trees, stripped of nonorganic materials, can be used as wood chips, compost and wildlife habitats for birds and fish. Scouts and other nonprofit groups fundraise by recycling real Christmas trees.The U.S. Forest Service encourages people to help thin densely populated stands by buying a permit at Recreation.gov and cutting a small-diameter Christmas tree in designated areas of some national forests.Bend-based Linda Ly writes in her award-winning Garden Betty site about the joys of calling out “timber” after cutting a tree in one of Oregon’s national forests. Her family’s tradition also creates memories of the “snowshoe and cross-country ski adventures we tack on, the little treats we bring in the car, the impromptu sledding and snowball fights, and the dinners we always grab at our favorite restaurants on the way home.”Dennis Trost of Wishing Well in Medford has been selling cut trees for more than 40 years. He said some customers like to have the trees flocked, which keeps the foliage fresh and flocking is a registered fire retardant.For some clients, he has added crystals and painted flocked trees colors like blue or purple. He has also created themed trees, orange ones for Oregon State Beavers’ fans and green and yellow ones for University of Oregon Ducks’ fans.His most unusual request: To cover a 12-foot Noble fir in flocking and black paint. The customers wanted to mount it upside from their cathedral ceiling so it could spin around. “I did not ask why,” he said.Read more Family businesses grow Oregon’s Christmas tree farms— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072jeastman@oregonian.com | @janeteastman

Ethereum Blockchain Produced Equivalent of Honduras' Annual Emissions Before Upgrade - Study

By Tom WilsonLONDON(Reuters) - The Ethereum blockchain's historical greenhouse gas emissions before a major software upgrade last year were...

LONDON(Reuters) - The Ethereum blockchain's historical greenhouse gas emissions before a major software upgrade last year were equivalent to the yearly emissions of Honduras, a University of Cambridge study showed on Friday.Blockchains - the digital ledgers that underpin cryptocurrencies - typically consume large amounts of energy as they produce coins and process transactions, drawing criticism from environmentalists and some investors.Yet calculating the environmental impact of the crypto sector is fraught with difficulty, given its relative opacity and lack of centralised data.Global leaders and delegates from nearly 200 countries are gathering for the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, with how to maximise energy efficiency in industry among questions on the agenda.In September 2022, the Ethereum blockchain - which hosts the world's second biggest token ether - underwent a major software upgrade known as the "Merge," which drastically reduced its energy usage.From its launch in 2015 until the Merge, Ethereum's greenhouse gas emissions totalled 27.5 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e), the study showed. Honduras emitted 27.7 MtCO2e in 2020, according to Climate Watch.Under its post-Merge system, Ethereum uses over 99% less energy, developers say. Its current yearly emissions are around 2.8 kilotonnes carbon dioxide equivalent, the study found - around the same as five round-trip flights from London to New York.It is generally thought that blockchain is "a highly emitting technology," said Anna Lerner, executive director at the Ethereum Climate Platform, an organisation that seeks to use blockchain tech to accelerate climate finance. "Ethereum has shown that it doesn't have to be such a polluter," she said.The study is among the most thorough examinations of Ethereum's historical emissions, its author, Alexander Neumueller, research lead for digital assets climate impact at the University of Cambridge, told Reuters.Bitcoin, in comparison, creates about 73.9 MtCO2e a year, Neumueller said, based on its daily emissions in November 2022.The annual emissions of Bitcoin, the largest blockchain and cryptocurrency, are therefore roughly equivalent to those of Cambodia in 2020, according to Climate Watch.Crypto tokens such as bitcoin and ether remain primarily an investment tool, with little widespread practical usage in business or commerce.(Reporting by Tom Wilson; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

Social media ads are littered with ‘green’ claims. How are we supposed to know they're true?

Many ‘green’ claims on social media ads are claims only. We need legislation to ensure green terms are clearly defined and based on the truth.

