For Green buffoonery in all its ghastly, opportunistic, incompetent, self-righteous glory, there is the latest episode of the BBC’s The Apprentice. That’s the series where someone incredibly rich and successful like Donald Trump conducts a “job interview from hell” in which ambitious young things compete for employment at Trump Central. In the BBC version, silly posh people and salt-of-the-earth working class types battle it out for a job with Cockney barrow boy Sir Alan Sugar, whose businesses are worth, we are told, 800 million pounds.
British readers with an hour to kill within the next four days can watch the show here. For everyone else, it goes something like this…
The candidates must come up with a brand new occasion for a range of greetings cards. Will they find a gap in this saturated market? And will their ideas be commercial?
What the two teams come up with is Happy Singles’ Day and, yes, Save Planet Earth Day. As bad as Happy Singles’ Day may be, a packaged greetings card celebrating the use of fewer resources is, as Sir Alan points out, a complete non-starter. But that alone does not explain the excruciating hilarity of the team’s attempts to sell them to retailers. What makes the pitches for Save Planet Earth Day such exquisitely uncomfortable viewing is the religious zeal with which they fight the cause. These guys think they ought to believe what they are saying. The problem is that they don’t believe it. Which makes it tricky to convince others. But as any environmentalist worth their salt knows, when people don’t believe you, you emotionally blackmail them or appeal to their sense of self-loathing. Team leader Kevin does both. In his pitch to market leader Clinton Cards, he resorts to:
If you don’t put your weight behind it, then it’s just the same as the US saying “we don’t care about pollution”
Kevin missed a trick there. Why stop at the US? Surely, anyone who begs to differ with environmental orthodoxy is worse even than that – they’re more like rats, slave traders, or Holocaust deniers.
Greens would interpret Kevin’s embarrassing Green epiphany rather differently. They would write it off as mere Greenwash, just another cynical attempt by business to tap into the grassroots popularity of the Environmental movement. The problem for that theory is that the Environmental movement is not popular. No sooner had we mentioned last week the ABC News poll where global warming didn’t figure at all in the US public’s list of priorities, and last year’s Ipsos Mori poll that showed that the great British public aren’t quite so Green as Britain’s Great and Good like to think we should be, than there was another poll, which found that 70% of us would not approve of tax hikes in the name of tackling climate change. The trouble is not that Kevin et al are cynically trying to exploit a market; it’s that they’re trying to sell a product that is wrapped up with a cynical ideology, and for which there is no market.
That the public are not as gullible as the Kevins of this world would have it does not bode well for green initiatives that rely on consumer power. Fairtrade, for example – still far from a market leader – won’t stand a chance once we realise that it’s not actually particularly ethical to give people a friendly pat on the head and toss them some loose change to make sure they carry on doing all those jobs that we wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.
The beauty of it all for self-righteous greens, however, is that you don’t actually have to take any responsibility when you fail – you just blame the consumers. Just as Kevin does when reflecting on what went wrong with his pitch:
If that’s the attitude everyone takes, then we’re not going to be able to save any planet
Sir Alan didn’t get where he is today by not cynically exploiting markets. Nor by cynically exploiting non-markets. Nor by cynically blaming people who refused to buy his wares. Kevin gets fired.