The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Archive for November, 2009

Amazon Spoof For Buy Nothing Day

Posted by keith on 27th November 2009


Nothing more to add, just a wonderful spoof of the Amazon web site, undermining the “buy stuff or you’re nobody!” message. Amazero indeed :-)

For the whole page go to Do The Green Thing

Posted in Spoofs, Subvertising | 1 Comment »

10:10 Campaign Dies By Its Own Hands

Posted by keith on 26th November 2009

10 Tag In Blood

You may have heard of the 10:10 Campaign, founded by “Age Of Stupid” director Franny Armstrong, and currently sweeping across the UK with its message of a 10% reduction in carbon emissions by the end of 2010. In essence, such an idea is a good thing: a 10% reduction in carbon dioxide every year will, if taken up by the world’s emitters, and continued until 2030 will lead to nearly a 90% cut overall. This is almost enough to stave off the threat of irreversible climate change.

There is one fundamental problem with this, and it isn’t that 10:10 is only in the UK (you can hardly blame the organisers for that); the problem is that 10:10 only runs until the end of 2010. To quote the web site:

What happens after 2010?
10:10 is a year-long campaign to get the ball rolling on the move away from fossil fuels. We hope that this will be the beginning of a journey that finishes in a world that is no longer threatened by runaway climate change. But for now the important thing is that we stop talking about what happens in the future, and start cutting the carbon.

The lack of a meaningful endgame and the inclusion of the weasel-word “hope” is a major sticking point, because the first 10% of any reduction is really easy. Just by changing the lightbulbs around your house from incandescant to energy saving, and turning your heating down 1 degree in the winter will achieve this. But isn’t easy good? Actually, no. Easy sends the message that we don’t have to really change the way we live, as reinforced by the point, again within 10:10’s FAQ:

Does signing up require a major change in your lifestyle?
No. 10:10 is about getting started on the transition to a low-carbon society, and unless you’ve already slashed your emissions, reaching 10% will be easy. It’s all about not wasting energy at home and cutting down on unnecessary journeys and it will save you money.

How does making a fairly trivial change set you on the path to a low-carbon society? What is missing is the process that takes people’s assumptions about the way they should live (i.e. as part of the globalised industrial consumer society) and moves them into a different state of mind (i.e. the globalised industrial consumer society is fundamentally unsustainable) with a different goal — local, non-industrial and self-reliant. 10:10 does none of this.

Oddly, they seem to recognise the potential for criticism, while simultaneously failing to address it:

Is this just another greenwash campaign?
To really make 10:10 happen we have to get everyone on board, from primary schools and residents’ associations to local authorities and big brands – perhaps even government departments, if they are brave enough to try. This is a project to start making genuine changes to British society, changes we need so that we can leave our children a future we can be proud of. That’s why 10:10 does not recognize any form of offsetting as counting towards the 10% target.

And with that announcement that sustainability is to be achieved while retaining the corporate and political status quo, a whole bag of nails is hammered into the coffin marked “10:10 RIP”.

To be fair, there are very few people anywhere in the mainstream environmental movement, of which Franny Armstrong is most definitely a part of, that see beyond the “one right way to live” delusion. It is all very well people like me harping on about the ills of Industrial Civilization, when the vast majority of people living in the civilised world are not aware that for most of human existance there was no such thing as civilization and that there are a multitude of different ways to live only limited by the imagination; but if people don’t accept this position there is little chance of genuine alternatives being sought. In short, I am probably on a hiding to nothing, should gather up all the like-minded people and go and live somewhere untainted by civilization.

On the other hand, at least I don’t accept the support of companies that make killing machines:

In a potentially controversial move, the campaign has accepted MBDA Missile Systems, a UK-based arms manufacturer, after it pledged to meet the campaign’s single aim – to cut its carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. But 10:10 has rejected Manchester Airport Group.

The campaign’s leaders said the decision to accept an arms manufacturer had caused considerable debate, but it could not exclude an organisation operating lawfully on the grounds of ethical objections to its product.

MBDA, which counts BAE Systems as a major shareholder, produces more than 3,000 missiles a year, including the Exocet. It has 10,000 workers employed across four European countries and sells to more than 90 armed forces worldwide.

Franny Armstrong, the campaign’s founder, said: “Of course arms manufacturers can reduce their emissions by 10%. What they do with the rest of their time is a different matter, on which we couldn’t possibly comment. 10:10 is about reducing emissions right across British society, and that means everyone. As long as arms manufacturers are a part of British society, it’s just as important for them to reduce their emissions as it is for the rest of us.”

