by Eleanor Goldfield

A similar version of this article appeared on Episode 164 of Act Out!

Back in 2007, Coca-Cola promised that for every drop of water they take, they’d give one back. The announcement came following some horrendous press in the mid aughts regarding Coca-Cola’s penchant for siphoning water from local sources in order to keep costs low. Initially set for 2020, the company announced that they had reached their water replenishment goal in 2016 – even taking out a full page ad in the New York Times to celebrate this unbelievable feat. The problem was and is that this feat isn’t just unbelievable – it is in fact not true. Coke’s ambitious aim was wrapped in all the fixins of a greenwashing campaign extravaganza.

First off, they employed vague (but clean and comfortable) language: “water neutral.” The problem is, as The Verge notes in their coverage of this story, no one can agree on what the fuck “water neutral” means. This quintessential greenwashing term was coined by a businessman who claimed corporations could offset global water crises by purchasing credits that would then be invested in water access and water efficiency programs. (Let’s put aside the fact that asking corporations stealing our water to save our water is kinda like asking the guy who stabbed you to drive you to the hospital.) The water neutral initiative never bothered to explain how corporations would calculate their water usage or screen programs that claim to give water back. But the nuts and bolts weren’t important. As Andre Agassi once said, “Image is everything.”

As Coca-Cola found that their corporate supply chain was guzzling water that they would never dream of paying to replace or mitigate, some creative accounting was employed to ensure a clean image and corporate conscience. There’s 0.5 liters of water in a bottle of coke. It takes 35 liters of water to produce a half-liter bottle of Coke. Guess which amount of water they’re “replacing”? When Coke says it’s returning “every drop,” what they mean is they’re replacing only the water that actually fits into each bottle or can. According to a Water Footprint study , “nearly 99 percent of its water use is left unaccounted for — possibly more, considering that not all of the company’s offset projects actually “return” water to nature, by the company’s own admission.” By their own admission !

Meanwhile Coke has partnered with (read: paid shit tons of money to) environmental groups that then go on to congratulate Coke on being “water neutral.” Then hippie-type millennials dance on beaches in their ads, making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, imagining that Coke actually might give a flying fuck as to how many millions of people on this planet don’t have access to clean water. But surprise-surprise, they don’t. They only care about their bottom line. And it always costs more to actually do better than to appear to do better. Indeed, this might as well be etched in stone on every corporate building in the world. For each campaign laced with environmental concern, sustainability, giving back, stewardship and other choice verbiage, there’s a whole team of people whose job it is to strap “eco-friendly” on the backs of endangered species languishing in parched forests or on scorched earth.

This is also why corporations are so desperate to ensure that their hard work of appearing to give a shit isn’t marred by those who see beyond the flimsy facade. More and more, corporations are using Strategic Litigation against Public Participation or SLAPP to silence organizations and individuals who accuse these corporations of human rights abuses, environmental degradation or other malfeasance. For example when Chevron sued the American lawyer who had won a several billion dollar case against Chevron for their destruction of and irreparable pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Without ever denying the fact that they were guilty of that crime, Chevron constructed a bogus case of racketeering – and won! Another similar case claims that environmental activists, in particular Greenpeace “made defamatory claims to fraudulently induce donations from the public in violation of the RICO

[Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] act.” RICO was also used to sue Greenpeace in another case brought by Energy Transfer Partners during the protests to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. In other words, corporations are suing people for exposing corporate malfeasance and corruption under laws against corruption. It really is no wonder the Onion is struggling to top a world that has lapped satire.

Outside of mere defamation, these cases also often push for jail time. In yet another example of this paradigm at work, last week the people who exposed a turkey torture camp were charged with multiple felony counts . Yet it goes even further. In 2013, the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council noted in a report that she had “observed the consolidation of more sophisticated forms of silencing [defender’s] voices and impeding their work, including the application of legal and administrative provisions or the misuse of the judicial system to criminalize and stigmatise their activities. These patterns not only endanger the physical integrity and undermine the work of human rights defenders, but also impose a climate of fear and send an intimidating message to society at large.” Which of course, is exactly the point. If people are too afraid to speak out, corporations can destroy us and the planet in peace. Dissent threatens their bottom line – and not just dissent but the building of alternatives; the knowledge that we can do better than the forced war, the forced poverty that creates a global graveyard in the name of some rich asshole’s off-shore bank account. Corporations will use the courts and most certainly the authorities to protect their interests.

The people who exposed the turkey death camps is just one such example. A few weeks ago, four folks down in Louisiana were arrested by police for, get this, documenting the continued construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline during a court-ordered work stoppage. The cops, however, opted to arrest the water protectors rather than the construction workers illegally tearing up land for a fucking oil pipeline. That mentality was also at play on May 23rd along the proposed route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. A protector occupying a monopod finally came down after four days without food. The forest service had set up a blockade and wasn’t allowing any supplies up to the monopod – which is basically torture. And you read that correctly: the Forest Service. The agency whose motto is “caring for the land and serving people.” That is their god damn motto! And yet they not only wouldn’t allow ground support to serve people the essentials of survival, they’re offering up that land they care so much about to be raped and destroyed by a natural gas pipeline. Considering their unique brand of caring and serving, it’s no surprise that they also stood by when two days later, on May 25th, workers cut the branches of a tree that housed a tree-sitter, injuring that person. Anybody caring or serving on that one? Anyone there to serve or protect?

To be fair, maybe everyone was so busy prepping for this fake protest that they neglected to notice the human rights and environmental abuses happening in their backyards. Last Tuesday, almost 30 agencies across the Richmond, Virginia area trained for a “civil unrest event” which staged a potential clash of groups for and against the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the middle of Richmond. Apparently the idea for this staging popped up after the events in Charlottesville last year where police stood by as nazis attacked counter-protesters and one woman was murdered by a white supremacist terrorist who drove a car into a crowd of people.

And here’s the thing – even if cops in that training hypothetically chose to hypothetically intercede between fascists and water protectors, they do not care about our safety. If they did, they would’ve stopped workers from injuring a tree-sitter, they would’ve stopped the Forest Service from torturing an activist – they would’ve done any number of things to mitigate or put an end to any number of human rights violations and environmental abuses. But they didn’t, they don’t and they won’t. The simple truth is that all they care about is maintaining order, the order of the state that perpetuates those very same human rights violations and environmental abuses.

This is the same order that allows Coca-Cola to siphon water from local communities. And it’s the same order that will smile fake smiles as Coke fails to recycle 100% of its packaging by 2030, a promise they made earlier this year. It’s the order that allows courts to be used against those fighting for justice. It’s the order that is built on capitalist chaos, on an ongoing spiral of crisis. This ordered chaos is huge and complex – but it is also fragile; fragile because it is built on our faith in it. The more we question, the harder the chaos cretins will work to impose this belief on us – like a sadistic mother superior. It is no doubt risky and scary to stand and face the fire and brimstone of a dying empire. However, as we recognize that the greenwashing, the corporate SLAPPs and the authoritarian moves are indicative of an empire in decline, we are also recognizing ways to collaborate in not only surviving but building alternatives. Stay woke. Stay vigilant. Protect and build with your community.