The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Archive for May, 2010

A Church Full of Underminers, and George Monbiot

Posted by keith on 31st May 2010

At 10.28 on Saturday 28th May 2010, there were three people sitting on chairs in the small church of St John’s, Llangollen…I wasn’t too worried, as the Dark Mountain Journal was being launched in the large hall up the street, and was running over by about 10 minutes – maybe I would get the 20 or so people I had reckoned on. By 10.40, every chair was taken, and people were sitting on the floor: over 50 people had come along to hear a talk I was giving called “Breaking the Tools of Disconnection”, and I was delighted with the attendance.

After an hour ideas were flying around the room suggesting ways we could undermine the industrial machine – suggestions including the simple but brilliant idea of counselling people that they were actually good people, thus countering the negative “anchors” placed in every single corporate advertisement – and there was a genuine air of excitement that people were feeling individually empowered rather than stuck with the same, staid, bloated movements we have been led to believe will Save The Planet™. These are the very movements that George Monbiot believes are necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial world by at least 90% (this is Monbiot’s own figure from “Heat” which he has since said was a underestimate).

My focus was not on movements, although I did point out that they had all dismally failed to achieve anything tangible on a large scale; rather the need to recognise that the only way to cut greenhouse gases by the necessary levels and prevent the continuation of global ecocide is to remove industrial civilization. My argument is based on the following facts:

1) There is a lock-step relationship between global economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions which only loses it’s potency during major disruptions of the economic system.

2) There is a similar relationship between economic activity and other destructive activities such as deforestation, marine protein depletion, and water pollution, especially as an industrial system is adopted by new groups of people.

3) Therefore, in order to reduce greenhouse gases, and more direct forms of environmental destruction, by the sorts of levels mentioned above, economies must dramatically contract – in the case of greenhouse gases, by a commensurate amount.

4) Under the capitalist system, economies have to continue to grow by between 3% and 5% per annum in order to remain “stable”; even steady-state economies are extremely vulnerable under a system that requires profit and continual reinvestment, and economies with negative growth are bound to experience collapses.

5) It is impossible, under the market economy – the engine of Industrial Civilisation – for civilisation to exist if we are to maintain a global ecology that can sustain any significant amount of human life into the future.

A few of us went for a bit of lunch in Llangollen, and to talk over the workshop and Dark Mountain in general. It transpired that George Monbiot had been in my workshop, at the back of the room and because I was addressing the audience in general, and getting a good dialogue going, I had failed to notice him leave about ten minutes before the end. Apparently he’d been smiling to himself from time to time.

After a brilliant session of music by Jon Boden in the main venue, and three inspiring and fascinating expositions of the problems we face from Paul Kingsnorth, Lottie Child and Vinay Gupta, there followed a discussion between Dougald Hine and George Monbiot. George does not think much of Dark Mountain – in fact the disagreement over the “need” for civilisation has persisted for some time between Paul Kingsnorth and George Monbiot.

I was not impressed with the flaccid nature of the discussion, not so much because of the lack of incisive questions from Dougald (he had promised to step back a bit and open up the dialogue) but because George was avoiding addressing anything significant – like the relationship between climate change and civilisation – in favour of syntactical arguments over the nature of environmental movements and…in fact I struggled to remember anything about the discussion before I replayed the recording I made at the time.

Below is an edit of George’s statements, prior to the question and answer session; nothing has maliciously been taken out of context, but I have extracted what I think are a number of telling remarks that say a lot about George’s view of civilisation and whether it should continue. The last comment – an attempt to humorously pastiche Dark Mountain supporters – is particularly revealing:

Edit: George Monbiot at Uncivilisation 2010

As we exited the hall, I almost bumped into George, and as he turned around the following conversation occured:

Me: Hi George, you were in my workshop, weren’t you?

GM: Yes. [smiles uncomfortably]

Me: I think we need to have a nice civilised chat.

GM: [exiting rapidly] You’re going to sabotage me!

It occured to me later on that, somehow, I had scared the willies out of the eminent George Monbiot. I don’t quite know how: perhaps he had felt uncomfortable being mentioned in my workshop while he sat there, but I wasn’t rude in any way; perhaps he felt threatened at being asked for a chat by a smiling man with stubble, but there were lots of other people around and he is taller than me; perhaps he didn’t think he would get off as lightly as he did in the main hall, although I did just want a chat. Who knows?

But regardless of this, the most prominent British environmental writer of the last two decades really seems to have a problem facing up to the reality of Industrial Civilisation and the simple fact that you can’t leave the legacy of a survivable global ecology while you have a global industrial system. Maybe another fact stands in the way of such mental clarity: you can’t be a successful mainstream environmental writer if the people you depend upon for your wages are threatened by what you say.

And if you’re reading this, George, the offer of a chat is still on the table – I’ll even buy you a beer.

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

Climbing The Dark Mountain

Posted by keith on 27th May 2010

At the crack of dawn tomorrow (Friday 28th May) I leave for Wales; taking a bus into Edinburgh, a train to Crewe, another train to Chester, yet another train to Ruabon, and finally a bus to Llangollen. More civilised people might consider this to be a slightly excessive response to not wishing to drive – I’m looking forward to having an interesting, at times beautiful, and certainly a relaxing journey in which to read all the things I have pathetically failed to get round to reading. Nine hours of public transport – bliss!

On Saturday 29th May at 10.30, I will be hosting a workshop in The Gallery entitled “Breaking The Tools Of Disconnection” (see here for the full programme), in which we will explore some of the many ways that ordinary people can work to remove some of the obstacles that hinder humanity’s ability to connect with the real world. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Full details of this wonderful festival are at the website www.uncivilisation.co.uk.

