There Is an Enormous Amount of Greenwashing Today in Every Sector of Life
By Jim McFie, a Fellow of ICPAK
Large areas of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are currently in the grip of a severe drought. Almost seventeen million people face acute food insecurity. Four consecutive rainy seasons have now failed since late 2020, a climatic event not seen in at least 40 years.
Drought is generally defined as “a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time (usually a season or more), resulting in a water shortage”: the current drought has resulted in a loss of soil moisture, caused waterways to dry up, and led to the death of millions of livestock.
As is the case in Kenya, the Horn of Africa experiences two rainy seasons per year. The timing varies across the region, but rains broadly fall from March to May (the “long rains”) and from September to December. The delayed start and then failure of the March to May rains in 2022 have been felt particularly in equatorial parts of the region, where the long rains contribute 70% of the annual total. The situation is unlikely to improve in the short term. Forecasts suggest that the September to December rainy season could also fail. This would set the stage for an unprecedented five-season drought. At the time of my writing this article in Nairobi, the “short rains” may have begun: we have had two days of rain on 1st and 2nd of November.
A man by the name of Christian Pfister is one of the founders of the related fields of climate history and historical climatology. Historical climatology uses descriptions of weather conditions within historical documents, combined with meteorological data, to explore how rainfall has varied in the past across various regions. Pfister explains how he helped establish climate history and historical climatology in a new book entitled “Climate and Society in Europe: The Last Thousand Years”. He explains how these fields benefit from genuine collaboration between disciplines, and what they may be revealing about today’s climate crisis. He also describes the most important themes in the last millennium of climate change in Europe – and why it is so important that scholars introduce their methods, models, and sources to a broad audience.
To understand the relative severity of the current drought in the Horn of Africa, we need to examine both historical records and data. The past 200 years includes what is called the period of instrumental record – the period during which rain gauges were used to record rainfall. The earliest systematic rainfall data collection in Africa began in the 1830s in coastal Algeria and southwest South Africa. In eastern Africa, however, continuous runs of data are available only from the 1870s onwards. The gaps for years and areas where there are no measured rainfall data can be filled in using historical information sources. The most important of these are oral histories and collections of documents written mainly by settlers, explorers, missionaries and colonial governments that describe past climate and conditions related to climate.
There are several droughts that stand out. 2016 was the driest single year of the last four decades – Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya received 40% less rainfall between August and October that year than the long-term average. The 2016 drought followed a particularly strong El Niño event, when warmer and cooler water in the Pacific Ocean shifted, with knock on effects for the Indian Ocean and eastern African rainfall. The drought of 2011 produced famine conditions in Somalia, where tens of thousands died of malnutrition; some 11 million in eastern Africa faced severe food shortages. I distinctly remember the drought from 1983 to 1986 – which triggered global humanitarian efforts such as the music fundraising initiative “Live Aid”. It too was very severe. Like the current drought, the event was prolonged and therefore had a cumulative effect. Another prolonged drought occurred in 1973 to 1975: the drought in Somalia developed due to the abnormally low rainfalls in 1973 and 1974 and was aggravated by the consequences of drought conditions in neighboring countries. In the northern areas, yields from rain-fed agricultural crops were reduced as well as earnings from livestock, the major source of Somalia’s export earnings. As the effects of the drought spread in six of the country’s 15 regions, increasing livestock deaths resulted, and feeding and caring for the nomadic peoples, normally completely dependent on their animals, became a major humanitarian concern. Going back further, rainfall series spanning the full instrumental period suggest that the mid-1950s was almost as dry as 2016 in Ethiopia and Somalia.
It is possible that even more severe droughts occurred during the pre-instrumental period. It is not easy to compare the magnitude of the rainfall deficit during modern droughts with earlier periods when rainfall was not measured. However, a major, continent-wide historical climate study shows that eastern Africa experienced droughts – at least as bad as those in recent decades – throughout the 1820s and 1830s, during the 1880s and around 1900. The 1820s-1830s drought was probably the worst of the last 200 years. Lake levels fell in central Kenya, with Lake Baringo drying up completely, explained in an article as: “The sediment records of three shallow climate-sensitive lakes in equatorial East Africa (Chibwera and Kanyamukali in western Uganda, and Baringo in central Kenya) contain clear lithological evidence of an episode of complete desiccation in the relatively recent past”. Reports from “explorers” described prolonged famine, possibly lasting as long as 20 years, affecting areas including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. A more recent historical climate study provides further detail for Kenya, including vivid descriptions of the multi-year, drought-driven, famine around 1900. This is locally referred to as the “lwaya” (crocodile) famine, as people had to hunt crocodiles for food. By 1902, colonial authorities had to distribute Indian rice, brought in via the under-construction railway linking the coast to Lake Victoria, as famine relief.
Taking this information as whole, the current drought in eastern Africa is clearly unprecedented in recent decades. This is due mainly to the fact that below-average rainfall has fallen in four consecutive seasons. The worst recent food security crises in the region have been associated with multi-season dry spells. However, the droughts of the 1820s and 1830s, before the advent of global humanitarian aid, were even more protracted and therefore probably more severe in terms of cumulative human impacts.
