The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Archive for August, 2010

Greenpeace Inc. [Guest Article]

Posted by keith on 26th August 2010

As some readers may have noted, an email recently came through Greenpeace’s UK newsletter inviting its supporters to take part in a poll:

We’re carrying out a global poll to find out what Greenpeace means to you and which issues you think are most important. This is to help us do an even better job in the future.

As a supporter of the organisation we value your opinion. The survey is quite long, but if you can spare fifteen minutes of your time we’d really appreciate it.

So far, pretty normal behaviour for a NGO – large campaigning organisations regularly do surveys of their supporters to gauge opinions and decide on targets.

However, this survey was a little different. The survey has been designed by a Dutch company called Motivaction Research and Strategy. A look at their website reveals that they are a consumer research company specialising in branding and brand potential, tailored messages to target groups and building customer loyalty. Their main product is a demographic model called ‘Mentality’:

Mentality™: Turning Consumers into Fans

Developed in-house and incorportating more than ten years of lifestyle research experience, Mentality™ provides a window into your target group’s motivation and behavior.

The result? Highly accurate information that will provide you with a more effective marketing and communications strategy than traditional models.

Social Milieus: Do You Know Your Demographic?

Using the Mentality™ model, we identify your target group according to their attitudes towards life. And since each milieu has its own lifestyle and consumption patterns which are expressed through concrete behaviors knowing their next move can help turn your target group into your fans.

Using our in-house developed Mentality™ model, we’ll provide you with razor-sharp insights into your target group’s perceptions, helping you to achieve a high return on your marketing, communication and policy investments.

By studying socio-cultural undercurrents among your target group, we’ll help you position your products and services accurately and confidently in the market.

(Our emphasis)

Some of Motivaction’s past clients include Coca Cola, Imperial Tobacco, Unilever, McDonald’s and Mercedes Benz. On top of that, why is an environmental campaigning group employing a marketing company that promises to “achieve a high return on your marketing, communication and policy investments” to create brand and customer loyalty?

Because Greenpeace is a brand.

Greenpeace has become like any other corporation, using demographic segmentation techniques to analyse how best to brand themselves to attract customers. The survey itself, as well as questions on what environmental problems the survey-taker think are most important, also included sections on people’s opinions of rival organisations (including its radical splinter sea shepherd), opinions of Greenpeace itself and demographic questions. It seems that Greenpeace is trying to find its niche in a ‘marketplace’ of environmental organisations, using demographic analysis to find who its loyal ‘customers’ are to focus their branding on them.

So, Greenpeace supporters amongst you reading this: you are being analysed and treated as a consumer, marketed at and targeted with a brand to suit your “milieu”.

Is this what the environmental movement should be?

Whilst Greenpeace are busy spending supporters money on corporate branding and promoting the reform of Industrial Civilisation, the destruction of forests, pollution of oceans and the 6th mass extinction continues unabated. Activists need to see that Greenpeace and its colleagues (even Oxfam features as a client to Motivaction) are becoming brands, competing in a marketplace for your ‘custom’ – they’re turning our anger and activism into a consumer item. Activists need to see this and move beyond the corporatized NGOs and take real action, and show them that we won’t consume their corrupted vision of environmentalism.

Readers may wish to take part in and skew said survey, (remembering to not enter demographic details) and say what you really think of their corporate style and efforts at branding.

This article was written for The Unsuitablog by the environmental activist and writer, David McKay.

UPDATE: I created the Greenpeace Inc. logo as a spoof, but have now discovered that Greenpeace Inc. is registered in the state of California as a Corporation; and thus the wheel turns further in favour of the corporate machine. Thanks for making my decisions so much easier, Greenpeace Inc.


Posted in NGO Hypocrisy, Should Know Better | 4 Comments »

Cairn Energy Buries Truth in Business Speak

Posted by keith on 24th August 2010

Below is a verbatim lift from the Corporate Responsibility page on the website of Cairn Energy. I have just highlighted the one key point that you must bear in mind when reading:

Cairn’s strategy is to deliver shareholder value through establishing commercial reserves in high potential exploration plays in various parts of the world. In implementing this strategy, the Group focuses on conducting all of its activities in a responsible manner.