Posted in Unsuitablog News | 1 Comment »

How To Sue An Oil Company (from The Washington Post)

Posted by keith on 24th May 2010

I have very little faith in any of the instruments of civilised society; but when you are faced with something like the BP Deepwater Oil Tide™ then a combination of both civilised and uncivilised activities may well be the best course of action – if only to allow one to mask the other…

How to sue an oil company: Tips for the gulf from a veteran of the Valdez spill

By Brian O’Neill
Sunday, May 16, 2010


For 21 years, my legal career was focused on a single episode of bad driving: In March 1989, captain Joseph Hazelwood ran the Exxon Valdez aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

As an attorney for 32,000 Alaskan fishermen and natives, I tried the initial case in 1994. My colleagues and I took testimony from more than 1,000 people, looked at 10 million pages of Exxon documents, argued 1,000 motions and went through 20 appeals. Along the way, I learned some things that might come in handy for the people of the Gulf Coast who are now dealing with BP and the ongoing oil spill.

Brace for the PR blitz

BP’s public relations campaign is well underway. “This wasn’t our accident,” chief executive Tony Hayward told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos earlier this month. Though he accepted responsibility for cleaning up the spill, Hayward emphasized that “this was a drilling rig operated by another company.”

Communities destroyed by oil spills have heard this kind of thing before. In 1989, Exxon executive Don Cornett told residents of Cordova, Alaska: “You have had some good luck, and you don’t realize it. You have Exxon, and we do business straight. We will consider whatever it takes to keep you whole.” Cornett’s straight-shooting company proceeded to fight paying damages for nearly 20 years. In 2008, it succeeded — the Supreme Court cut punitive damages from $2.5 billion to $500 million.

As the spill progressed, Exxon treated the cleanup like a public relations event. At the crisis center in Valdez, company officials urged the deployment of “bright and yellow” cleanup equipment to avoid a “public relations nightmare.” “I don’t care so much whether [the equipment is] working or not,” an Exxon executive exhorted other company executives on an audiotape our plaintiffs cited before the Supreme Court. “I don’t care if it picks up two gallons a week.”

Even as the spill’s long-term impact on beaches, herring, whales, sea otters and other wildlife became apparent, Exxon used its scientists to run a counteroffensive, claiming that the spill had no negative long-term effects on anything. This type of propaganda offensive can go on for years, and the danger is that the public and the courts will eventually buy it. State and local governments and fishermen’s groups on the Gulf Coast will need reputable scientists to study the spill’s effects, and must work tirelessly to get the truth out.

Remember: When the spiller declares victory over the oil, it’s time to raise hell.

Don’t settle too early

If gulf communities settle too soon, they’ll be paid inadequate damages for injuries they don’t even know they have yet.

It’s difficult to predict how spilled oil will affect fish and wildlife. Dead birds are easy to count, but oil can destroy entire fisheries over time. In the Valdez case, Exxon set up a claims office right after the spill to pay fishermen part of their lost revenue. They were required to sign documents limiting their rights to future damages.

Those who did were shortsighted. In Alaska, fishermen didn’t fish for as many as three years after the Valdez spill. Their boats lost value. The price of fish from oiled areas plummeted. Prince William Sound’s herring have never recovered. South-central Alaska was devastated.

In the gulf, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude are pouring into once-productive fishing waters every day, fishing communities should be wary of taking the quick cash. The full harm to their industry will not be understood for years.

Hire patient lawyers

After the Valdez spill, 62 law firms filed suit against Exxon. Many lawyers thought they would score an easy payday when the company settled quickly.

They were wrong. My clients resolved their last issue with Exxon just last month. The coalition of firms that stayed with the case expended $200 million in billable hours and $30 million in expenses. Exxon began paying compensation to lawyers only two years ago. In the end, we were able to recover about a fourth of losses suffered by fishermen and natives.

And no matter how outrageously spillers behave in court, trials are always risky.

Though an Alaska criminal jury did not find Hazelwood guilty of drunken driving, in our civil case, we revisited the issue. The Supreme Court noted that, according to witnesses, before “the Valdez left port on the night of the disaster, Hazelwood downed at least five double vodkas in the waterfront bars of Valdez, an intake of about 15 ounces of 80-proof alcohol, enough ‘that a non-alcoholic would have passed out.’ ” Exxon claimed that an obviously drunken skipper wasn’t drunk; but if he was, that Exxon didn’t know he had a history of drinking; but if Exxon did know, that the company monitored him; and anyway, that the company didn’t really hurt anyone.

In addition, Exxon hired experts to say that oil had no adverse effect on fish. They claimed that some of the oil onshore was from earlier earthquakes. Lawrence Rawl, chief executive of Exxon at the time of the spill, had testified during Senate hearings that the company would not blame the Coast Guard for the Valdez’s grounding. On the stand, he reversed himself and implied that the Coast Guard was responsible. (When I played the tape of his Senate testimony on cross examination, the only question I had was: “Is that you?”)

Keep hope alive*

Historically, U.S. courts have favored oil spillers over those they hurt. Petroleum companies play down the size of their spills and have the time and resources to chip away at damages sought by hard-working people with less money. And compensation won’t mend a broken community. Go into a bar in south-central Alaska — it’s as if the Valdez spill happened last week.

Still, when I sued BP in 1991 after a relatively small spill in Glacier Bay, the company responsibly compensated the fishermen of Cook Inlet, Alaska. After a one-month trial, BP paid the community $51 million. From spill to settlement, the case took four years to resolve.

Culturally, BP seemed an entirely different creature than Exxon. I do not know whether the BP that is responding to the disaster in the gulf is the BP I dealt with in 1991, or whether it will adopt the Exxon approach. For the sake of everyone involved, I hope it is the former.

* And just for the record, I don’t believe in hope: when all you are left with is hope, do something better!

Posted in Advice, Cover Ups | No Comments »

Joss Garman Shows The Tragedy of Going Mainstream

Posted by keith on 19th May 2010

Take a look at the video above. On the right is a person who has the guts to appear on the BBC and say, without embarrassment or political correctness, that people just need to stop flying so much. The Plane Stupid representative’s comments are brilliantly amplified by Jeremy Paxman’s priceless question to the representative of the budget airline industry:

“How do you balance a stag weekend in Prague against millions of people dying in Africa?”