In addition to causing people to suffer – and to record these climate adversities – droughts also impact natural vegetation and landscapes. These impacts leave a legacy in pollen and sedimentary records that can be studied by botanists and geologists to understand past climate variability. Data from marine sediments in the Gulf of Aden spanning the past 2,000 years, for example, indicate a close association between globally warm conditions and drying in the eastern Horn of Africa. If this association holds into the future, global warming will be met with drying and we may anticipate worse droughts.
What has this to do with the world of accountancy? Accountancy is concerned with truth: we speak of a set of financial statements giving a “true and fair” view. In addition, I think accountancy is based on logic – the study of correct reasoning. There have been new findings from two climate science professors that suggest that an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere follows a rise in temperature rather than coming before it and causing it, throwing into doubt the whole of the current theory of human-driven global warming. The scientists find that higher temperatures increase the natural processes of soil respiration and ocean outgassing, and hence boost natural CO2 emissions. If confirmed, the information destroys the so-called ‘settled’ science basis upon which the command-and-control Net Zero political agenda depends. Demetris Koutsoyiannis and Zbigniew Kundzewicz sequenced the changes in temperatures and CO2 growth rates from 1980 to 2019 from widely available sources, and discovered that CO2 values lagged temperature by about six months. The obvious point is made that in attempting to prove causality – as climate alarmists do by arguing that increases in temperature are the result of increases in human-caused CO2 – cause cannot lag effect.
Leighton Steward, a noted geologist, and author of “Fire, Ice and Paradise”, claims that the Earth needs more, not less, carbon dioxide to feed plant life and that the carbon dioxide cap-and-trade scheme could actually hurt the environment by reducing CO2 levels. The global warming debate has focused on reducing CO2 emissions because it is thought that the greenhouse gas produced mostly from fossil fuels is warming the planet. But Steward, who once believed CO2 caused global warming, is trying to fight that with a mountain of studies and scientific evidence that suggest CO2 is not the cause for warming. He says that CO2 levels are so low that more, not less, is needed to sustain and expand plant growth. Trying to debunk theories that higher CO2 levels cause warming, he cites studies that show CO2 levels following temperature spikes, prompting him to back other scientists who say that global warming is caused by solar activity. He is worried that the legislation that will be passed to restrict emissions will result in huge and unneeded taxes. Worse, if CO2 levels are cut, he warns, food production will slow because plants grown at higher CO2 levels make larger fruit and vegetables and also use less water. He also said that higher CO2 levels are not harmful to humans. As an example, he says that Earth’s atmosphere currently has about 338 parts per million of CO2 and that in US Navy submarines, the danger level for carbon dioxide is not reached until the air has 8,000 parts per million of CO2.
The “reduce-CO2” lobby group supports ESG reporting. A recent article published by Bloomberg confirms environment, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives often support activities and programs that harm the environment and violate human rights. In addition, companies committed to ESG goals are often unprofitable or at least produce lower returns than competitors and investors are not really committed to putting amorphous, often ill-defined, environment and social goals above profits. ESG and DEI (“diversity, equity and inclusion”) “taken together … constitute the ruling business ideology of our age,” writes Bloomberg Global Business Columnist Adrian Wooldridge. “Both ESG and DEI have generated massive industries. Investment giants, notably BlackRock Inc., State Street Corp., and Vanguard Group Inc., claim that more than a third of their assets, or $35 trillion, are monitored through one ESG lens or another. Every Fortune 100 company and most Fortune 500 companies have adopted DEI programs.” Despite all the hype, experience shows the various goals pursued under the banner of ESG and DEI conflict with each other. In pursuing environmental goals, for example, equity or human rights goals are undermined, writes Wooldridge. In addition, research shows the pursuit of these often-amorphous goals can lower investment returns, Wooldridge writes: “The apostles of ESG are as guilty of overselling their product as they are of intellectual sloppiness. The phrase ‘win-win’ that is endemic in the industry obscures the huge costs of adjusting to climate change. But is it ‘win-win’ for investors when, according to an analysis by Morningstar, ‘sustainable’ funds charge on average annual fees that are almost 50% higher than those of traditional funds? And is it ‘win-win’ for the planet when companies can game the system by selling a polluting plant to another company that is happy to be judged as a “sin” stock? A 2021 literature review of more than 1,100 peer reviewed studies and 27 published meta-analyses determined that the risk-adjusted financial performance of ESG investing was indistinguishable from conventional investing. Another study of American mutual funds between 2010 and 2018 found that companies in ESG investment portfolios violated more labor laws, paid more fines and had higher carbon emissions than those in non-ESG portfolios sold by the same institution. As to DEI goals, Wooldridge finds the pursuit of equity is often just warmed-over envy and socialism, which regularly leads to absurd corporate policies that offend many workers, customers, and the public while damaging the corporate bottom line.
Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound. Greenwashing is an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly or have a greater positive environmental impact than what is true. There is an enormous amount of greenwashing today in every sector of life, but especially on the part of the climate change advocates.
Let us not be fooled into thinking that the end of the world has arrived.