Seeming Green

COPENHAGEN – When Denmark’s new government ministers presented themselves to Queen Margrethe II last month, the incoming development minister established his green credentials by rolling up to the palace in a tiny, three-wheeled, electric-powered vehicle. The photo opportunity made a powerful statement about the minister’s commitment to the environment – but probably not the one he intended.

Christian Friis Bach’s electric-powered vehicle was incapable of covering the 30 kilometers from his house to the palace without running out of power. So he put the electric mini-car inside a horse trailer and dragged it behind his petrol-powered Citroën for three-quarters of the trip, switching back to the mini-car when he neared the television cameras. The stunt produced more carbon emissions than if he had ditched the electric car and horse trailer and driven a regular car the entire distance.

Unfortunately, the story is not unique. Under the United Kingdom’s Labour government in 2006, Conservative party leader David Cameron attracted attention for trying to “green” his credentials by cycling to work; the tactic went awry when it emerged that a car trailed him carrying his briefcase.

But environmental hypocrisy in current politics runs deeper than photo opportunities. In Denmark, as across the developed world, politicians are promising to fix the globe’s financial mess by overseeing a transition to a greener economy. In the United States, President Barack Obama touts “green jobs.” Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has introduced a carbon tax to “enable economic growth without increases in carbon pollution.” And David Cameron was elected Prime Minister on a promise to lead the UK’s “greenest government ever.”