I came across this video searching for the point at which Greenpeace’s de facto poster boy (and that’s coming from people inside Greenpeace) and Guardian columnist, Joss Garman, went utterly mainstream. Recall in the video the level of anger from Joss against both the airline representative and, later on, Jeremy Paxman himself. Now read this extract from Joss Garman’s opinion piece in last Sunday’s Independent, which is related to the new Conservative – Liberal Democrat environmental policy:

Upwards of £150bn will be needed for new energy infrastructure and efficiency over the next decade because a third of our power plants are coming to the end of their lifespans. Nick Clegg said the Lib Dems would put up more than £3bn for a proposed Green Investment Bank, plus £400m to upgrade our shipyards to accommodate an offshore wind boom. But Mr Cameron has offered no new money for clean energy, and won’t even say if he will protect existing spending in this area.

Talk of “localism” sounds good, but only central government has the big economic levers to drive investment in clean technologies, to build an offshore super-grid in the North Sea, and to regulate dirty coal stations.

Similarly, many solutions need to be international. Driving down our car emissions will be done only by co-operating on efficiency with our European neighbours and by sharing energy infrastructure such as the proposed carbon capture and storage pipelines under the North Sea. And the electricity cabling that would allow us to trade with our European allies, to make energy cheaper, more secure and greener, can be effected only in harness with Brussels.

This piece is written in the name of Greenpeace, and thus underlines Greenpeace’s own views on the future of energy, to wit: “We need to have a huge amount of energy available in the future, and that can only be achieved through massive industrial projects and big government. There is no way we will reduce emissions without large-scale techno-fixes.”

Where is the call to make draconian reductions in energy use in the immediate future? Where is the bile against big business and the political hedgmoney that keeps the energy industry sucking the life out of the planet? And in case you think I am maybe over-egging the point about scale, look at the key – sickening – phrase in the middle: “Talk of ‘localism’ sounds good, but only central government…” At a stroke, the author kicks community and individual efforts in the teeth, including the thousands of local activists which are the core of Greenpeace’s campaigning base.

Sometime between stating on BBC Newsnight in 2006 – with reference to techno-fixes and climate change – “The science says you can’t do that!” and his Independent article in 2010, stating “There is no way we will reduce emissions without large-scale techno-fixes”, Joss Garman underwent an ethics transplant.

Sometime between these two events, Joss Garman became the key media spokeperson for a mainstream environmental organisation.

Over the last few months I have become ever-strident in criticising the hypocrisy of “environmental” groups, especially those with corporate ties. Like a green slick of goo being pumped from a burst hypocrisy pipe at the ocean’s bed, the tide of greenwash keeps coming to the surface, engulfing all the good it touches.

There is a deep, philosophical reason behind this rage I feel towards the hypocrisy of a movement that pretends to speak for the Earth; I explained it in an Earth Blog article last year, and feel I should publish it again, in full in The Unsuitablog, lest this rage be misunderstood:

In the 1970s life became simpler. The Age of Aquarius was the stuff of satire and the hippy dream of a world full of love and peace had died; ironically killed off by a war in a country that few in the West had heard of until the body bags started coming back, and new terms like Agent Orange and Napalm seeped out of the jungle. In the Summer of Love, groups of free-thinking individuals thought about a new way of living – many started down that path, making tracks towards a life that nature found less objectionable and which was fulfilling in a way that no amount of kitchen gadgets and sunny holidays abroad could ever match. Then we got distracted, again and again: we “grew up”, we got jobs, we sent our children to school, we had “responsibilities”, we didn’t have time to think beyond our next holiday…as the years passed we got distracted so many times that it became too late to fix the problems we thought we might be able to solve back then.

Perhaps.

We need a cure for cancer: it’s your job to find it. What will you do?

Convention would suggest a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and excision to be the best course of action, depending on the nature and progress of the disease. This costs money, so you campaign for more funding to provide medicines, machines and reduced surgical waiting lists. The treatment often works, but the cancers keep coming. So what of the cure? You need to ensure money is put into research for better treatments, and the possibility of a vaccine against virus-borne cancers; you also want to provide extensive information about how to avoid carcinogens and reduce your chances of developing cancer, through lifestyle changes. But the cancers keep coming. Think out of the box! You start stepping outside of the comfort zone that most cancer charities confine themselves to: you find evidence that the cause of many cancers is in the air, the water and the soil – carcinogens expelled by industrial processes responsible for the production and disposal of the goods and services the same people suffering from the cancers avidly consume. You work to close down the worst of the factories, plants, incinerators and industrial farms: victory in the courts! New rules are drawn up; the worst offenders are told to change. But what of the cure?

What of the cure? Surely your job is done – others continue the fight, but you have done well to drill down to the heart of the problem; further than the “mainstream” campaigners ever thought of going. Did anyone ever consider shutting down the reason for these toxic processes ever existing in the first place?

We need a cure for the inexorable destruction of the global ecology, and the potentially catastrophic changes in the climate that will add to the burdens being piled upon our already weakened life-support system. What will you do?

I didn’t start this tale in the 1970s by accident. In 1972, following the efforts of four anti-nuclear activists in trying to prevent the testing of nuclear devices in Alaska, Greenpeace was formed. They were undoubtedly a group focussed on a small number of issues, presenting a small number of point solutions: with only a few resourceful and enthusiastic individuals available to try and make a difference what else could they have done? In 2009, Greenpeace worldwide has millions of donors and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of activists working on its behalf across a range of issues related to reversing environmental damage. In the last year, Greenpeace UK has campaigned on climate change, deforestation, over fishing, GM crops and nuclear proliferation. It lists among its solutions: decentralisation of energy production, creating marine reserves, changing government and business practices in timber use, encouraging organic agriculture and pushing for global disarmament treaties. Greenpeace is widely considered to be among the most radical of the world’s large environmental organisations.

In 2009, WWF boasted a membership of around 5 million worldwide. It has a similar focus to Greenpeace, although GM and Nuclear issues are absent from their headline roster, and WWF does spend a significant amount of effort on academic research. Among its solutions for individuals, it encourages people to use less electricity at home, to recycle, to buy goods with less packaging and attract wildlife to gardens. It also sells carbon offsets for people who wish to fly. Its larger scale solutions have business at the forefront, with a number of corporations, including banks, advertising agencies, consumer product manufacturers and mining and extraction companies, partnering with WWF to improve their globally destructive practices. WWF is widely considered to be one of the less radical, and most business friendly environmental organisations.