Our approach to CR is based on continuous improvement and responsible behaviour across four main platforms:

* Business relationships
* Commitment to our people
* Commitment to society and communities
* Commitment to the environment

During the course of 2008, we concentrated our Corporate Responsibility activities on eight key areas of business practice identified as having high significance through our business risk management and stakeholder engagement processes. The following paragraphs summarise these areas and the remainder of the report documents Cairn’s activities in each area.

Stakeholder Engagement
At Cairn we believe that building strong, open and lasting relationships with our stakeholders is not merely a social responsibility, it is also vital to achieving our business goals. Our activities are influenced by – and may potentially impact – a range of different stakeholders at local, national and international levels. In particular, governments and local communities can significantly affect our capacity to carryout our activities and achieve our aims.

Business Ethics
Corruption when it occurs is recognised as a major hindrance to sustainable development with an often disproportionate impact on poor communities. At its worst the impact on businesses can be considerable, impeding economic growth, distorting competition and representing serious legal and reputational risks.

Revenues paid to government and the value of contracts awarded in carrying out our activities can be significant in the countries in which we operate and in the local communities in which we work.

It is important that we operate at all times with integrity, honesty and transparency.

Employee Development
Cairn’s success is driven by its people. Consequently, employee engagement and personal and organisational development have been key focus areas for the Company and will continue to be so.

Our employee development programme is designed to ensure that the organisation delivers its objectives in support of the company’s strategy as well as providing our staff with the opportunity to grow as individuals.

Health, Safety and Security
Cairn recognises that exploring for and producing hydrocarbons carries inherent potential risks. In some areas of Bangladesh, India and Nepal in particular, the security environment may be challenging. We must, therefore, ensure and protect the health, safety and security of our employees and contractors working on our sites and the people who come into contact with our operations. We also recognise the importance of promoting and providing a healthy, positive work environment for staff to reduce absenteeism and promote morale.

Community Development
Cairn recognises that its activities can affect the social and economic environment of the communities in which we operate. This is particularly true where Cairn’s presence dominates local industrial or commercial activity as is the case in a remote and arid part of Rajasthan, India where Cairn are developing major oil and gas fields. We recognise that being sensitive to the impact we have is important if we are to sustain our activities and operate effectively. Our goal is to make a positive social impact in every area in which we are active.

Human Rights
Cairn recognises the importance of human rights. In Rajasthan, for example, we apply a ‘Rights Aware’ approach to safeguard the local community’s right to water in an area with limited water resources while accessing the water required to support our operations.

Environmental Impact
Cairn recognises that its exploration, development and production activities can have an impact on the environment. Some of Cairn’s exploration and production acreage lies in areas of environmental significance. Cairn recognises its responsibilities and focuses on the avoidance of negative impacts on the environment during its operations.

Climate Change
Activities involved in our operations, such as power generation, flaring, venting and transportation, produce emissions to air, including methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), two gases recognised as greenhouse gases (GHG). The burning of oil and gas, our primary products, also produces GHG emissions. Climate change is a complex issue with many causes both natural and due to human activity. We acknowledge that there is a growing consensus about the extent and effect of global warming. Energy is essential to social and economic progress but we recognise that we have a responsibility to take a precautionary approach to climate change. At all times, we seek to minimise GHG emissions from our operations.

Now here is a verbatim lift from the website of People and Planet:

RBS arranged the finance allowing the Scottish oil company Cairn Energy to forge ahead with oil exploration in pristine parts of Greenland’s Arctic. In March 2009, following the Treasury’s bail out of the bank with public money, RBS acted as joint arranger with Merrill Lynch, placing shares worth £116 million for “accelerated drilling” in Greenland by Cairn Energy.

Determined to tap into potential oil reserves within this untouched region, Cairn Energy are keen to lead the rush into Arctic drilling, describing Greenland as ‘a true frontier country’. It has already gained licences covering 72,000 square kilometres off Greenland’s west coast, an area half the size of England. Cairn Energy have suggested that these are just the beginning and that it hopes to expand further. The US Geological Survey has estimated that over 16 billion barrels of oil and gas could lie off Greenland’s coast. Taking this out of the ground would be an absolute disaster for global efforts to tackle climate change.

