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The Left Confronts the Eco-Police State (yet another PR problem for climate alarmism?)

An odd thing happened during Sunday night’s Superbowl game: Joe Romm at Climate Progress and I came to the same conclusion regarding an environmentally controversial Superbowl commercial. We both thought the advertisement portraying Audi’s ability to thrive in an environmental police state with its ‘clean diesel’ technology missed its mark here in the U.S., at least among left-of-center environmentalists.

Sure, Romm wanted the Saints and I the Colts in the big game … and Joe would probably like the environmentalist police portrayed in the commercial, while I’d hate it. But still, there were areas of agreement between us, including on the practice of so-called greenwashing.

As Romm puts it, casting a scurrilous aspersion on the appropriateness of Germanic humor:

I’m not sure the German car company understands that the idea of “Green Police” they are spoofing is, in fact, precisely what many conservatives in this country actually think is the primary reason people who care about the environment—the apparent target audience of this ad—are trying to get the nation to take action on global warming.

And by pointing out Audi’s incongruous focus on powerful cars, Romm sees a bit of greenwashing at work: “Audi isn’t perceived as a green car company, so they aren’t poking fun at themselves, a typically much safer strategy.”

Romm is right on this point. On their website, Audi’s vehicle descriptions focus on driving performance far more than environmental performance. Audi, we’re told, features “legendary,” “nimble,” and “supreme” performance (all euphemisms for high horsepower). The focus is clearly on “Legendary Audi Power,” rather than “Legendary Audi Environmentalism,” as the ad would suggest.

But I wouldn’t call that modest greenwashing, I’d call it blatant and shameless greenwashing–in a league with that of Al Gore, the head of the IPCC, most Hollywood green-advocates, the Obama Administration, and the Democrats in Congress, all of whom encourage others to live green lifestyles while consuming more energy per capita than some of the small countries they claim will be drowned by global-warming-induced sea level rise. And did I mention Nancy Pelosi’s entourage going to climate negotiations in Copenhagen? They put out enough carbon dioxide to fill 10,000 Olympic sized swimming pools! Now that’s a bodyprint, not a footprint, by green standards!

But Romm’s big concern probably isn’t about the state of Germanic humor, nor is it really about greenwashing (he’s all for that when various companies flog his favorite carbon-rationing schemes). It is that humor might inadvertently lead people to actually think about what a future of bag police, lightbulb police, foam-cup police, recycling police, plastic bottle police, and hot-tub-temperature police might be like, and view such a development with less than a humorous attitude.

Romm seems to be worried that Superbowl viewers might even connect the dots with the opinions of (shudder) right-leaning columnists such as Charles Krauthammer who had the ill grace to foreshadow a green police state, in 2008, when he opined:

Environmentalists are Gaia’s priests, instructing us in her proper service and casting out those who refuse to genuflect…. And having proclaimed the ultimate commandment — carbon chastity — they are preparing the supporting canonical legislation that will tell you how much you can travel, what kind of light you will read by, and at what temperature you may set your bedroom thermostat.

Of course, we won’t have really have the  eco-police portrayed in the Audi spot. No, that’s much too blatant for the deep-green environmentalist types. They’re more fond of just banning things outright, like incandescent lightbulbs, two-ply toilet tissue and flush-toilets, or slapping taxes (directly or indirectly) on things like carbon emissions, plastic and paper bags, houses with large lot-sizes, air travel, etc.

What I found most amusing was the eerie resonance between the Audi commercial, and some spoof-PSA spots such as this one, poking fun at water conservation, produced by a pro-tobacco Canadian public relations firm. Sadly, the PR firm has pulled their anti-environmentalist PSA spoofs from their websites. I suppose that opposing recycling is too much even for a pro-tobacco group.

All of which goes to show, when it comes to environmentalism, there’s only one answer to jokes such as “how many environmentalists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

Answer? “That is NOT funny!”

P.S.: Apparently, Dave Roberts of Grist also disliked the Audi commercial, saying “Is it me or were the Super Bowl commercials this year unusually ugly, misogynistic, and, worst of all, unfunny? Of course, Roberts seems absolutely fascinated by the idea of declaring people who disagree with him “teabaggers,” which is either a heterophobic slander or a homophobic one, depending on your sexual orientation, I suppose. But of course, as we all know, the left-wing is exempt from accusations of phobism, if they do say so themselves.

10 comments

1 steve C. { 02.09.10 at 9:00 am }

I thought the Audi commercial was funny. Unintentionally pointing out the truth while trying to sell a car. We have seen the future, and it only works with massive social control. Maybe there really will be a time of choosing.

2 Robert Bradley Jr. { 02.09.10 at 9:15 am }

I’d say that Dr. Romm has once again done us a service by bringing this up. His reader comments are revealing–see http://climateprogress.org/2010/02/07/audi-green-police-worst-green-superbowl-commercial/

Here are four that caught my eye:

4. Christopher S. Johnson says: February 7, 2010 at 10:25 pm
“The Audi ‘Green Police’ Superbowl ad was a dumb mistake. Why play into the fanciful fears of the right-wing paranoid set by reinforcing a fictional fascist version of society’s transition to cleaner tech? It’s was like a paranoid Libertarian’s wet dream.” ….

25. Craig says: February 8, 2010 at 1:31 am
“I’m not sure about Audi’s marketing strategy in this commercial. More interesting to me is what it may say about the public’s perception of “greens”.