If we are to take this to its logical conclusion then, surely, the solutions to the global environmental crisis lie somewhere along the spectrum occupied by the environmental mainstream, from the business-led approach of WWF at one end to the “radicalism” of Greenpeace at the other. Except that there is no logic to this at all: the logic completely breaks down at the point where you start to analyse the worth of the “solutions” that these groups propose. Even if we take Greenpeace’s approach – rather than that of WWF – the potential success of creating marine reserves, for example, is minimal unless those marine reserves occupy around 40% of the world’s oceans (this, ironically, is based on a study carried out by WWF), and that fishing in the remaining areas does not exceed sustainable biological limits. Given that there is very little chance of even a single-digit percentage of the world’s oceans being formally protected (due to corporate power and government protectionism), let alone the ecological diversity and size required to halt marine collapse, the proposal by Greenpeace is doomed to failure. And that’s just the proposal: how they intend to achieve this is another matter entirely. The range of activities includes petitions to government ministers, leafleting on High Streets, the symbolic planting of flags in the sea bed and parliamentary lobbying. Greenpeace say:

“We must do all we can to make sure that our (sic) politicians deliver a large-scale network of fully-protected Marine Reserves through European and national legislation.”
(Source: Greenpeace UK website)


They do not say: “We must not eat any fish we do not catch ourselves.”

You see, while there is a sliver of a chance that the governments of the world might superficially support the creation of a series of inadequate reserves, even while lobbying on behalf of their own industrial fishing industries to prevent any reductions in catch, Greenpeace and other mainstream (not “radical”) environmental organisations will pursue this avenue. Why? Because no one of any significance in the organisation’s hierarchy can accept that it is the system of Industrial Civilization that is the root of the problem; that the only way to prevent global marine collapse is to completely abandon the way that civilization fuels its insatiable demand for energy. Governments and corporations are not going to stop doing things in the way that has led us to the brink of ecological collapse, because that way is the way civilization works: it would be like a person cutting off one or more of their limbs.

Greenpeace, WWF, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and every other mainstream environmental organisation believe that you can “fix” the problems inherent in the system, to make this planet a better place; that you can appeal to the goodness of politicians and industrialists to make them curb their destructive behaviour; that you can bring about a sustainable society by urging people to change their light bulbs, shower instead of bath, travel a bit less, offset their emissions and recycle.

They are the acceptable face of environmentalism in the eyes of the civilized majority, and so what if the occasional publicity stunt makes the odd company or politician squirm? So long as the public remain Good Consumers then the environmental groups can carry on pushing their “solutions” to as many people as they like.

“Government needs to regain control of big business to give rights for people and rules for big business…Big business must improve its environmental and social performance.”
(Source: Friends of the Earth website)


So, I ask you again: What is the cure for the inexorable destruction of the global ecology, and the potentially catastrophic changes in the climate that will add to the burdens being piled upon our already weakened life-support system?

More pointedly: Do you really think that the environmental organisations that claim they have the solutions and the means to carry them through are going to save us; or are we going to have to do this ourselves, individually and in small groups taking a completely different approach to the way we are living our lives?

I have no doubt that the vast majority of people believe humanity and the global environment can be saved through conventional means: for this the mainstream environmental groups have to take much of the blame; they are as much villains of the piece as the corporations and governments who, at least up until recently, never claimed they were going to “save the world”. Unless the environmental mainstream makes a radical about-face, rejecting the civilized orthodoxy that says the system can be fixed, and leading us in completely the opposite direction, then we have no choice but to reject them and make our own way along the path to a sustainable future.

A bit like the hippies.

Here is the key phrase:

no one of any significance in the organisation’s hierarchy can accept that it is the system of Industrial Civilization that is the root of the problem

Next time you read a press release or opinion piece from an “environmental” group or their spokeperson, keep that in mind…

Posted in Advice, Campaigns, NGO Hypocrisy, Techno Fixes | 1 Comment »

Green Youth Movement: The Frightening Face of Young Consumerism

Posted by keith on 14th May 2010

An impending sense of dispair tends to fall over me when I open my mailbox in the morning. Alongside the genuine spam comes a pile of cut-and-paste guff that spews from the keyboards of public relations firms who have been paid a few bucks to send out sycophantic press releases on behalf of their clients: rather like opening a tin of spam and finding, rather than the glutinous pink stuff you expected, it has also acquired a green fungal glaze.

I have been holding back from opening one particular mail for a few days, maybe expecting it to gently expire and bury itself in my Junk folder. But it refuses to die, and so I have just opened something entitled: “Girl Meets Green”. Even the title is wrong: did “Girl” come across a pulsating blob of verdant matter and politely introduce herself? Maybe “Girl” fell in a vat of paint, was heroically rescued, and has looked in the mirror for the first time since this life-changing event.

Or maybe it’s just lazy PR-speak for another light-green bit of eco-hypocrisy

Hi Keith,

Get ready, because the world is about to get a little
greener, thanks to one ambitious 17-year-old.

The “Green Teen,” a.k.a. Ally Maize, and founder of the Green
Youth Movement is joining forces with the internationally-recognized
environmental company, RecycleBank, to change the world, one city at a time.

Would you like to read the full press release and find out how?

Best,

Annie

What would be the point of reading an even longer version? I’m off to the website of the Green Youth Movement, to see how they are going to make the world greener.

Green Youth Movement’s goal is to educate kids all over the world on living green, and to one day establish this very important information as part of the curriculum in our elementary schools. The mission of GYM is to educate kids and teens about environmental awareness, eco-friendly behavior and small steps that collectively embraced by this age-group can make a big difference for the future.

My name is Ally Maize and I am passionate about the environment and I am taking a stance to help with issues regarding global warming. I have built this site not only as a resource for those people seeking information but for those people who want to try to make a difference and help our environment.