A slide within Cairn’s presentations on Arctic oil exploration shows the melting Arctic ice. Reduced heavy sea ice makes exploration work easier around Cairn’s two most “promising” licences, off Disko Island – an area frequently visited by those inspecting the impacts of climate change first hand. What Cairn Energy views as an opportunity, Greenland’s Inuit population experience as a threat to their very survival and are increasingly vocal about the impacts which climate change is already having on them.

I don’t need to say much more, although you can be sure that more will happen soon…

Posted in Company Policies, Corporate Hypocrisy, Political Hypocrisy, Public Sector Hypocrisy | 1 Comment »

Pat Michaels Lets His Funding Veil Slip

Posted by keith on 17th August 2010

After umpteen years denying the (civilized) human influence on climate change, and in parallel denying he was influenced financially or otherwise by fossil fuel interests, uber-denier Pat Michaels let slip some of the source of his funding – and by implication, some of the source of his climate change denial philosophy. Let’s not forget how powerful a man Michaels is; as well as his regular appearance as a commentator on climate change in newspapers and on television broadcasts across the globe, and his influence on American energy politics, “Michaels is widely known as one of the most active and vocal global warming deniers. Michaels is a professor at the University of Virginia and according to a search of 22,000 academic journals, Michaels has published 50+ original research papers in peer-reviewed journals, mainly in the area of climate.” (source, DeSmogBlog)

The CNN interview below does spend time farting around with the trivial issue of carbon tax, but watch what happens at 6′ 20″ – bizarrely, the “40% funded” response passes without comment; even more bizarrely because the 40% figure is only for “the petroleum industry”. How much more money for Pat’s thinktanks comes from mining, industrial chemicals (almost all based on petroleum) and other corporations dependent on maintaining the status quo?

But at least part of the funding has been admitted on paper – now “all” we have to do is ensure Michaels’ words are treated as though they are covered in sticky brown crude…

Posted in Astroturfs, Cover Ups, Exposure, General Hypocrisy | No Comments »

Greenwashing In The BBC [Guest Article]

Posted by keith on 13th August 2010

Greenwashing has a habit of making it into every facet of our society, not just from the obvious sources such as the PR offices of polluting corporations, but also for example from major charities and in the media. A recent example I came across is a blog post from last October by the BBC’s ‘Ethical Man’ Jason Rowlatt, entitled “Is the green movement too radical?”.

In his article the main thrust of his argument is that the ‘green movement’ should accept carbon markets as the solution to limiting emissions, rather than more systematic changes involving the basis of the economy. Accepting the need to cut emissions, he asks:

So how can we find ways to persuade people to change their behaviour? Most economists believe the most powerful instrument for changing behaviour is the market…Economists say we need some system of “carbon pricing”.

Note how he talks about economists – no criticism or balance (that the BBC is meant to be so famous for) about what they say, just a simple statement of what they think as fact. ‘Greens’ on the other hand are presented as sceptics and destructive (note the reference to smashing capitalism, and repeated reference to the ‘Greens’), and their barely presented argument dismissed:

It is not a policy that is likely to engage most mainstream politicians – or for that matter – ordinary people. What is more, spurning market solutions means ignoring one of the most powerful mechanisms for changing behaviour ever developed.

Although he is right that systemic changes are less popular to our politicians and to people wanting to continue with their modern lifestyles, the latter statement is backed up by no evidence or argument, it is simply presented as fact. It is telling that he uses the claim that “With just six years left, surely we should use all the weapons in our armoury to get change” in order to justify only using the carbon market. Perhaps this reflects his blog’s focus on “what individuals can do to tackle climate change” – focusing on our own individual actions rather than those of the institutions who cause most of the damage.

