Resourceful by Nature™

March 15, 2006

Yesterday morning’s mail brought a solicitation from Earth Policy Institute for its (Lester Brown’s) new book “Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and A Civilization in Trouble.” My first sighting of Lester Brown was in 1994 in Washington, DC at a large meeting on sustainability. I had, by then, purchased and read several of his Worldwatch Institute reports, and Flavin and Lenssen’s “Power Surge, Guide to the Coming Energy Revolution,” and I respected Mr. Brown to the level of a deep bow. In 2002, I spoke with (at) him at a DOE Green Power Marketing Conference, effusive with admiration and awkward – a self-immolating and embarrassing habit.

“Dear Reader,” (begins the solicitation) “In his book ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,’ Jared Diamond describes how earlier civilizations moved onto an economic path that was environmentally unsustainable.” Ah, too early in the morning for Jared Diamond and his depressing tome. I skim on, but think about my work for the day: writing an article on renewable, clean energy for an energy training company in California which has an interest in biomass…

“The competition for oil is already altering the relationship between oil and food. We have long been concerned about the effect of rising oil prices on food production costs, but now we can see its effect on the demand for food commodities. Since virtually everything we eat can be converted into automotive fuel either in ethanol distilleries or in biodiesel refineries, high oil prices are opening a vast new market for farm products. Fuel producers are competing directly with food processors for wheat, corn, soybeans, sugarcane, and other foodstuffs. With high oil prices, more and more ethanol distilleries and biodiesel refineries are being built to convert food into fuel. As a result, supermarkets and service stations are competing for the same commodities. In essence, the affluent owners of the world’s 800 million automobiles will be competing with the world’s poor for food.”

Maybe these commodities are better suited as fuel anyway, I speculate…all that genetic modification and chemical fertilizer. Maybe the competition from fuels will egg on the slow-food and relocalization movements. It’s all too dreary before a second glass of tea, and I gravitate to the jazz radio station, only to hear NPR, sponsored by none other than Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM): “ADM is a global leader in biofuels and is helping to meet these growing demands [for energy].”

ADM plans to fuel the cars of the world and feed the people of the world (tofu to the Chinese from American soybeans, in fact).

Their recent ad campaign splices images of hardworking, healthy American farmers with images of healthy Asian consumers. A background of eastern Indian music fades. Highway traffic flows in double-time. Trains and trucks zip alongside cornfields. There are more vibrant images of American farmers. And vivid landscapes of city lights. And acres of gentle waves of green crops. And wide open clear blue skies. Their ads are fashioned similarly across all product lines. For corn-based ‘plastics,’ food and transportation fuel, it’s the same smooth, soothing male voice-over, same visual treatments, same repetitive copy format, same kind of assured message:

“The world’s demand for energy will never stop. Which is why a farmer is growing corn and a farmer is growing soy. And why ADM is turning these crops into biofuels. The world’s demand for energy will never stop. Which is why ADM will never stop. We’re only getting started. ADM. Resourceful by Nature™.”

“Somewhere west of Topeka someone’s getting out for a breath of fresh air. Which is why a farmer is harvesting corn. And why a train is transporting corn. And why ADM is turning corn into ethanol, a renewable, cleaner-burning fuel. Somewhere west of Topeka someone’s getting out for a breath of fresh air. And lots of us are helping make sure that fresh air is actually – fresh. ADM. Resourceful by Nature™.”

This particular someone, sporting red hair and lime-green scoop-neck, is way, way west of Topeka, and she’s at the wheel of a sweet, grey, vintage convertible, cruising alongside a silver lake with mountains off in the distance. She’s definitely not in Kansas. Like ADM, she’s got full tank (money’s not a problem). And she’s on a roll. This ad – the woman, the open air, the notion of carefree escape – gave me goose bumps. Please forgive me, Mr. Brown.

1 reply
  1. Peterbart
    Peterbart says:

    A particular thoughtful post Heather. I think we are all feeling a bit ambivalent about distinguishing between marketing spin and companies actually waking up to the new reality. On the one hand, we have major companies who have shown little evidence of prescience (or care for that matter) about the environment making reassuring noises (ADM and its sycophantic biofuels message) or contemplating swallowing cleantech companies wholesale (Shell’s rumoured acquisition of Vestas comes to mind), and at the same time BP (renamed Beyond Petroleum) is agonizingly slow in coming clean about the recent oil spill in Alaska. These behemoths are arguably drunk on profits – it will take me more than a few feelgood adverts before I trust them.

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