[silence induced by disbelief]

Posted in Campaigns, Human Rights, NGO Hypocrisy, Should Know Better | 2 Comments »

Sustainable Forestry Initiative Exposed By ForestEthics

Posted by keith on 23rd November 2009

Unsustainable Forestry Initiative

Apparently it’s ok to clearfell forests providing they are certified as sustainable.

I suppose there’s a precedent for this: Dick Cheney, as we all know, said it was ok to torture prisoners of war enemy non-combatants so long as someone in the US government claimed it wasn’t really torture, or they were able to simple redesignate the people being tortured.

So when the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a “non-profit” (oh, that phrase is so useful if you are a greenwasher) whose board is awash with timber industry cronies and various other representatives of the industrial machine, come along with the idea of their own certification scheme, who can blame them if it just happens to be of the utmost benefit to the industry. Actually, I really want you to stop reading this for a minute and go along to the SFI web site: read the biographies of the board members, and then come back here with perhaps a little anger in your veins…

Thanks to the people at ForestEthics, the greenwashing carried out by SFI is a little more in the public eye now. After their antics at the Greenbuild conference in Phoenix, Arizona a few days ago, the people at SFI seem to have become a little annoyed:

As sustainability practices continue to evolve, it is important that planners, designers, builders, customers and architects know the source of the wood used in their project, and increase the wood in their projects! Today in North America we are all fortunate to have a number of strong forest certification standards, which means the building community have a lot of options when it comes to responsibly sourced wood. But the fact remains that just 10% of the world’s forests are certified – collectively, we all need to promote credible forest certification to influence the other 90%.

As you may know, USGBC is currently reviewing and revising its wood certification benchmarks under LEED. I strongly urge them to recognize all credible forest certification programs, including SFI. This is really a huge opportunity for the USGBC to take a leadership role, end the certification debates and encourage more forest certification worldwide by focusing on sustainability. The certification debates, and subsequent PR stunts, take away from the real goal we should all be working towards – responsible forestry.

The “certification debates” that the SFI and other organisations decry so much, are looking into the failure of certification schemes worldwide to provide adequate protection for ecosystems — they are vital, as are the “PR stunts” such as the one below, that highlight the greenwashing to a wider audience.

I will leave it to ForestEthics to tell the story of their fun at Greenbuild…

Greenwashing by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was an unexpected addition to the agenda at this year’s Greenbuild–the world’s largest green building conference–in Phoenix, Arizona. Today–the day after keynote speaker Al Gore exhorted Greenbuild to call out greenwashing–ForestEthics released a large floating banner exposing SFI as a greenwasher.

On the conference’s opening day, ForestEthics ran an ad in USA Today’s Phoenix edition spotlighting SFI’s “greenwashing practice” of certifying forest destruction as ‘sustainable’. Copies of this ad and a brochure detailing SFI’s shortcomings circulated throughout the massive conference–with an estimated attendance of 25,000 people.

The ad targeted three prominent window companies for their ties to SFI, as well as to “notorious” California clearcutter Sierra Pacific Industries.

These actions add powerful visual elements to a campaign that began in September when ForestEthics filed legal complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that became the focus of an article in the New York Times on September 12.

In its FTC complaint, ForestEthics described how SFI, funded and managed primarily by large logging companies, gives its seal of approval to the logging practices of these same companies that harm people and wildlife, damage water resources and destroy forests.

In October, the Sierra Club also filed a complaint with SFI, presenting scientific evidence that SFI certified logging by Weyerhaeuser on extremely steep and unstable mountainsides in SW Washington despite publicly available evidence that these mountainsides were prone to landslides. In a major regional rainstorm in December 2007,massive landslides did occur on logging sites certified by SFI as sustainable, producing downstream logjams and record flooding. The report submitted to the IRS focused on SFI’s nonprofit status, as SFI’s funding and activities serve the private interests of wood and paper companies that want a ‘green’ image. This is not a proper purpose for an organization with the same nonprofit status that the IRS gives to public charities.

Edit: For the record, I have no faith in FSC or any other certification scheme, nor do I think ForestEthics are squeaky clean – certainly I do not endorse them, only the action they carried out.

Posted in Astroturfs, Company Policies, Corporate Hypocrisy, Subvertising | 6 Comments »

Fisher Price Precious Planet Is A Lie

Posted by keith on 18th November 2009

Precious Oil Soaked Planet

A few days ago I was watching the TV trying to see which companies were plying their seasonal wares to small children. It was the usual plastic crap which I don’t need to explain in detail, but one thing caught my eye: the Playmobile Recycling Truck, with an awful voice over saying, “Do your bit for the environment” to which I mentally appended, “by purchasing this chunk of unrecycled plastic.” Browsing this morning for similar products — and to give Playmobile their due, they don’t actually say anything more on their web site except that its a Recycling Truck toy — and I inevitably came across the Fisher Price range of toys.