Neither does Jason mention that Europe’s own carbon trading system (ETS) not only failed to reduce emissions, as too many permits were issued to corporations by our leaders for free, fluctuating prices meant the polluters actually made more money than they would have done otherwise – in effect, carbon trading paid them to pollute more. As a result of these inherent shortcomings, carbon trading is even more unrealistic as a method of limiting emissions than the more “radical” solutions, such as systemic changes to the way society and the economy operates, that the Ethical Man dismisses. More information on carbon trading can be found at, and in the ‘zine “The Carbon Supermarket”.

What is most revealing about this case though is that an article clearly biased towards the politically favoured solution of carbon trading is being published by a supposedly neutral media organisation. Although this is his personal blog, it is still hosted by the BBC, and it would be surprising if the BBC allowed “radical” greens to operate in the same way. It wouldn’t therefore be surprising that this sort of bias didn’t slip into their more mainstream productions too, especially as Jason is the BBC’s in-house reporter on climate change and looking at his record of posts (for example including “Is the green movement bad for the environment?” and “Greens on trial” which both make much the same points again). Indeed, Media Lens reports on the extent to which this occurs in the mainstream media.

A key player in the ensuing demolition of the Green movement – which is what happened – is the mass media, the means by which environmental concerns might have reached and mobilised a mass audience. The media is part of the same corporate system, one that naturally protects traditional centres of power and short-term profits against rational challenges of exactly the kind Greens had in mind. Thus, despite all the evidence, Greens and progressives have continued to be ignored, marginalised and vilified.

This is yet another example showing that major media organisations such as the BBC are as implicit in greenwashing and preserving the status quo as the corporations environmentalists normally target. Greenwash has seeped throughout the establishment and contaminated it – we must see through the organisations we were brought up to trust if we are to move beyond the status quo that they form a part of.

This article was written for The Unsuitablog by the environmental activist and writer, David McKay.

Posted in Media Hypocrisy, Offsetting, Should Know Better, Techno Fixes | 2 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, August 2010: Crash The Mainstream Environmentalists’ Party

Posted by keith on 9th August 2010

They ( refuse to countenance the idea that industrial civilization is the problem – every action leads to the Senate, even requests to non-US “members” lead to the Senate. They are like a stuck record – a really dated record, like Alice Cooper trying to down with the kids when he spends most of his time playing golf. Bill McKibben may once have bitten the heads off proverbial bats, but now he’s just trying to get a clean shot down the fairway with all his mainstream buddies waiting in the clubhouse.

Not a day goes by when the words of the representative of some Environmental Group or other isn’t contacted by a newspaper or television station asking for comment on the story of the day, whatever will happen to sell the most papers or garner the most viewers. Without fail the comments offered are words of the most ineffectual sort, gently admonishing this or that company or politician, and offering the kind of advice that would sit comfortably in the pages of any corporate enviro-speak manual. Only today, a representative of Greenpeace Netherlands referred to the export of thousands of tonnes of electronic waste using the execrable phrase: “The fundamental problem with electronics is that it’s designed in a very bad way.”

Not, “The fundamental problem with electronics is that it is a symbol of an ecocidal consumer culture”, perhaps adding, “and the tide of toxic waste won’t end until that consumer culture comes to an end.” You won’t hear that from Greenpeace, or any other mainstream environmental group.

Not a week goes by without some campaign or other being launched to prevent environmental destruction, or make efforts to put right that destruction. The vast, vast majority of these campaigns are based upon the same “logic” as the vast, vast majority of people who make comments to newspapers or television stations: this is the system we have, so we have no choice but to make it behave itself as best it can. That, of course, is bullshit.

As I have written time and time again, it is an utterly pointless task trying to make Industrial Civilization sustainable or “environmentally friendly”, because the nature of civilization is to destroy, to take what it wants to achieve its aims and only stop when it runs out of energy, people or space. It only stops when it collapses – it never stops of its own accord.

The mainstream environmental movement has never got this, and never will, because its very existence depends on the support of a large number of people both for income and staffing. It also depends on the good will of the system itself, that permits it to protest peacefully, speak freely and generally operate within the Law of the Land. There is an invisible line that separates the words and deeds of the mainstream from the words and deeds of the “extremist”; that same line separates that which is pointless, ineffective action from that which will actually achieve the kind of change humanity requires in order to survive.

This line is never crossed.