As founder of GYM, I hope to one day garner the support of politicians and educators to create a practical and research based environmental course of study that would ultimately become integrated in every elementary school education curriculum across the nation.

It is my belief that providing youth with meaningful and practical methods of conserving and utilizing resources is the key to changing the direction of global warming. As the effects of global warming continue to advance from a theoretical construct to a reality, it is necessary that each of us assume responsibly to make a difference. Establishing The Green Youth Movement has been my way to embrace what I regard as one of the most significant issue that plagues our future.

GYM aims to enlighten young children and their parents about the vulnerable state of our environment and challenge them to think about the world around them.

I have met some incredible young people with vision, passion and the willingness to stick two fingers up at the system in order to create some kind of change. I have learnt from some young people what it feels like to be a concerned person in a society that values shopping, celebrity and vacations above the fundamental need to have a functioning ecosystem. I have seen young people cry – including my own children – at the thought that certain types of humans are capable of such horrific acts in the pursuit of wealth and status. Oh, that I had such knowledge at such an early age – what could I have done by now?

Well, if I had been Ally Maize, I could have got to meet Miley Cyrus, Renee Zellweger and that prime example of eco-conscious thinking, Paris Hilton. I could also, as per the above introduction to GYM, have become utterly deluded that small, superficial actions create big change; adopted the lie that politicians have any part to play in a sustainable future; in order to alienate part of my audience entirely, I would have referred to “teens” as “young children”; and finally, I would have got my parents to by me an electric car for when I passed my driving test – well, she does live in Beverley Hills…

Oh, but it gets worse – far worse!

The web site is packed full of tips for a Green Lifestyle, the vast majority straight out of high school textbooks, but also plenty that have been conveniently melded to suit the high-flying, Beverley Hills lifestyle that all Green Consumers should also aspire to. Here’s some classic advice on standby power:

Most people think that when you turn something off, it actually turns off. Most people assume that it stops drawing power. Unfortunately, that’s not true in the case of most electric devices. Most of them just hover in standby mode.

The “Phantom load” is the energy that is sapped by appliances when they are plugged in, but not turned on. By turning everything off or unplugging, you save big on your energy bill. In the average American home, 40% of all electricity is used to power appliances while they are turned off.

* Turn off lights, TV, computer, DVD player, cell phone charger, and stereo when finished using them.
* Reduce your demand. Do you really need 2 TV’s in one room?
* Remove chargers from the wall when you’re not charging.

So what does this actually tell us? First, that it’s ok to have loads of gadgets in your house as long as you switch them off, and by “loads” I mean a TV in every room (so long as it’s not TWO TVs in every room). Second, that despite other advice talking about air conditioning (“Installing a programmable thermostat to keep air conditioning at 78 degrees F when it’s hot outside”), somehow devices on standby (or rather “turned off”) consume 40% of electricity in the home – clearly utter nonsense!

Let’s see what GYM tells us about travel – I would assume it would be to avoid flying and driving, and to try to base your life around your local area as much as possible:

The greening of the travel industry-whether away for business or pleasure is now required.

Here are some tips to help you choose where to spend your travel dollar and green-up your trip:

* Greening your travel starts even before you leave home by unplugging unused appliances, turning down the thermostat of the hot water heater, adjusting your AC/heater thermostat and stopping your newspaper.
* Book flights electronically and book flights with airlines that recycle the waste created when serving food and beverages to passengers.

Stop right there! Why are you booking flights, electronically or otherwise – and what difference does it make how you book “your flights” when you are intent on taking a hunk of metal into the air in opposition to gravity? Ah, I see, it’s ok if the airline recycles their waste – don’t worry about the carbon dioxide. Do I sense the Beverley Hills lifestyle clouding Ally’s view of what sustainable travel is?

I would also love her to explain why she is heating water in her house when she has gone on holiday…

Sprinklers:

Use a sprinkler timer. Timers will automatically shut off your sprinkler system after a set period so you dont have to remember. Also use sprinklers that emit large drops of water, low and close to the ground (not the sidewalk or street), and water early in the morning. This will ensure that the water soaks into the soil instead of evaporating.

Whoa! Where did that come from? Ok, it came from the section called “Green for Home and Work“, which strangely omits to mention the option of using water butts, watering cans and getting rid of that water-hogging lawn because LIFE IS NOT A FASHION SHOW!

Some might say I’m being harsh on a 17 year old, but then not all 17 year olds have their Mom and Dad to buy them an electric car with custom plates, employ a huge “Board of Advisors” or pay for a PR company which doesn’t even bother to check the nature of the people to which they send out press releases – yes, it was sent to news@unsuitablog.org.

If this is the face of the future then I would rather sew my eyelids together.

Posted in Celebrity Hypocrisy, General Hypocrisy, NGO Hypocrisy, Promotions | 8 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, May 2010: Mind Your Language

Posted by keith on 10th May 2010

Libraries gave us power
Then work came and made us free
But what price now for a shallow piece of dignity

- A Design for Life, Manic Street Preachers

Could these be the most ironic lines ever written, or just a dumb piece of worthy lyricism?

Take them apart and any scholar of European history will see the translation of the second line etched in their mind and still remaining above the gates of Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei. If work made us free then the Caribbean and Deep South slaves must have experienced a rare level of freedom, only now being reclaimed in the sweatshops of China and India. I suspect, though, Nicky Wire didn’t write the second line in complete naivité…

But it is the first line I take real issue with; for while the knowledge gained during the free gathering of information in the libraries of South Wales – which inspired the lyric “Libraries gave us power” – may have allowed many people to take work opportunities in areas they may not have previously considered, or been able to, there is little chance of a person reading the texts available to them differentiating what is relatively balanced from what is explicit cultural-brainwashing.

Nowhere does this brainwashing exist more than in the definitions handed out by dictionaries.

“You know some may not like to hear it, but history is not on the side of those who manipulate the meaning of words like revolution, freedom, and peace.”

- Ronald Reagan, Hambach, West Germany, 1985.