Fisher Price are big, and getting bigger. Part of the behemoth toy corporation, Mattel since 1993, they are now worth over $2 billion, over a third of Mattel’s earnings. Not surprisingly they have a huge range of products, but two of them struck me as being particularly interesting: the Rainforest Range and the Precious Planet range. In the UK, these are given top billing on the “Baby Gear” page, as you can see here.

It’s a bit difficult to get too stroppy about the Rainforest range, even though they say in their Infant section:

Bring the natural beauty of a rainforest to your baby’s nursery … with lush greenery, playful animal friends, serene backgrounds, even calming motion and sounds. The Fisher-Price Rainforest toys and accessories line: designed to soothe and entertain your very special baby in very special ways.

They don’t make any claims about preservation, and it’s not as though rainforest means anything special when it comes to toys except monkeys and trees.

On the other hand, Precious Planet is altogether more pointed: if you saw a range of toys called “Precious Planet”, what would you think? Three cute animals smiling at the shopper, with a bird appearing to walk across a blue and green globe, partially masked by the bubbly blue writing. You can’t honestly say that Fisher Price are not trying to make some Eco-point here, can you?

So I called the UK office up, ready to ask questions about the chemicals in the toys, where they are made and whether they contained any renewable or recycled materials. What I didn’t expect was what I was told at 4′ 44″…

Fisher Price UK Recording – Precious Planet

Sorry about the bad quality, but you can clearly hear the words: “but it’s not environmentally friendly

So why the hell is it called Precious Planet?! As I said in the call, there is no information, just the heavily suggestive range name along with an equally suggestive graphic: people are going to believe the products are environmentally friendly, when they may just be the least environmentally and socially (Mattel have a terrible record on sweatshop labour) ethical products you can buy for your child.

Actually, there is a link, which has grabbed Fisher Price by the balls, and isn’t going to let go. At the bottom of the page is the logo of the Wildlife Conservation Society. It only appears at the bottom of the Precious Planet pages for both Baby and Infant, so they are clearly trying to greenwash the public about their environmental credentials, by virtue of presentation: just because it doesn’t explicitly claim to be ethical doesn’t mean it isn’t saying so.

Fisher Price WCS

Go to the WCS web site, and you find that Fisher Price are one of their key corporate sponsors, and have their logo all over the place should you happen to visit the Bronz Zoo Animal Prison. What is particularly interesting is the company that Fisher Price keep in this roll-call of elite greenwashers:

ConEdison — Energy supplier to New York City, using oil, coal and gas
Bank Of America — Financial giant who will invest in just about anything that makes money
Delta Airlines — Yes, an airline, how very sustainable
Hess — A major oil company working everywhere, including Borneo
PepsiCo — Junk food behemoth, getting their logo everywhere they can

Quite where that leaves the reputation of the Wildlife Conservation Society depends on whether you think wildlife conservation mixes happily with coal, oil, airlines, global finance and junk food. I would say it’s in tatters, which is pretty well the state of Fisher Price’s greenwashing reputation as well. They deserve each other.

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, NGO Hypocrisy, Promotions, Sponsorship | No Comments »

Co-operative Bank Breaks Own Ethical Policy With Millions Of Chinese Card Readers

Posted by keith on 13th November 2009

Smile Card Reader

I am under no allusions about the potential for “ethical” banking; unless you put your money into a bank that does not indulge in usary (such as banks that operate under Sharia Law) then someone, somewhere is being screwed, and most likely your bit of money is going to be having a negative impact on the natural environment. Non-Islamic banking is about making profit from someone else’s desire to keep their money safe, or make some interest themselves, but some banks are slightly less harmful than other banks.

Take the Co-operative Bank, based in Manchester, UK, which was founded on the principles of Cooperative Societies, and has maintained a set of evolving ethical standards since its inception in 1872. Lots of Environmental NGOs use the Co-op Bank for this reason, and up to very recently they seemed to put their money where their mouth was.

Here is their Ethical Policy, taken from, and broken down into the four core areas of Human Rights, International Development, Ecological Impact and Animal Welfare:

Human Rights

We will not finance:

* any government or business which fails to uphold basic human rights within its sphere of influence;
* any business whose links to an oppressive regime are a continuing cause for concern;
* any organisation that advocates discrimination and incitement to hatred;
* the manufacture or transfer of armaments to oppressive regimes;
* the manufacture or transfer of indiscriminate weapons, eg cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions;
* the manufacture or transfer of torture equipment or other equipment that is used in the violation of human rights.