Unfortunately, much of that perception is deserved. A large number of ecologically conscious people on the left seem to want to fight the climate battle as consumers rather than citizens.

I witness this daily in my hometown of Minneapolis. I see well meaning people obsess about the choices they are presented as consumers in the marketplace. Paper or plastic. Organic clementines versus the cheaper non-organic kind. Take that vacation in the Bahamas or stay home.

I don’t mean to belittle such people. All of these questions are important and we as consumers can certainly send a powerful signal based on the choices we make. And undoubtedly conservation is an important part of any real climate solution. But when a green lifestyle becomes equated with moral superiority, it then becomes self defeating. A great number of these lifestyle choices are based on economic status or political persuasion. If you have enough money, you can be green. If you are liberal, then you calculate your carbon footprint.

Many individuals on the left seem to think that being green somehow gives them an elevated status. Quite frankly it comes across as pure snobbery. And a great number of people who, for whatever reasons, choose not to be environmentally friendly are turned off by this.

The central battle is not in the marketplace. The real struggle is in the public forum. To prevent a destabilized climate we are going to need to reorganize our energy economy. Considering the forces arrayed against such change, this will be the most difficult political movement in history.

So here’s my message to many liberals: Put down the organic tomatoes. Pick up the phone and call your representative. And then ask your friend to do the same. And then confront directly the next person you hear calling climate change a hoax. Ask him if he is willing to explain to his children fifty years from now why he took an ideological stand on a non-political problem.”

43. Christopher S. Johnson says: February 8, 2010 at 10:55 am
I think there is some confusion here in this thread about what the complaint is. Its NOT that we can’t take a parody or laugh at ourselves. We can. The ad even had good comic timing. The problem is that it stokes a fire in a population that literally believes their lives are about to be taken over, ala “1984?.

52. Bud Man says: February 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Great you brought this up. I can see how the ad could be offensive to those of us who are concerned about all of these issues, but I also think it’s a bit of a test of our ability to laugh at ourselves. (I did.)

I think this ad is similar to other ads for this Super Bowl that were about manhood being under seige. (Note all the offenders in this ad were male.) Basically, the theme is, “in a world where you have fewer and fewer choices, you can still do the right thing, plus keep your vroom vroom vroom, in an Audi”.

I think it was a relatively gentle joke. We have to acknowledge that even the relatively minor rules and changes coming into place now are frustrating for those who didn’t grow up with them. Humor can simultaneously express and ease frustration. I think Audi managed to accomplish that here, within an American idea of what’s funny. Not bad.

3 Steve Horwitz { 02.09.10 at 9:27 am }

I loved the commercial as it unfolded but hated it by the end. Isn’t the message something like “Sure the enviro-correct future will be full of draconian enforcement by a police state, but you can avoid all that by driving the right car – or, implicitly, buying the right light bulbs etc.” Isn’t this analogous to saying “Sure the KGB is violent and invasive, but if you’re a good communist you won’t have to worry about that”? The end of the ad undermined the first two-thirds.

4 Robert Bradley Jr. { 02.09.10 at 9:33 am }

And yet another comment at Climate Progress of note (and see the link to the Slate article):

62. CMann says: February 8, 2010 at 11:10 pm
A lot of people want to believe that the greediest choice is the greenest one too. That is a major problem in a society that refuses to make hard choices and these morons are that ones Audi is tapping into. Jacob Weisberg nails them: http://www.slate.com/id/2243797/

5 Donna Laframboise { 02.09.10 at 9:39 am }

I’ve blogged about reactions to the Audi commercial, too. You can find folks on both the left and right who thought it was “offensive”.

http://nofrakkingconsensus.blogspot.com/2010/02/audis-green-police-superbowl-ad.html

Cheers!

6 Kenneth P. Green { 02.09.10 at 9:58 am }

Donna – Great post! If you amend it, plug me in! By the way, I plan on citing stuff from your blog in a post I’m working on, that brings together all the IPCC (so far discovered) boo-boos in one place.

7 Chris { 02.09.10 at 12:37 pm }

Why do the ideologues on the left accuse people who disagree with climate change from a scientific standpoint as rightist ideologues? Is this not a massive case of projection? From my viewpoint, the global warming proponents are the ideologues, not the skeptics. The skeptics counter with scientific arguments, the proponents counter with appeals to authority.

8 Robert Bradley Jr. { 02.09.10 at 1:27 pm }

I would like to bring up a point about green diesel–what Audi was trying to get across in the first place.

Diesel as a clean fuel is just another example of the sustainable carbon-based energy era. The real advances are happening within the fossil-fuel family, not outside of it. Julian Simon is right. Human ingenuity has triumphed in market settings. We do not need central planning or carbon pricing.

The other side is just going to have to wake up to the fact that CO2 is not a pollutant but is a net positive for living things. That might be tough for those with an agenda (cap carbon to cap capitalism), but to the open minded it is the way forward to focus on real problems and get happy over modern life.

9 Marlo Lewis { 02.09.10 at 4:38 pm }

Gang,
I also blogged today on the Audi Super Bowl ad, on Openmarket.Org: http://www.openmarket.org/2010/02/09/audi-super-bowl-ad-working-both-sides-of-street/ Cheers

10 A Matter of Time — The New Clarion { 02.10.10 at 2:29 pm }

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