Greenwashing, Greenwishing or Evidence-Based Climate
Change Mitigation?

We're probably all familiar with the term #greenwashing, but probably not so much with #greenwishing. The goal of this Climate Web Microsite is to help you dig deeper into these two terms, and to juxtapose both of them with evidence-based policies and initiatives aimed at climate change mitigation.

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The point of thinking of these terms on a continuum is not to be able to classify every climate action or claim as falling into concept or the other. There will always be ambiguity present, and to some extent how you think about an action or claim will often depend on whose eyes you are looking at it from. Greenwishing, for example, isn’t inherently bad. Many commitments to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050, for example, probably constitute greenwishing. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re already beginning to take evidence-based steps to start toward that goal.

Here are some thoughts about the different terms might relate to each other from different perspectives.

  • Companies setting science-based targets might reasonably claim to be setting an evidence-based target, even though the idea that science-based targets can significantly mitigate climate change is arguably greenwishing.
  • Companies voluntarily setting aggressive footprint reduction or carbon neutral targets based on the extensive use of cheap carbon offsets are at least greenwishing, and are arguably engaged in greenwashing since they should know better.
  • Companies focused on reducing their own carbon footprints might reasonably claim to be following the evidence of what needs to happen to mitigate climate change (dramatic emissions reductions), but what if they’re not also engaged in the policy advocacy necessary to make such emissions reductions scale to the necessary level to mitigate climate change? Does their failure to engage in policy advocacy suggest that their footprint reduction efforts should be seen as greenwishing or greenwashing?
  • Someone spending $750/ton on a carbon offset based on literally turning CO2 into rock could reasonably claim to be following the evidence, even though the idea that voluntary carbon offsets can substantially mitigate climate change is arguably greenwishing.
  • Taking a big step back, some observers would argue that when it comes to tackling climate change, anything short of getting rid of capitalism is greenwishing. Of course, others would characterize the idea of “getting rid of capitalism” as the ultimate “greenwishing.”

The real point of developing the continuum presented above is to encourage self-examination of one’s thinking, actions, and targets when it comes to climate change mitigation. Because without that introspection, it becomes even more likely than it already is for climate change decision-making at all levels to fall prey to the “willful blindness” documented in Margaret Heffernan’s great 2011 book.

You can get a sense of the Climate Web’s coverage of these topics through the GIF just below, and then dig into this coverage in more detail on the “Greenwishing,” “Greenwashing,” and “Evidence-Based Decisionmaking” pages of this Climate Site.

Greenwish and wash GIF

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