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Unwelcome saviors: five reasons to oppose corporate sponsorship of Earth Day.

If it were just the money, it might be okay. Every organization can use extra cash for staples and brochures, and I have always been sympathetic to the argument that tainted money's only drawback is "t'ain't enough of it." But like all free lunches, this one comes with a price. Here are five reasons why environmental groups should return the check:

1) Our supporters don't like it. No one, least of all environmentalists, wants their messages dressed up as an ad campaign. Every American over five years old is wise to the sales pitch, and it doesn't take much to turn off the consumer these days. I saw a jazz show in Washington last month that was sponsored, as it turns out, by multibillion-dollar cigarette peddler and cancer merchant R.J. Reynolds. When this was announced from the stage, the room dissolved in snorts of derision and we all felt that visceral sense of contempt for the corporate PR flack who dreamed up this cloying, manipulative piece of public charity. This is how we want people to feel when they wake up on April 22?

2) The rapidly growing group of Americans who oppose the environmental movement don't like corporate sponsorship either. Now, this should come as a big surprise: People who think environmentalists are one-issue, Eastern establishment, family values-hating tree huggers are not likely to convert to our side after seeing an Earth Day representative hawking soap from Procter and Gamble. They couldn't care less how many trees their brand of toilet paper saves, and even less if the World Wildlife Fund gets a penny a roll. The idea that we are "mainstreaming" the movement by turning, say, Woodstock II into a Pepsi Generation thing, is nonsense.

3) We are special interest, one-issue tree huggers. That interest being the preservation of the ecological integrity of the planet. And we have a quite specific and quite radical case to make (get ready, this is planet-saving 101). We demand: a massive and enlightened redistribution of the world's wealth and land; a drastic reduction in the developed world's rate of consumption; democratic cooperation to deal with those elements of environmental stewardship that require it; and reducing to local stewardship, local economics and local democracy those that don't. Needless to say, you won't find a corporate executive outside the Body Shop, Ben and Jerry's, Tom's of Maine or the like who even knows what I am talking about here.

4) People do not share the same interests as big business. Sure, catastrophic global die-off would put a crimp in sales, but what do you expect corporations to do about it? They're busy competing against Indonesian sweatshops where labor costs $2 a day. A couple of degrees of global warming in the middle of the next century takes a back seat when the bottom line goes south in December. This isn't to say that many businesses aren't trying - some are, and with significant results. But it doesn't help our cause to share the podium with them. The voters didn't oust the Democrats last November because they like corporations. They did it because, unlike corporate executives, legislators are the only people they can throw out of office.

5) We are all in this together. Wrong. We are not all in this together. The most insidious aspect of corporate participation in Earth Day is the illusion that the environmental crisis is some big amorphous untraceable problem, like foot odor, which strikes at random and has no phone number or address. Big business is hoping that we will come to see as equally guilty the clear-cutting timber conglomerate and the single mother who was too tired to separate her recyclables. Well, don't fall for it. It takes a few seconds to realize that we are not all equally responsible for, to pick some random tragedy, the oiling of Prince William Sound.

So it really comes down to the money. There is no other Earthly reason why we would chuck our remaining shreds of credibility as a genuine social movement. Under the circumstances, perhaps it is time to reinvent ourselves. In 1967, the San Francisco counterculture - seeing its entire raison d'etre re-packaged for consumption on the cover of Time magazine - held a "Death of Hippie" funeral in Golden Gate Park, complete with eulogies and a coffin. I suggest that it is now time to bury phony corporate environmentalism. They certainly are not in it for our health, and we shouldn't weaken ourselves for them.

ANDRE CAROTHERS is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Earth Action Network, Inc.
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Author:Carothers, Andre
Date:Apr 1, 1995
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