International Development:

We will seek to support poverty reduction. In line with this, we will not finance organisations that:

* fail to implement basic labour rights as set out in the Fundamental ILO Convention eg avoidance of child labour, or that actively oppose the rights of workers to freedom of association, eg in a trade union;
* take an irresponsible approach to the payment of tax in the least developed countries;
* impede access to basic human necessities, eg safe drinking water or vital medicines;
* engage in irresponsible marketing practices in developing countries, eg with regard to tobacco products and manufacture.
* Furthermore, we will support fair trade and the provision of finance to the working poor in developing countries via micro-finance.

Ecological Impact:

We will not finance any business whose core activity contributes to:

* global climate change, via the extraction or production of fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas), with an extension to the distribution of those fuels that have a higher global warming impact (eg tar sands and certain biofuels);
* the manufacture of chemicals that are persistent in the environment, bioaccumulative in nature or linked to long term health concerns;
* the unsustainable harvest of natural resources, including timber and fish;
* the development of genetically modified organisms where there is evidence of uncontrolled release into the environment, negative impacts on developing countries, or patenting (eg of indigenous knowledge);
* the development of nanotechnology in circumstances that risk damaging the environment or compromising human health.

Furthermore, we will seek to support:

* businesses involved in recycling and sustainable waste management;
* renewable energy and energy efficiency;
* sustainable natural products and services (including timber and organic produce);
* the pursuit of ecological sustainability.

Animal Welfare

We will not finance any organisation involved in:

* animal testing of cosmetic or household products or their ingredients;
* the exploitation of great apes, eg in experimentation or general commercial use;
* intensive farming methods, eg caged egg production;
* blood sports, which involve the use of animals or birds to catch, fight or kill each other;
* the fur trade.

Furthermore, we will seek to support:

* businesses involved in the development of alternatives to animal experimentation;
* farming methods that promote animal welfare (eg free range farming).

So imagine my surprise to find that throughout 2009 and into 2010, every single customer of the Co-operative Bank who uses Internet Banking would be issued with a secure card reader. “What’s wrong with that?” you may ask; and from a security point of view it’s actually a fairly sensible thing, if you know what you are doing — I used RSA SecureID tokens for years in my previous work.

The first problem is merely practical: most people really don’t need another level of complexity in their life. Pay a bill online, and previously you would go through a two layer security model, complete with secure two-way authentication and encrypted communications. All of this was automatic apart from entering your account details and the answer to a personal question: now you have to carry out further two-way authentication, manually, and enter the pass code on screen. Guaranteed to ensure people start writing their account details and personal answers down above their computer so they have less scrabbling around to do.

But The Unsuitablog has another, far more sinister problem with the card readers.

Approximately two million of these pocket-sized devices are being given out by the Co-op, and many more will subsequently have to be replaced. The devices are known as Xi-Sign 4000, and are produced by a French company called Xiring. This company produce the vast majority of card readers issued to customers of UK banks; so you can be pretty sure there are tens of millions of these little electronic gadgets floating around in the UK alone. The mind boggles to think how many they might have produced globally!

From the Co-op Bank’s point of view, there are a couple of little problems:

“We will not finance any business whose core activity contributes to global climate change…”

Ok, there may be the proviso that they don’t invest in extractive industries alone, but to me that’s a complete cop-out. Each Xi-Sign 4000 is made from oil, and the production of it requires electricity which is generated predominantly through the burning of climate changing fossil fuels. Had the card readers not been issued, then an awful lot of climate changing gases would not have been released, or oil squandered.

Turn the card reader over and you will see “Made in PRC”. Yes, that’s two million devices made in China, which immediately wipes out another of the Co-op’s key policies:

“We will not finance any business whose links to an oppressive regime are a continuing cause for concern”

Quite cleverly worded, here, because they don’t explicitly say that just any link to an oppressive regime may be a cause for concern, but instead imply that only certain types of link may be a cause for concern. That’s just crappy semantics, as far as I’m concerned: if a regime is oppressive — and the government of China is one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth — then any link, including working within its political boundaries is a cause for concern. Simply by supplying products made in China, the Co-op have violated their own policy.

And there is more. China’s electricity is about 80% coal generated, therefore the first policy violation is even more blatant: the Co-op, by supplying Chinese card readers, are supporting the extraction and burning of climate changing coal. In addition, with the other 20% coming from a series of huge dams, that have been constructed with massive loss of human habitation and violation of the basic right of a place to live, the Co-op have violated yet another policy:

“We will not finance any government or business which fails to uphold basic human rights within its sphere of influence”

How would you feel if your money had been invested in a project that displaced millions of people from their homes?

As I said, there are many other banks who don’t have any ethical policies, and certainly don’t stick to those they have in any meaningful way; but if you are the Co-operative Bank, who for decades have traded on the mantle of “Ethical Banking” then you had damn well better stick to your principles, or be tarred with the brush of Ethical Hypocrites.