If you want to see this entire movement in microcosm, look no further than and the work they do which has come, in recent months, to define environmental symbolism. I have written about them before, but was moved to write again by the following email that purports to originate from the desk of Will Bates, one of their key campaigners:

Dear Friends,

On the morning of April 21, 2009, as people rallied in thousands in the city of Cochabamba, a young woman walked to the center of the conference, took a deep breath, and improvised a 350 banner, joining a new worldwide call for climate action.

She had worked the previous day to try and convince her friends at 350 to join her, but in the mainstream NGO community, taking REAL action on climate change is a risk that few larger NGOs are willing to take. This was one the smallest actions that day, but one of the most powerful.

And she didn’t stop there. Determined to make a difference, she overcame even more challenges at Cochabamba by calling for no NGO to undermine 300ppm in the plenary sessions and calling for action on behalf of millions of people in Bolivia and around the world.

Unfortunately, not all representatives of shared her bravery and failed to fight for a fair, ambitious and binding international people’s agreement steering us towards safety below 300ppm.

So she, the activist, with other activists, went back to work.

I spoke to the woman on the phone last week, and she relayed the news that she’s found a group of activists who were inspired by her actions, and together they’re planning to keep calling for support of the people’s agreement out of Bolivia. Temperatures must not exceed 1C and we must get back down to 300ppm.

But we’re not waiting until October to Get To Work–we’re starting now. Ambitious climate action takes a bit of planning–that’s why we’re coordinating a week of local “Climate MeetUps” at the end of August calling for 300ppm. The meetups will be short and casual meetings we can use to make big plans for the coming year.

Think of it as a synchronized, global planning meeting. At your Climate MeetUp in August, you’ll be supporting real activists around the world in unveiling the new campaign — a Global Work Party supporting the position finalized in Bolivia:

“On a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, the submission calls for developed countries to “take the lead and strive towards returning greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to well below 300 ppm (parts per million) CO2eq with a view to returning concentrations to levels as close as possible to pre-industrial levels in the longer-term, and to limit the average global temperatures to a maximum level of 1degree Celsius with a view to returning temperatures to levels as close as possible to pre-industrial levels in the longer-term.”

The Global Work Party, supporting our new campaign for 300ppm will be a chance for all of us to show what leadership really looks like — together, we’ll get to work creating climate solutions from the ground up and demand our politicians do the same.

Thank you for making us see the light,

Will Bates on behalf of the entire team.
_____________ is an international grassroots campaign funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It aims to build and protect their brand at all costs. It mobilizes a global climate non-movement united by a common call to protect the current economic system. By not sharing the real climate science with citizens and supporters, and by protecting the status quo, we will ensure that the world’s most vulnerable will not succeed in establishing bold and equitable solutions to the climate crisis. is what we like to call “ The most powerful brand in the world”.

What is 350? 350 is the wrong number that we tell supporters is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Scientists measure carbon dioxide in “parts per million” (ppm), so 350ppm is not the number humanity needs to get below as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change. To get there, we need to get back to pre-industrial levels of 278. However – 278 is a different kind of PPM- this is a number which would only be possible by embracing a new economic system based on people, not profits as we build a zero carbon society. Unfortunately, this model representative of social equality is not a model that compromised, well funded mainstream NGOs embrace.

I have no way of verifying whether Will Bates wrote this or not, but if so it would be an extraordinary turnaround by an organisation that was originally set up using a grant originating from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a bit of guilt-shedding “philanthropy” funded from a long history of global oil, construction and banking interests.

Actually, looking at the website, I see no evidence of this turnaround as yet, and am not the slightest bit surprised because any organisation that would take its seed-money from the same fund that founded the conservative free-market thinktank, the American Enterprise Institute is not likely to bite the hand (or rather system) that feeds it.

The upshot of this is that nothing – or for that matter WWF, Conservation International, The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and any other mainstream environmental group you wish to name – do, is going to upset the system from which that group gets its money and its support.

One sees occasional glimpses of light, but just as soon as something chances to suggest a genuine desire for real change from the mainstream, the heavy fist of popular support comes crashing down. No wonder all anyone is ever asked to do on behalf of these Groups (often called NGOs) is make a symbolic gesture.

