“Greenwashing” and Radiohead’s Newspaper, The Universal Sigh

03/30/2011 10:49 AM |

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It’s important to be critical of what people with bundles of money do with those bundles of money in the name of the environment. So props to Salon for asking whether Radiohead’s newspaper marking their King of Limbs physical release was really necessary in terms of the environmental cost—The Universal Sigh website only briefly ‘splains what’s up (in jargon, mostly) before linking to a page on “carbon retirement.”

That page doesn’t explain it much better, but does include a sunny video about what CO2 molecules might look like if they had legs and bowler hats. Entertaining, but unhelpful.

Hopefully this breaks it down a bit better: The main thing to know about “carbon retirement” is that it stakes itself out as something different from carbon offsets or carbon trading. Carbon offsets and trading are supposed to be ways to manage carbon emissions, in which governments and corporations buy carbon credits if their emissions aren’t making government standards. A carbon credit, just FYI, is equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide that is not released into the air. So if a corporation isn’t into actually changing their methods of production, they can just invest their carbon credits or offsets in something like a reforestation project that will theoretically absorb the greenhouse gas that corporation continues to pump into our lovely atmosphere.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t necessarily significantly decrease carbon emissions, can cause more harm than good and most importantly, is just another way for corporations to evade responsibility by buying fake environmental sustainability elsewhere. Frontline actually investigated one of these projects by visiting the Brazilian rainforest where GM buys trees to offset their carbon emissions and unearthed a slew of social justice issues in the process—local people being displaced, livelihoods destroyed, etc. etc. etc. But carbon retirement differs from carbon trading, because a carbon retirement fund buys carbon credits and then extinguishes them, permanently removing from the market. This limits the number of carbon credits available to corporations, therefore ideally reducing carbon emissions. Seems more straightforward than offsetting, but again, you still have to trust this single, private carbon retirement company to do it.

But one beef: Salon ended the article by asking, even if carbon retirement is legit, if the newspaper idea is “really sending the right message to DIY bands who would emulate Radiohead’s method of artistic self-promotion.” Salon, c’mon. Because of Radiohead, are DIY-ers suddenly going to throw down their macaroni frames and crochet needles to run to clear-cut the nearest virgin forest? No. Plus, everyone knows you can use newspaper to pad your compost bin. Radiohead compost. Now that’s some neat DIY.

2 Comment

  • C’mon people, do we really need to investigate the environmental merits of Radiohead’s newspaper?! You should spend your self-righteous earnestness on something that will actually impact the environment. Enough with green masturbation, aren’t you bored with yourself yet?

  • Just saw this and even though it’s over a year old I enjoyed it. I think the above poster missed the point, but it’s a valid question. If Radiohead cares as much about the environment as they claim, why print a newspaper to promote your album? Yorke does well talking the talk, but for at the end of the day all of the talking takes a back seat to raking in a few more Euros. Buy my newspaper and CD and when you’re done with that, take my picture at the Copenhagen climate summit.