Posted in Company Policies, Corporate Hypocrisy | No Comments »


Posted by keith on 10th November 2009


No surprises; no surprises at all. As the world’s “leaders” gear up to converge on the vapourware that is the COP-15 Copenhagen Climate Summit, their objectives seem to be diverging: different governments are being seen as wanting different things, with the less-industrialised nations pointing the finger at (giving the finger to?) the industrial world, essentially saying, “You made the mess, you clean it up!” Among the industrial nations, Canada has no intention of even pretending to do anything, Europe is wading around in a greenwashing miasma of its own making, and the USA doesn’t quite know what to do. The Independent, on Friday 6 November, put the situation like this:

British Government officials believe there is no hope of signing a legally binding climate change treaty in Copenhagen next month.

The positions of major world powers are so far apart that another year or even more may be needed to negotiate a world climate treaty, senior British sources said at talks in Barcelona, which end today.

Writing today for The Independent the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, also admits that a deal in Copenhagen is now unlikely. “The barriers to agreement on climate finance remain substantial,” he writes. “Even if countries agree the levels of finance, few will want to hand over money if they lack confidence in the means of delivering it.”

The development has disconcerted observers at Barcelona, where it has become clear over the course of this week’s talks that countries are still so far apart on how to act on climate change – with the American position the farthest from everyone else – that the most that Copenhagen can now produce is a “political” agreement on climate change, which would not be legally binding like the current climate treaty, the Kyoto protocol.

But yesterday’s frank admission, for the first time, that it might take another year or even longer to produce a proper treaty, after 10,000 officials from 192 countries have already spent two years working to a Copenhagen deadline, showed just how bogged down the negotiating process has become.

Although there are various stumbling blocks, there is no doubt that the continued lack of a serious American offer on cutting its greenhouse gas emissions and providing climate finance for the developing nations – the bill which might provide them is stuck in the US Senate – is the principle obstacle to progress. “Copenhagen is one of the most important meetings in human history. But the politicians seem determined to blow it,” said Joss Garman, climate campaigner for Greenpeace.

Leaving aside the Greenpeace comment for the moment, you would think that even the industrial nations are oceans apart; yet anyone who has an awareness of how Industrial Civilization operates will be looking at this and simply thinking, “Business as usual.” And so we should, because neither Copenhagen, nor its successor Mexico City are the slightest bit relevant in the real battle against climate change. This battle, when it is played out, will be a silent, local, underground battle against the forces that comprise every government engaged in the so-called “negotiation” process. What the governments of the world are negotiating is simply the continuation of the industrial machine in the face of global environmental change, but almost no public opposition.

We are so brainwashed into thinking that the system has it right, that it comes as no surprise to hear people like Joss Garman referring to Copenhagen as, “one of the most important meetings in human history”, as though anything that will have any impact on climate change was ever expected to come out of it. We pin our hopes on summits in this way because we have grown up to accept the false authority of “our leaders”, and to deny that we can do anything significant ourselves. As I wrote in “Time’s Up!“:

The system has legitimized all its efforts to prevent change and suppress opposition because the vast majority of people who are subjected to its activities are fully paid-up members of Industrial Civilization. It is ‘right’ that civilization maintains its stability because without stability, civilization collapses and can no longer impose its will upon the population. Does that sound like a coherent argument to you? In all truth, that really is the best argument civilization has for its continued existence: it has to be maintained because it has to be maintained. Even a heroin addict, shooting up to get the fix that he agonizingly craves, knows that his habit will eventually kill him. Even a lifelong nicotine addict will admit that smoking is bad for her and she should stop. Hands up if you think Industrial Civilization should be stopped.

Every environmental organisation, every lone campaigner, every ordinary member of the public that will be holding their breath as the laughably-titled “negotiations” wrap up, is in denial of the reality that we are doomed so long as Industrial Civilization continues to dominate the globe. Copenhagen is just one more pebble in that river of denial.

Posted in Advice, Government Policies, NGO Hypocrisy, Political Hypocrisy | 1 Comment »

Animal Eating “Vegetarians” On The Rise?

Posted by keith on 5th November 2009

Courtesy of BBC News

I really shouldn’t have to justify my diet — I don’t eat meat, eat a bit of dairy and a few eggs and have a ravenous taste for vegetables of all sorts. In short, I’m a typical healthy adult vegetarian; not a vegan, not a fruitarian, and certainly not a “pescetarian”. The last one is where it starts getting silly, because as far as I, the Vegetarian Society and Viva are concerned, if you eat fish then you aren’t a vegetarian of any sort, regardless of your reasons for eating it.