When you take part in a protest that does not directly threaten the thing you are protesting against, you are simply sublimating any anger you might have into whatever symbolic acts you have been led to believe will lead to change.

This process of sublimation is repeated in all facets of Industrial Civilization, from the Government Consultation and the Parliamentary Process through to apparently useful tools as Judicial Review and industrial Whistleblowing; all chances of real change are prevented by an array of gaping holes, channelling our anger into “constructive” activities. Because we followed the recommended course of action – the peaceful alternative – we feel sated and content that right has been done, even when nothing has been achieved.

About 3 years ago, talking to a friend, I had what I thought was a pretty good idea: I would take it upon myself to show the environmental mainstream up for what it is; show to people that groups like WWF, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are a big part of the problem, not part of the solution. It occured to me that simple exposure of these double-standards might be enough to change the public’s perception of “environmentalism”.

Of course I didn’t realise at the time that I might be falling into the same trap as everyone else in my position, and that simple exposure would not be nearly enough. True, if you tell someone something enough times then they will begin to believe it is true, but all the while these groups have big incomes (often from corporate funding) with which to publicise their work then the small voices that say, “but this won’t change things,” will be constantly drowned out by the mainstream desire to stay within the confines of the ecocidal industrial system.

I say again: it is an utterly pointless task trying to make Industrial Civilization sustainable or “environmentally friendly”. The big environmental groups don’t get this and they never will.

What is needed – if you are willing to do this with me – are a range of different tactics that will inject a hefty note of dissonance into the pitiful messages of “change” that the mainstream perpetuates. I will give you an example: let’s suppose that the email above was a fake; produced, in fact, by someone who wanted to show the truth behind the nice, civilised press releases that churn out. It would not take a huge effort to alter an existing email, then forward it on – thus masking the original email header – as a piece of “news”. How many false press releases would need to be circulating before people started asking questions of the originators of those messages?

I consider this to be low risk, for how can such an act be libellous if it contains more truth than the original message – the one that said that small reductions in carbon dioxide over decades are sufficient; the one that said that writing to or petitioning politicians would change things; the one that said we can continue having a growing economy and also protect the biosphere? That’s three lies that are commonly written, or at least implied in huge number of press releases. How can your amended version be libellous if it contains more truth than the original message?

Plus, who would want to admit that they had been lying in the first place?

As the Environmental Groups pat each other on the back – notice how they hardly ever criticise each other, that would be like criticising yourself – tell each other what a great job they are doing, and pouring another glass of celebratory fizz, they might not spot who is sneaking in the door, switching the music off and turning on the bright lights of reality.

Low Risk

Ok, there’s a small chance you might get lynched, but what about starting at a real party, like the one Greenpeace is holding near to Heathrow Airport on Saturday 28th August. Here, you can have my personal invitation if you want. There are all sorts of events like this, celebrating pyrrhic victories, such as the cancellation of a third runway west of London (is this really a “local” party, considering WWF, Greenpeace and RSPB are involved?), at the same time as as airport expansion pushes ahead in Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester and to the east of London. Plus what about campaign launches, updates and anniversaries – there are so many to choose from all over the world.

Perhaps the most subversive thing you can do at these events is to ask questions of as many people as you can; questions like, “What will/did this achieve?” “Why are you doing this?” “Why do you think it will work?” “What’s the point if the system stays the same?” and so on. Creating uncertainty is the key here for, certainly at every meeting I’ve ever been to, the attendees are in search of answers, but rarely ever question the ones they are given. For instance, events to organise marches – as though marches ever achieve anything – are always framed in such a way that the march will happen anyway, and it is just the detail that is being discussed. Ask the questions – challenge the received “wisdom” that marches change anything: create uncertainty. Then leave.

I want to make it clear, I have plenty of time for the research work and dissemination of information that many groups do, even WWF produce some excellent papers. What I have a problem with is what happens when we know this: what do we do? We do what we are told, because we have been led to believe change will happen…and it never does.