You want to put money on that, Mr Reagan? The history of conflict, suppression and imperialism shows that language is one of the key weapons in the arsenal of anyone that wishes to take control of a population. I took this subject on in a recent Earth Blog article:

Words are enormously powerful; in many ways they are a defining feature of our culture, not only because of the number of ways that they can be used – in the form of poetry, debate, story-telling, song and innumerable others – but also because we have become conditioned to accept certain words as having significance beyond their physical incarnation. These words are more than just symbols – they are tools that can be, and are, used to manipulate the way we think and act.

“They behaved like animals!”

The use of the word “animal” in that context is not accidental; it derives from the Enlightenment view that humans were above the common animal whose screams were “the mere clatter of gears and mechanisms”. Despite us clearly being animals, the adopted viewpoint is that to behave like an animal is to be less than human. Is this your viewpoint, or were you taught to think like that?

It is some small relief that the German philosopher, Wittgenstein took the view that our internal experiences were isolated from what we would normally understand as language. He explained this in the context of pain, in that a person could reasonably question (through our use of language) whether we were in pain or not; but we could never doubt whether we are in pain or not – the experience is not subject to communicating that experience. This suggests that our internal self is isolated from the outside world by the lack of a useful interface, thus providing us with some protection from cultural interference.

Nevertheless, as we strive to communicate our experiences through words (among other things) such that others may understand them, we open up a door to these experiences, and in doing so allow a dialogue to exist. The interface between our internal experience and the external manifestation of these experiences is not a one way street. Words affect our emotions, they can hurt, they can heal, they can change who we are.

“I hate you!”

“I love you.”

Why do politicians make speeches? One could make the argument that they simply like the sound of their own voices, but in that case why not just talk to an empty room? The point is that politicians understand the nature of this interface between the external and the internal only too well. Rhetoric can sway opinion; true oratory can create lifelong beliefs: once more unto the breach brothers and sisters, fight them on the beaches and be the change you want to see.

Just words, surely?

No, not just words – ideas enshrined in policy and broadcast through the mouths of the common man, the paid-up celebrity and the pages of your children’s schoolbooks. Orwellian speak seems quaint and almost harmless compared to the ideas we are being asked to swallow – from the joys of wage slavery to the wonders of the infinite growth economy, via the imposition of “freedom” through the barrel of a gun. If you can dress it up in the right words then people will accept almost anything.

As part of my attempt to redress the balance, in favour of language that provides a more objective view of the world, I suggested that we start defining certain key words in terms of their predefinitions; in short, it is imperative – in a culture that succeeds to suppress any vestiges of true thought-freedom – that we use words in a way that benefit humanity rather than the systems that control humanity. We need to reclaim these words for ourselves.

But it is not just definitions that matter. In a society where there are scarce opportunities to present more accurate definitions of the words we use, we need to utilise a variety of means in this difficult struggle to free peoples’ minds from the tyranny of the civilised lexicon. What follows is a range of tasks, some of which everyone will be able to take part in; some of which are more challenging, but all of immense value in the war of words that must begin…

No Risk / Low Risk

The key action in this category is Word Substitution and Predefinition, with Substitution probably being the more effective in the short term. As described in the Earth Blog article (linked above) there are a fairly large number of words that have been changed by civilised society in order to effect cultural change among the general population, the definitions of which we have learnt to accept as the norm. All of these words have a Predefinition, which I would ask you to become conversant with, so that you can decide whether your use of a word in normal conversation and writing is appropriate. If you ever have the opportunity to discuss their definitions – perhaps you could write a blog or three about these words – then do so.

But because of the extent to which their meanings have been changed, what happens is that simply using these words in their civilised context acts to reinforce their civilised meanings. If you are having a conversation with or writing an email or letter to someone who has no idea of the difference between the civilised world and the uncivilised world, then your words will automatically be taken with their civilised (a.k.a. conventional) meaning. Therefore, all of the words need some form of Substitution that can be used when communicating with a civilised person.

The table below gives suggestions for each Civilised Word – they are not all exactly synonymous, but should provide sufficient scope for normal communication:

Related to this is something more subtle, but potentially even more powerful: that is the adoption of E-Prime in your communication. I became aware of this whilst reading “Rewild or Die” by Urban Scout, where I discovered, to my astonishment, that the entire book had been written without the verb “to be”. Scout goes on to explain some of the rationale behind using such a way of communicating:

Our linguistic world eats itself and arguments ensue. “To be” prevents us from experiencing a shared reality; something we need in order to communicate in a sane way. If someone sees something completely different than another, our language prevents us from acknowledging the others point of view by limiting our perception to fixed states. For example, if I say “Star Wars is a shitty movie,” and my friend says, “Star Wars is not a shitty movie!” We have no shared reality, for in our language, truth lies in only one of our statements and we can forever argue these truths until one of us writes a book and has more authority than the other. If on the other hand I say, “I hated Star Wars,” I state my opinion as observed through my own senses. I state a more accurate reality by not claiming that Star Wars “is” anything, as it could “be” anything to anyone. Similarly one could say, “I’ve seen Urban Scout act like an idiot before,” while another person could say, “Man, Urban Scout has really made me think. I really appreciate him.” We have two perceptions that do not contradict one another, but came about from different perspectives.

“To Be” plays god. It attempts to chisel reality in stone and works as the backbone of the civilized paradigm. Of course it does, its birthplace lies in the land of economic commerce, not a biological community. English works to domesticate the world as much as tilling means to domesticate it. Every element of our culture urges for domestication, for slavery. If language shapes how we perceive the world, nothing stands more fundamental (aside from the practice of agriculture itself) to this process of domestication than our own language.

You will see that, apart from the quoted sections, those two paragraphs do not contain the offending verb at all; and notice how much more deliberate and less confrontational the words come across. Not that everyone will find it easy to communicate in a way that omits such a fundamental piece of such a widely adopted language, but I have managed it in this paragraph, and it does feel rather good – wholesome even. You could go further and explore an even more naturalised form of English (if you speak that language) – E-Primitive – which Willem Larsen has written about in this piece (see link); again, exceptionally difficult for someone deeply encultured by civilization, but a fascinating concept.

