It saddens me that Coca-Cola has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund on this project; poor WWF must be pretty cash-strapped to choose to team up with a soft drink company for money. But that's not what's shocking about this story. Rather, it's the motivation behind the campaign, and how incongruous it is with Coke's modus operandi. Let me explain.
The polar bear is the focus of this project in part because the animal has been featured in Coke ads since 1922 and also because its population has been declining due primarily to warming arctic waters, i.e. climate change. Briefly, rising temperatures in the north cause sea ice to melt earlier in the summer. Without this ice, polar bears have a really hard time hunting seals, and they end up on dry land with less food and not enough fat to see them through the season. Many lose even more energy just trying to make it to the coast, now that there are greater distances to swim between ice floes. Tragically, pregnant female bears can't always build effective dens in thawing permafrost. There are many more threats to polar bears' survival that are related to climate change, and you can read about them here.
|Red areas show the projected loss of optimal polar bear habitat over the next 40 years.|
I have no issue at all with the efforts being made to protect these majestic bears. My beef is with Coca-Cola. How can they expect us to see this as anything besides greenwashing? They want to save the bears that are harmed by climate change... while contributing to climate change by making soft drinks... WTF!? I may not be a climate scientist, but if the company is responsible for over 1.6 billion servings of its various beverages every day, then I'm willing to bet that the carbon footprint of this worldwide production is not exactly negligible.
The syrup/concentrate alone accounts for much of this, since Coke is made with high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is really complicated to produce, starting with the monoculture farming of a variety of corn that is rich in starch and utterly devoid of nutrients. Vast amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (which, in and of themselves, require plenty of energy to produce) are applied to the corn, which must subsequently be milled into corn starch, processed into corn syrup, mixed with enzymes, purified, enriched, and evaporated to yield HFCS. Imagine just how much energy is required to make this happen... and how many greenhouse gases are emitted by the coal-fired power plants that feed the processing plants! All in the name of profit...
There are other issues related to the production of soft drinks, not the least of which is the depletion of groundwater in the areas surrounding Coca-Cola's bottling plants, notably in India. I don't need to tell you that messing with the water cycle has a serious impact on global climate. Another big factor is packaging: the production of single-use plastic bottles and aluminum cans only adds to the already enormous carbon footprint associated with making Coke. I don't need to go on. It's clear that making this beverage is as bad for the planet as consuming it is hazardous for human health. Spending $2 million on protecting polar bear habitat just doesn't make up for the damage that has already been done. Where is the accountability?
Photo of new Coca Cola can used under Creative Commons from José Roitberg (flickr).
Image of changes in polar bear habitat sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Image of Coca Cola's impact in India sourced from Wikimedia Commons.