In terms of ethical hypocrisy, there are few things that sit more solidly in the realm of ethics than the decision over whether to kill something for food. If you buy a processed microwaveable beef lasagna from a supermarket, you are still responsible for the cow’s death — you can’t get away from it. What you eat is your choice, unless it imposes seriously upon others; but if you call yourself a “vegetarian” when you still eat fish, or chicken (yes, people do) then you are are being a hypocrite, and also making life a bit more difficult for real vegetarians.

Here’s an excellent story from the BBC News website, which makes all of this crystal clear.

The conversation usually goes something a bit like this:

“Yeah, I’m a vegetarian.”

“But that looks like fish you’re eating.”

“Oh yeah, I eat fish.”

Confusion, perplexity and occasionally heated debate can follow as the “vegetarian” and their interrogator cover the issue of what is an animal and whether fish feel pain. But the Vegetarian Society, which has acted as the custodian of British vegetarianism since 1847, has a simple definition.

“A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacean, or slaughter byproducts,” it says. They can make that even more pithy: “We don’t eat dead things.”

The society tackles the issue of fish-eating vegetarians with a page headed in red capitals: “VEGETARIANS DO NOT EAT FISH.”

Juliet Gellatley, director of the vegan and vegetarian group Viva, is also clear on the issue of whether fish eaters can use the term vegetarian.

“They cannot. The definition is very clear. It’s someone who doesn’t eat anything from a killed animal.

“It does cause confusion if someone who calls themselves a vegetarian goes into a restaurant and orders a prawn cocktail.”

Many of the fish-eating vegetarians will be making a dietary exception for health reasons. The government advises the consumption of at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish. This intake is thought to help fight heart disease. Vegetarian organisations have to counter by noting that some nutritional benefits of eating oily fish can be gained from elsewhere. They recommend things like flaxseed oil and walnuts.

Classic vegetarian: Eats no part of any dead animal
Vegan: Eats no animal product
Meat-avoider: Tries not to to eat meat but has occasional lapses
Meat-reducer: Is trying to eat less meat, probably for health reasons
Green eater: Avoids meat because of environmental impact

There may also be a tendency among some fish-eating vegetarians to assign a different ethical equation to the consumption of fish. It is something that is vehemently rejected by vegetarians.

“There is ample evidence in peer-reviewed scientific journals that mammals experience not just pain, but also mental suffering including fear, anticipation, foreboding, anxiety, stress, terror and trauma,” says Revd Prof Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and author of Why Animal Suffering Matters.

“The case for fish isn’t so strong, but scientific evidence at least shows that they experience pain and fear. Anyone who wants to avoid causing pain should give up eating fish.”

But there is a wider problem of identification.

“Fish don’t invoke the same compassionate response that a calf, lamb, piglet, or duck does,” says Ms Gellatley. “We are mammals, we relate much better to other mammals. When we see a pig in a factory farm and you can see that animal is in pain that has a very direct effect on people.”

Vegetarian escalator

And then there’s the issue of depleted fish stocks.

Fish-eating vegetarians used to have their own term – “pescetarian” – although it seems not to be in common use today. But, Ms Gellatley says, there is a rise in the use of a new term for the part-vegetarian.

“The name ‘flexitarian’ is coming into use. It’s fairly meaningless really.”

But for vegetarian activists, anybody taking on the vegetarian badge can be a positive, even if they fall short of the strict definition, says Ms Gellately, alluding to a virtual vegetarian escalator.

“People are moving along a pathway – the positive thing is that they see vegetarianism as aspirational.”

While activists might offer anecdotal evidence for trends like fish-eating vegetarianism, concrete numbers are not easy to come by.

There is a view that after a period of healthy growth in the 1990s, classic vegetarianism is now stagnant. It rose from 0.2% of the population during World War II to 1.8% in 1980, according to the consumer research company Mintel.

The firm’s most recent survey suggested 6% concurred with the statement “I am a vegetarian”. But the Food Standards Agency’s recent Public Attitudes to Food Issues survey found just 3% of the population was strictly vegetarian, and 5% partly vegetarian.

Viva cites a survey done on behalf of the Linda McCartney vegetarian food brand which suggested a figure of 10%.

Easy label

She was raised mostly as a vegetarian, but given fish for health reasons. She became an orthodox vegetarian at university but then returned to eating fish later. It’s now the only meat that she eats.

“I was brought up as a vegetarian. We were given the choice when we were young. It was all about animal rights and how animals were factory farmed. [My parents] told us the the reasons and we agreed with them.

“We were fed fish. It’s important for your brain to have oily fish [when young]. When I became a proper vegetarian I started to get quite ill and tired.”

Her objection is mainly to the way meat is produced, not to the idea of eating an animal. She uses the term “vegetarian” almost for the sake of convenience. If she is dining with people for the first time, it makes things simpler.