Now, I have no experience of the impact such a way of speaking is likely to have in practice and it may be that simply eliminating the verb “to be” will be nothing more than a talking point – nevertheless, even as a talking point it raises important issues about the nature of our relationships with the rest of nature and between each other; and it may trigger a change in the nature of these relationships…

Medium Risk

Now we have the basic tools for undermining the civilised theft of language (and don’t forget, there is no reason such activities should be limited to English – I just don’t have the linguistic capabilities to take this on) we need to explore a range of different environments in which they can be used.

As a method of Undermining, the aim of this task is to tip the balance back towards natural, uncivilised language; therefore it is not just a case of taking a neutral viewpoint, but instead using words and word structures in the opposite sense to that desired by the civilised world. This is where the risk comes in for those in a professional capacity, for if you are in one of the roles that can potentially change attitudes in this area – such as a journalist, teacher, broadcaster or politician (ok, maybe not a politician) – then you are also subject to a range of highly oppressive social norms: you have to speak, write and behave in a certain way. Step outside of these norms and you risk your position and, more importantly, your potential to be influential.

I do understand that this may seem a controversial position to take, but I take the view that if we didn’t have the problems we currently face, then we wouldn’t need to use the methods that are often necessary. A teacher or journalist can use their, albeit civilised, position to make a real difference – at least while they are permitted to. If you hold a position of influence with regards to the way people use language, then your act of using “civilised” in a negative sense, or your refusal to describe a frenzied attack as “wild” or “savage” is a powerful act indeed.

There are all sorts of actions possible besides merely speaking one-to-one – here are a few suggestions, which I will be delighted to add to should anyone suggest them to me:

Teach in E-Prime: Very tricky without practice or a lesson script, but then you could tell your students that you are doing it, why you are doing it, and ask them to help out with the “experiment”. Don’t forget to involve your trusted colleagues in your “experiment” too.

Read the news, substituting natural words for those in the script: How far you can get away with this depends on the nature of the reports, but maybe no-one will even notice, except subconsciously.

Write articles that turn word meanings around: This will almost certainly go against the editorial policy you are subject to, but you could always claim you slipped up when referring to workers as “wage slaves” or consumers as “economic units”.

Refuse to follow any script that uses civilised meanings or conventions: When I was a McDonalds wage slave, in the early 1990s, I refused to say, “How may I help you Sir / Madam”. Firstly, I objected to using the submissive personal title; secondly, I substituted “may” with “can”, as I explained that anyone coming into the place obviously wanted to buy something! Needless to say I was taken off till work, but it was quite enjoyable while it lasted.

Make editorial changes to articles or news: If you are a sub-editor for a small newspaper or magazine – you are much more likely to avoid editorial oversight with small titles – then you will have considerable licence to edit down and change submitted pieces in an uncivilised way. A good editor could get away with stripping out every pro-civilization word without being noticed; a really good editor can tip the balance the other way…

While the sword may be mightier than the pen when face-to-face in a duel, there is an awful lot you can change simply by minding your language. And what could be more empowering than wresting control from the machine of the words that are rightfully yours to use how you see fit?

Posted in Advice, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Sabotage | 8 Comments »

Sustainable Brands 2010 (from The Good Human)

Posted by keith on 6th May 2010

David at The Good Human got in touch to let me know about his brilliant article on yet another “Hey guys, aren’t we green!” PR back-slapping shindig. Of course I had to repost it, and couldn’t resist a little subvertising (see above)…

What do you get when a bunch of unsustainable companies pay a lot of money to become sponsors/attendees of an upcoming event called Sustainable Brands? You get a massive greenwashing event where “real” sustainable brands like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Interface Americas, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Living Homes, and the Environmental Defense Fund get mixed in with some the world’s most unsustainable companies and thus don’t get the real kudos they may deserve from us. So which companies will be attending/sponsoring a conference on sustainability but have no business being there? Let’s take a look at a few from the list…

Clorox – Makers of bleach, Liquid Plumber, Pine-Sol, and Tilex. Bleach production and use releases dioxin, furans and other organochlorines into the air, and studies have shown a relationship between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects, and developmental/reproductive disorders. Inhaling the fumes may lead to sore throat, cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath, along with fluid in the lungs, and ingesting household bleach can cause oral, esophageal and gastric burns as well as produce nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Sure sounds like a “sustainable brand” to me. How about you?

Coca-Cola – I like Coke. I drink Coke occasionally. Coke tastes good. But the Coca-Cola brand is most definitely not a sustainable brand. They produce and sell Dasani bottled water, which is just filtered tap water in plastic bottles. Regular old tap water costs about $0.002 per gallon compared to the $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon charge for bottled water like this, while 88% of empty plastic water bottles in the United States are not recycled. The Container Recycling Institute says that plastic water bottles are disposed of (not recycled) at the rate of 30 million a day! Also, the production of the plastic (PET or polyethylene) bottles to meet our demand for bottled water takes the equivalent of about 17.6 million barrels of oil (not including transportation costs). That equals the amount of oil required to fuel more than one million vehicles in the U.S. each year. Around the world, bottling water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic…each year. Add in the HFCS they use in their soda products and, well, you can just about remove the word sustainable from their brand.

Dow Chemical – You may remember last week’s Greenwash of the Week which involved these guys. They were sponsoring a “Live Earth Run For Water” in New York City and thought no one would notice. Responsible for such amazing products as the Agent Orange sprayed all over our troops and Vietnamese people in Vietnam and some major dioxin pollution in cities across the world (which still isn’t cleaned up and is being ignored by Dow), I guess they figure that by showing up at Sustainable Brands all will be forgiven. Not so fast, Dow. In Bhopal, India roughly 30,000 people are still drinking water contaminated with heavy metals and organochlorines; in North America Dow is responsible for dangerous dioxin contamination around its global headquarters in Midland, Michigan, vinyl chloride contamination in Louisiana, dioxin & furan contamination in Western Canada, and Dow toxins are poisoning people and ecosystems in Vietnam, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, and Central America. Sustainable? I think not.

Nestle – Another Greenwash of the Week veteran! As of late, Nestle has become the target of several anti-Nestle campaigns and stories. Why, you ask?

