By Kyle Thiermann
"Bank of America's Money is Getting Greener" is the headline of a recent article praising the Bank of America for launching a $20-billion project to help finance environmentally smart business practices. With a headline like this, it would be easy to draw false conclusions from the article. One quote from the article says that the Bank of America will be helping other companies in "trading carbon-emissions credit." While at first look this might seem good, what it actually means is that if the Bank of America is financing companies that are environmentally efficient, they can give some of their "credit" to a corporation that is exceeding the amount of pollution a corporation is allowed to produce per year. This keeps the corporate polluters in power instead of them being shut down as a consequence of their not abiding by the law.
This article isn't the only one that encourages false conclusions for the public. Oversimplification is common in the vast majority of corporate owned media. For example, on TV it shows the CEO of Wal-Mart on a talk show say, "Sixty-eight percent of Wal-Mart associates are full time, most people don't know that." What the CEO doesn't say is that at starting wages, an associate working full time at Wal-Mart earns $13 thousand a year.
It is harmful to oversimplify media and not give people enough information to draw their own conclusions. Oversimplification encourages readers and viewers to rely on the conclusions that the media offers ready-made. It is important to consider the economic benefits for the media-owner of their convincing us to agree with them.
An example of this is with General Electric (GE). GE owns television networks including NBC, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, and 38 television stations in the US such as MSNBC, and Bravo. GE also makes war machines for the military, like planes, helicopters, tanks, and more. So GE makes war machines for the troops in Iraq, as well as owns the show "Meet the Press." GE is going to lose billions of dollars if the war ends because their war machines will stop selling. So there is huge financial incentive for GE to promote the war on the TV stations that they own, all 38 of them.
When you take a deeper look at an article like the "Bank of America's Money is Getting Greener", more things begin to raise questions. Look who is associated with the Bank of America's new green project and have joined them in signing the Equator Principal, in which they vow "to assess the environmental effects" before they lend to a company. Wal-Mart, GE, JP Morgan, and Citibank have all recently signed the Equator Principals. These corporations and banks are some of the worst perpetrators of environmental and human right violations.
On its website, the Bank of America claims that they provide financial services to 98% of the Fortune 500 companies. Some of the companies on this list are ExxonMobile, Ford, and Halliburton. These companies have demonstrated a consistent disregard both for laws as well as citizens and the environment. Halliburton was singled out for especially horrendous behavior toward American soldiers in Iraq. Because the company had a contract where they got paid per trip for any of their vehicles, they had soldiers drive them through dangerous territory even if empty to make more money, risking the soldiers lives for nothing but greed. This was reported by soldiers whose comrades died unnecessarily and the story was confirmed in an article in Common Dreams, a reliable online news source. ExxonMobile has never paid for any of the damage from its notorious oil spill in1989, despite having been fined. They just tie the case up in court for endless litigation, which costs them less than the fine.
Twenty billion is a worth while investment for the Bank of America to appear green. They will as a result get brand recognition for being green as well as getting new business from high-end developers.
It is important to think critically when looking at any issue. Considering the source of the information and the economic benefits to whomever is being made to seem heroic are at least two things to consider when reading the news. the Bank of America may indeed launch a $20 billion environmental campaign. And some of it will do real good for the planet. But let's not forget to consider that they are at the same time financing the most destructive companies that exist. It's important not to have an oversimplified response to oversimplified news.