Political Hay

Green with Hypocrisy

While trying to go green, Democratic National Convention planners trip over their own carbon footprint.

By 8.21.08

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Less than a week before the Democratic National Convention, the convention committee has overspent and underplanned, though they deny both. As of mid-August, with less than two weeks before Democrats convene in Denver to nominate Senator Barack Obama, the construction of the stage at Invesco field had not been completed and many predict labor will continue down to the wire.

Bad planning and tight funds may be part of the problem, but the biggest obstacle is the Democrats' priorities. Since the early planning stages, the DNCC has been more interesting appearing green than getting things done. The result has been a PR effort rather than a practical example of stewardship and a convention committee more interested in appearing environment-friendly than being cost-effective.

While the DNCC splurged and has enjoyed working at their posh, rented office space in Denver for $100,000 a month, they didn't hesitate to put tight restrictions on other businesses. In June, the Greening Task Force of the Denver Host Committee developed "Lean 'N Green" guidelines for local caterers and restaurants participating in the convention (but not for themselves). Among the restrictions: Dishes served during the four-day period include three of five specific colors, the food grown locally or organically, and cannot be fried.

The double-standards began a year ago last summer when the DNCC hired Andrea Robinson to be their Director of Greening to make their convention as green as possible. Robinson was also the "Green Manager" for Live Earth, the event last summer that used more energy in its 24-hour duration than over 3,000 people use in one year.

While DNCC encouraged bloggers from all over the country to attain credentials and travel to Denver to blog the convention (thus emitting CO2), their Republican counterparts encouraged bloggers to obtain credentials but also acquired the services of Ustream.TV -- allowing bloggers to view the proceedings via live streaming from their own living rooms.

But the Republicans aren't broadcasting their greenness. The Rocky Mountain News reported House Speaker Nancy Pelosi helped launch an initiative within the DNCC's green efforts called the "Green Democratic Challenge." Delegates attending the convention are challenged "to buy offsets for the carbon footprint they'll leave by traveling and staying in the metro area" and are encouraged to purchase an offset from Native Energy, a firm located in Oregon and Colorado, for about $7.50.

A carbon offset is a way of balancing one's carbon footprint through funding projects like wind farms that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Native Energy's website explains: "Basically, carbon offsetting involves helping someone to do something that they wouldn't otherwise have done, that results in less CO2 emissions than would have happened had you not helped them to do it."

The DNC also has a carbon calculator on their convention website which delegates are supposed to use to track their footprint. The calculator does not allow for travel to and from all cities, so it's not entirely accurate, but if I use an alternative carbon calculator to estimate the carbon footprint of the DNCC's Convention Conversations (a series of 10 forums that occurred over the course of this last year about the convention across the Rocky Mountain Region), the numbers are interesting. This last January, DNCC head Leah Daughtry traveled to Las Vegas for one of the "conversations." If she took just two staff members with her and traveled by air from Denver, the total air emissions would have been 1.47 metric tons of CO2.

That's probably fewer miles than Al Gore logs on his jet, but it still amounts to preaching green while polluting tons. Will the staff of the DNCC be purchasing carbon offsets for their own travel, or will they just expect those attending the convention to do so? It's not easy seeming green.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.