* In Maine, Nestle has repeatedly sued (5 times and counting) the tiny rural town of Fryeburg – a clear attempt to litigate the tiny town into insolvency, winning the right to tap the local aquifer by default. Why? Because the town’s planning commission – and a majority of its citizens – said “no” to Nestle’s proposed 24/7 water pumping station (which returned little economic value to the town) and its accompanying traffic, noise, and pollution.

* In Michigan, Nestle – despite repeatedly proclaiming themselves “good corporate neighbors” who would never damage a watershed – were ordered to reduce pumping after courts repeatedly found Nestle was damaging a local watershed.

* In 2008, The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), led by Nobel peace prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, accused 43 companies present in Colombia of various human rights violations. The Tribunal, consisting of various international notables, made such accusations after almost three years of investigating allegations of human rights violations in Colombia. Among the companies accused of human rights violations are Coca Cola, Nestlé, British Petroleum (BP) and Telefonica. The PPT also said the Colombian Government is equally responsible for the violation of human rights, “favoring capital over people’s lives”. [16]

* Canadian environmental groups have filed a misleading advertising complaint against Nestle disputing claims in an ad by the world’s largest food company that its bottled water has numerous ecological benefits.

* Greenpeace has new evidence which shows that Nestle – the makers of Kit Kat – are using palm oil produced in areas where the orangutans’ rainforests once grew. Even worse, the company doesn’t seem to care.

Do I really need to go on about how Nestle is by no means a Sustainable Brand?

SC Johnson – Makers of Pledge, Ziploc, Off!, Glade, Raid, Windex, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Drano. What a collection of sustainable products they have! I have featured them as a Greenwash of the Week before, Treehugger has added them to their Greenwash Watch series, and Seventh Generation wonders when Drano became “non-toxic and environmentally friendly”. A Sustainable Brand? I think not.

Wal-Mart – For my money, I have saved the best for last here. In fact, just yesterday it was announced that Wal-Mart is being fined $27.6 million dollars for environmental violations in California. What better timing than right before they head to a conference on being sustainable! The money is to settle charges that it violated California environmental laws by improperly handling, storing and disposing of hazardous materials such as pesticides, chemicals, paint, acid, aerosols, fertilizer and motor oil. Yummy. Last year they announced their “Sustainability Index“, of which CorpWatch said “It is an amazing act of chutzpah for Wal-Mart, which probably keeps more sweatshops in business than any other company, to claim moral authority to ask suppliers about the treatment of workers in their supply chain.” They have also been charged with countless human rights violations, gender discrimination, and the selling of non-organic food as organic in their stores. Wal-Mart Watch says that “Wal-Mart is so obsessed with being politically correct on the “sustainability” issue, that they tell you more about the printing of their annual report than the number of dead store eyesores they have left empty. Here is how Wal-Mart describes the print version of its Annual Report: “It is printed on FSC-certified responsibly forested paper containing recycled PCW fiber that is Elementally Chlorine Free (ECF). It is printed using 100% renewable wind power (RECs), along with environmental manufacturing principles that were utilized in the printing process.” The company claimed it saved “517 fewer trees consumed via recycling”. What Oscar Wilde said about cynics is true for Wal-Mart as well: Their sustainability counters know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.”” Truly now, and be honest – does that sound like a company that should even be allowed anywhere near a conference on Sustainable Brands? At least one that wants to be taken seriously and not just look like corporate shills?

There are many, many more companies attending and/or paying for this conference that I probably should list here too – but I think you get the point. Sure, there will be plenty of companies in attendance who TRULY want to do the right thing, but I am afraid of them getting so covered in the greenwash that is the rest of these attendees that they won’t be very effective at getting out their message. If this conference wants to really be about sustainability, they wouldn’t allow these types of companies to attend, period. We need events like this that are really about what they say they are so they mean something. I am sure when these started they meant to do well, but by allowing corporations like the ones listed above to participate, it definitely dilutes the meaning. While spreading the word about this conference and its greenwashing attempts is absolutely necessary (and please help by sending this to all your green friends so they know about it), the best thing we can do is use our wallets to express our displeasure with companies like Clorox, Wal-Mart, and the others. Buy products that are actually sustainable and not just marketed as such through PR firms and “green” conferences. Shop at stores that treat their workers fairly. Purchase safer alternatives to everyday common toxic goods. And above all else, be aware of what you are being sold, both literally and figuratively.

Don’t fall for this kind of marketing of “sustainability” when much of it is anything but. Unchecked events like this only hurt the entire environmental movement by helping unworthy companies to sell toxic crap as “green” in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, Sponsorship | 2 Comments »

We Are The Hollow Men

Posted by keith on 5th May 2010

The difference is stark and intense – from a vision of the sub-American suburban Utopia ringed with shopping malls and trunk roads, to a house on the edge of a Scottish village within earshot of the River Tweed, surrounded by the kind of garden that would tempt the most driven individual to pack up the campaigning and sit listening to the birds until lifedown.

I am lucky beyond dreams I never had; we sought a slower life, one that attached itself to a real community and had the potential for at least superficial resilience (a few fresh raspberries and broad beans while all around collapses the hellish system we built out of the toxic desires of our leaders). As a family we never sought “success”, “progress” or “luxury”, and as time has gone on our own desires have begun to march in step with the rest of nature. Despite – perhaps because of – the absence of conflict in my new life, I feel a huge weight of responsibility to step up the work that needs doing so badly.

Around the garden have been left a multitude of messages in stone tablet form, and literal leaves of wisdom. One of them contains a line from the T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men“, which strikes me as eerily relevant to the parties vying for power in the election I cannot escape, and a metaphor that illustrates the lies, the hypocrisy that pervades the pages of this blog.

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

It continues later on with:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
(For Thine is the Kingdom)

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
(Life is very long)

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

Hollow dreams have no place in a survivable world. We must come out of the shadows and reveal our intentions for others to hear – the indescribable hypocrisy of the ruling system of death has to end; real dreams can only be fulfilled where truth exists.

Posted in Advice, Exposure | 4 Comments »