One of the reasons it’s so hard to assess the level of vegetarianism is because of the multiple definitions of the term.

It is clear, however, that meat-free and meat-substitute meals make up more and more of what we eat. The marketers and the activists are dealing with new groups of people, known as meat-avoiders and meat-reducers. Outside those who have a clear philosophical platform for eschewing meat, there are increasing numbers of these people, either cutting down on meat or trying not to eat it where possible, but without necessarily ever calling themselves “vegetarian”.

Mintel categorises 23% of the population as meat-reducers, people attempting to eat less meat, probably mainly for health reasons. Another factor of climate change – livestock rearing produces methane, which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It identifies 10% as meat-avoiders, people who plan to eat little or no meat but sometimes lapse, and who might well accept the ethical basis of vegetarianism.

“More than a quarter of people say they eat less meat than they did five years ago. There is a shifting change in the diet,” says Ms Gellatley. “A third of our membership are meat reducers.”

Many people will start by giving up red meat for health reasons, then give up white meat, and so on. Despite initially doing it for non-ethical reasons, these people can then take on the philosophical mantle, says Ms Gellatley.

But despite the health messages about certain kinds of meat, and the arguments over the amount of energy it takes to produce meat, the vast majority in the UK still eat meat. And one-fifth, according to Mintel, like to have meat every day.

Posted in Advice, General Hypocrisy | 4 Comments »

Book Review: Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore

Posted by keith on 3rd November 2009


I want to say this is an unequivocally wonderful book, I really do, and had it not been for a few rather major issues, Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore would have been right at the top of my reading list recommendations. It’s still in the upper reaches, and I’ll explain later why it’s not near the top; but for now let’s look at the good stuff, and why this is a very important book.

First, and probably most significantly is the small matter of DeSmogBlog, a project and web site that James co-founded, and which has become the de facto repository for investigative work and enlightening documentation with regards to the climate change denial industry. While The Unsuitablog explores the more public facing and insidious side of ethical hypocrisy, DeSmogBlog takes the big boys on head-first, and in many cases is the reason the denial industry is not even more influential than it currently is.

And, yes, “industry” is the proper word for what is driving the denialist agenda; something Climate Cover-Up explains with a clarity that is evident throughout a great deal of the text:

Promoting scientific research or advancing the public understanding of the true state of science appears not to be the priority. The [American Petroleum Institute] strategists, working on behalf of clients in the chemical and fossil fuel industries, are working instead to change the conventional wisdom, irrespective of the science. They are crafting a plan to create grassroots organizations that serve industry goals, regardless of whether the public might share those goals or might spontaneously have risen to fight for those priorities. These industry-funded planners set out to ridicule the Kyoto agreement and to frustrate government efforts to constrain greenhouse gas emissions. They made a plan to overwhelm the media with a steady stream of information that served industry’s purposes and injected “balance” into coverage, whether or not that balance reflected the true state of science.

You can sense the anger in the writing; something that peppers the text, driven partly by a frustration that the “good name” of the PR industry which Hoggan hails from is being tarnished, but also (I suspect via Richard Littlemore) a genuine disgust at the atrocious behaviour of almost everyone who falls under the Climate Denier banner. Much of the language used by the denial industry is utterly transparent; take this example from Chapter Four:

ICE [a coal-funded astroturf] went into small U.S. markets that were heavily dependent on coal-fired electricity and, with advance planning from the D.C. public relations firm Bracy Williams and Company, tested a series of messages, including:

• “Some say the Earth is warming. Some also said the Earth was flat.”
• “Who told you the Earth was warming . . . Chicken Little?”
• “How much are you willing to pay to solve a problem that may not exist?”

I had a pencil constantly at hand while reading this book, and made the following amendments:

• “Some say the Earth is warming. Some also said the Earth was round.”
• “Who told you the Earth was warming . . . scientists?”
• “How much are you willing to risk to ignore a problem that may not exist?”

Simple, isn’t it? But the big story that Climate Cover-Up tells is of the sheer volume of disinformation and number of bodies that the denial industry has been able to muster in order to put forward a point of view that runs entirely counter to the scientific body of evidence. Scientists are trusted; politicians and corporations are not — so what did the denial industry do to correct this inconvenient cultural glitch? They manufactured a blizzard of pseudo-science and politicised jargon, forwarded by a battery of “authority” figures, so compelling in its entirely that both the political mainstream and the general public swallowed it and savoured its comforting taste: none of this bitter Climate Change nonsense for them.

