Since I was a teenager in the Seventies, I’ve always regarded myself as a pretty green. Green in the environmental sense that is. I remember the campaign to get lead out of petrol with affection. I studied Environmental Science at university and can remember talking long into the night about issues affecting the planet. I think I even joined the Ecology Party, the forerunner of the Green Party when I was about 18 – though I don’t remember doing anything other than pay the subscription.
Jobs were short when I graduated and I got a job formulating cosmetics rather than doing the environmental work I had originally had in mind. I was surprised to find myself in an industry where people seemed pretty positive about issues close to my heart. Biodegradable surfactants were a new thing but there was never any question of using anything else. I have spoken on other blogs about the fact that formaldehyde was still in use then, but was being removed purely at the initiative of the chemists in the labs.
Given this, I have always listened with care and attention to the environmental lobby. For a long time I didn’t have any problem with being an environmentalist as well as being a scientist at the same time as developing cosmetics. They all seemed to be going in the same direction.
So when I first heard about an American pressure group called the Environmental Working Group I was predisposed to support them. I came across the Skin Deep database and was initially quite impressed with the idea. In fact I am still impressed with the idea. Why not collect all the information about cosmetic raw materials onto a database and make it available to the public. I hope somebody does it some day. Even when I started looking things up on the Skin Deep database and found it to be almost comically inaccurate I still gave the people behind it the benefit of the doubt. I imagined enthusiastic young volunteers – probably in California – punching data in during all night long sessions powered by idealism and pizza. I assumed that they would be getting complaints and would be putting it right shortly. You always have to give people a bit of time to get things straight.
Then I saw the Story of Cosmetics video. This really changed things. Whatever else you think of it, this is a professional piece of work. Time, effort and money has gone into it. And you can’t miss that it is propaganda not advocacy. It sets out to scare.
Even now, I was prepared to justify it to some extent in my mind – as you will see if you read my post from only a few days ago. They had gone off the scale for accuracy, but maybe they felt that they had to use modern techniques to get their message across. I started to think of the EWG as sort of green Lenninists. They had betrayed the ideals of the revolution, but they were still radicals. They had chosen the wrong way to go about fighting the system, but they were still against the system. Even when I heard about the very large salaries that the directors of the EWG were drawing from their organisation I still did not realise what was really going on.
But now I understand. Did I say I was green? Well I sure was. Green in the sense of being inexperienced and unknowing in the ways of the world.
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