Yuriy Golub/ShutterstockOnline platforms are awash with ads for so-called “green” products. Power companies are “carbon neutral”. Electronics are “for the planet”. Clothing is “circular” and travel is “sustainable”. Or are they? Our study of more than 8,000 ads served more than 20,000 times in people’s Facebook feeds found many green claims are vague, meaningless or unsubstantiated and consumers are potentially being deceived. This costs consumers, as products claiming to be greener are often more expensive. And it costs the planet, as false and exaggerated green claims – or “greenwashing” – make it seem more is being done to tackle climate change and other environmental crises than is really happening. The widespread use of these claims could delay important action on tackling climate change, as it dilutes the sense of urgency around the issue. Read more: Greenwashing: how ads get you to think brands are greener than they are – and how to avoid falling for it The colours of environmental friendliness Our research is part of a newly published report produced by the not-for-profit Consumer Policy Research Centre, researchers at Melbourne Law School and the Australian Ad Observatory, a project of ADM+S (ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society). The Ad Observatory captures ads from the personal Facebook feeds of around 2,000 people who “donate” their ads to the project via a browser plugin. This lets us analyse otherwise unobservable and ephemeral ads. We found the most common claims were “clean”, “green” and “sustainable”. Other popular terms were “bio”, “recycled” or “recyclable”, “pure” and “eco-friendly”, often with no explanation of what lay behind them. All are very general, undefined terms, yet they imply a more environmentally responsible choice. Our report didn’t verify each claim nor analysed their accuracy. We intended to highlight the volume and breadth of the green claims consumers see in social media ads. Many ads used colours and symbols to put a green “halo” around their products and business. These included green, blue and earthy beige tones, background nature imagery and emojis featuring leaves, planet Earth, the recycling symbol and the green tick, often with no context or specific information. A sample of green-coloured ads collected by our Ad Observer project. The claims in these ads may well be true, but consumers often need to ‘deep dive’ to verify this information. CPRC, Author provided The top five sectors making green claims were energy, household products, fashion, health and personal care, and travel. This was consistent with a recent internet sweep by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which found 57% of the business websites checked were making concerning claims. The proportion was highest among the cosmetic, clothing and footwear, and food and drink packaging sectors. Examples of blue-coloured ads. The claims in these ads may well be true, but in many cases consumers need to ‘deep dive’ to verify this information. CPRC, Author provided Strong incentives for greenwashing Recent Consumer Policy Research Centre research shows 45% percent of Australians always or often consider sustainability as part of their purchasing decision-making. At least 50% of Australians say they are worried about green claim truthfulness across every sector. Given consumer concern, businesses have a strong incentive to “green” their businesses. But that comes with a strong incentive to claim more than is justified. Major Australian business regulators – the ACCC and Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) – are both prioritising enforcement action against greenwashing. ASIC has issued dozens of interventions against misleading and deceptive environmental disclosures by companies and super funds. The ACCC has issued draft guidance for businesses on how to avoid greenwashing when making environmental and sustainability claims. A Senate inquiry into greenwashing is expected to report in mid-2024 as to whether stricter regulation is necessary to protect consumers from misleading greenwashing. Read more: Airlines are being hit by anti-greenwashing litigation – here's what makes them perfect targets What is ‘sustainable’, anyway? Our research highlights the plethora of green claims businesses make in social media advertising. Consumers are forced to choose between accepting claims at face value or committing to a deep dive to research each product they buy and the claims they make. Many green claims come from the energy sector, with some energy companies claiming to be “greener” without any detail. Some claim carbon offsets or carbon neutrality – highly contested terms. Ads for “sustainable” travel often showed destinations emphasising a connection with nature, but did not explain what aspect of the travel was sustainable. Examples of travel ads containing ‘green’ claims. The claims in these ads may well be true, but often consumers need to ‘deep dive’ to verify this information. CPRC, Author provided One personal care brand heavily advertised its “sustainable” packaging, but the fine print showed it related only to the boxes their products are shipped in, not the actual product packaging. A claim like this can create an undeserved green halo across a whole product range. Claims that products are biodegradable, compostable or recyclable can be particularly problematic, since this is often technically true yet practically difficult. Some products labelled biodegradable may need to be taken to a specific facility, but a consumer might assume they will biodegrade in their home compost bin. Read more: Do you toss biodegradable plastic in the compost bin? Here’s why it might not break down What can we do? Australians cannot wait years for enforcement action against potentially misleading green claims. The economy and the digital world is moving too fast and the need for sustainability is too urgent. Governments must enact laws now to ensure green terms are clearly defined and based on the truth. The European Union is currently working on a “Green claims” directive that seeks to ban generic claims such as “eco-friendly”, “green”, “carbon positive” and “energy efficient”. Claims would have to be specific, meaningful and based on independently verified excellent environmental performance. The United Kingdom has already issued similar guidance via an environmental claims code and is also considering stricter legislation. Australian regulators should have the power to blacklist green terms that cannot be substantiated and are inherently meaningless or misleading. Some high-polluting sectors should be banned from making any kind of green claim in advertising, due to the overwhelming negative environmental impact of their business models and practices, as the EU is considering. Fossil-fuel companies, for example, should not be permitted to use green claims in marketing. Australian consumers deserve green choices that are clear, comparable, meaningful and true. Christine Parker receives funding from the Australian Research Council as a Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society.

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