The activities of “authorities” like Timothy Ball, Steven Milloy and “Lord” Christopher Monckton (who is wonderfully taken apart in Chapter Nine) are shown as little short of genocidal, given the lives that will undoubtedly be lost as climate change takes hold of the global ecosystem. Timothy Ball, out of all of the Junk Scientists, is the one that, upon reading about him, fired my anger most of all. The totality of his devious activities is brilliantly exposed in Chapter Eleven:

Everything that [Professor Dan] Johnson had said was easily subject to the libel defense of truth. There really was a long parade of highly respected climatology Ph.D.’s before Ball came along, and Ball had not been a professor for twenty-eight years. In fact, twenty-eight years before his retirement in 1996, Ball was still pursuing his bachelor’s degree at another university. Yet the Friends of Science front man had been advertising himself hither and yon as the first climatology Ph.D. in the country and had said in public and on Web site biographies that became part of Johnson’s statement of defense that he had been “for 32 years a Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg.” Ball even wrote a letter to then Canadian prime minister Paul Martin in which he said, “I was one of the first climatology Ph.D.s in the world”. He signed that letter, “Dr. Tim Ball, Environmental Consultant, Victoria, British Columbia, 28 Years Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg.” (And no, the “32 years” reference was not a typographical error, at least not here. Ball used different years in different biographies.)

You would think someone who had been so casual in remembering the details of his career would be reticent to pick a fight over those details. But perhaps Tim Ball thought that Dan Johnson would, like Justin Lancaster, look at the cost of defending himself and choose instead to apologize and retract his criticism. There was certainly pressure to do so. The administration at the University of Lethbridge made it clear that they would offer no assistance with Johnson’s defense, and his colleagues were silent while he took the heat.

Given the anger that Climate Cover-Up undoubtedly creates, you would expect either an utterly radical set of measures be proposed by the authors, or that they would leave it at that and let the reader decide what to do with this inflammatory information. Unfortunately, this is where the book falls down rather badly. Given all that has come before, the final two chapters are infuriatingly weak, and in some cases are actually counterintuitive; for instance:

Together, all [the] polls seem to indicate the following: people don’t trust business; they don’t trust government; and on issues of sustainability at least, half the people don’t even trust one another. No wonder so few people are struggling to make a large personal contribution in the battle to limit the effects of climate change: nobody wants to be a chump. Nobody wants to be the only person on the block who is spending money to repower their heating system. No one wants to give up their car, change their diet, or limit their consumption if their efforts will be rendered irrelevant by the consumption patterns of those around them.

It’s pretty clear to anyone who reads Climate Cover-Up that big business is not to be trusted, and neither are most politicians, given their willingness to take funding from the selfsame industries that are destroying the planet: that is the nature of the beast, and the way Industrial Civilization works, and no encouraging words will change that. The system itself is incapable of doing what is right; which is why when I see phrases like “No one wants to give up their car, change their diet, or limit their consumption”, I get so frustrated — yes I do want to change, and am doing so, despite what others have been brainwashed into thinking, because it’s the right thing to do. Even worse than this, is a statement that turns up in Chapter Seventeen, one that made my blood boil, and not in the way the authors intended:

Sometimes, the most aggressive people in environmental organizations have contributed to that image. Sometimes in moments of frustration or desperation, they have chained themselves to trees or smashed their ships into whaling vessels, adding to the image of environmentalists as inherently radical.

Yes, it’s called passion, and it’s those passionate people who actually create change: not the sheep walking around with banners and petitions calling for “political strength” and “hope”, but those who are willing to stand up directly against the offenders and do what they can to prevent harm to that which sustains all of us. Who wouldn’t, given the nature of the threat?

In the same way, I do not accept the viewpoint put forward by Hoggan, that somehow everything will be okay providing “our leaders” can be persuaded to do the right thing. The implied view that we should look up to people and accept their leadership, while at the same time decrying their culpability is logically flawed to say the least, as exemplified by this statement from the last chapter:

We have to get informed, and we have to get active. Because if we don’t, if we don’t all take the initiative and demand of our leaders that they start fixing this problem, beginning today, it will indeed be a crime. And the punishment will be visited on our children and on their children through a world that is unrecognizable, perhaps uninhabitable.

The act of exposing hypocrisy in the open; encouraging and using the products of confidential leaks and hidden information, and fundamentally knocking down the images of the rich and powerful is far more radical than any of the suggestions for “action” proposed at the end of the book. As I suggested earlier, had the authors decided to leave the stage at Chapter Fifteen, and let the reader use his or her nascent anger in a constructive way, then the book would have achieved, what I presume was its aim: to create change.

Like their contemporaries, Naomi Klein, Ben Goldacre and George Monbiot; Hoggan and Littlemore have produced a cracking book that, while it may not actually fix anything in itself, provides a valuable lesson about a noxious set of practices — practices that still persist, but which now can be better understood and suitably dealt with. Use this as an ideal primer in the world of Climate Change Denial, but choose your own actions: it’s your world.

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