Local and national radio stations are ripe areas for undermining the mainstream message of inaction. Care is, of course, necessary here because you don’t want to be undermining the fact that environmental destruction is taking place; but right from the off, the message that a representative of Greenpeace or Sierra Club will give is that humans are causing the damage – not civilization, not the industrial system, but humans. In many cases a news story based phone-in will welcome a representative of an environmental group, and you can be that representative. As the show starts, call the station, let them know that you represent whichever Group is relevant to the story (all the better if the story is about the group itself!), give a false name if you like, and then go on the show.

Remember, what you are getting across is essentially what the group is afraid of saying: that there is no point appealing to politicians and businesses, there is no point marching, signing petitions, holding candlelit vigils; all of this is just grist to the mill. No, your Group is going to change its tactics and denounce the entire industrial system because the industrial system is the problem. You will refuse to work with politicians and business, and embrace communities; give the say back to the people, not tell them what actions to take from some head office. In short, you are telling the world that you have failed and something entirely different is needed.

(On a specific note, and one that really rankles with me, if you can go on as a spokesperson for PETA, then mention that you are no longer going to use sexist, misogynist campaigns that focus on bare female bodies – that ought to stir a few pots.)

Even lower risk, there is always the option of sending a letter to a newspaper, magazine or journal playing the “representative” card. Most publications don’t follow up on letters, so you can use the published addresses of the mainstream group you are choosing to (I was about to use the word “defame”, but in the circumstances I reckon you are simply showing them the light, as it were) undermine. Friends of the Earth have conveniently produced a guide to getting your letter printed – just remember the salient points that civilization is what is destroying the planet, and no amount of pandering to the system is going to change things; and away you go!

Medium Risk

This article cannot hope to cover more than a tiny number of the possible actions, so please take some time to read this list for more ideas – and send me some more if you have them. But now it is time to move on to a few higher-risk actions, that aren’t for the faint-hearted, but which could really undermine the mainstream message.

One such type of action – a logical step on from pretending to to work for mainstream groups – is actually working for them, then turning the cards. It’s dead easy to volunteer to work at a Group and get involved in small scale public-facing activities like street stalls and leafleting – in my experience, though, because such activities are so ineffective, it is likely that simply telling the public the truth about campaigns (i.e. they are just making people think the Groups are on the case, when they are not) will be even more ineffective. The real undermining as a volunteer is to be done in group meetings or at conferences – which you will need to work at to get invited to – when you will have the opportunity to strike at the heart of the “activist” community, and lead a few people to a better place. The risk comes if you get a chance to speak on behalf of a local branch – and will therefore make quite a few people upset – and then tell the truth about the way the group is operating. If you want to really speak on behalf of the Group itself at conferences etc., with bona fide credentials, then you will almost certainly need to already be working for that group: trust takes a long time to build up. Once in a position of trust, though, the opportunities for telling both the people inside the Group and the public in general the truth about mainstream “activism” are considerable. If you want to hang around for a while, then you might be best concentrating on subtle messages or “accidental” slip-ups in press releases and speeches; but if you are already sick and tired of working for the Man, in the guise of an NGO, then you can be as blatant as you like.

You may only have one shot at this before being unceremoniously dumped, and be unlikely to ever work for such a Group in the future; but then why would you want to work in the environmental mainstream if you consider them to be acting hypocritically? Then again, your bona fide newpaper article, or radio / television interview could completely change how the environmental mainstream is viewed by both the corporate and political world (“One of us”) and those people who really want a future for humanity (“Not one of us”).

Many mainstream Groups work with, and get money from, corporations. The largest groups like WWF, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy take money from large companies as a matter of course, and there is no doubt at all that such a relationship has a deeply adverse effect on the modus operandi of the groups themselves. Johann Hari puts it like this:

The green groups defend their behavior by saying they are improving the behavior of the corporations. But…the pressure often flows the other way: the addiction to corporate cash has changed the green groups at their core. As MacDonald says, “Not only do the largest conservation groups take money from companies deeply implicated in environmental crimes; they have become something like satellite PR offices for the corporations that support them.”

It has taken two decades for this corrupting relationship to become the norm among the big green organizations. Imagine this happening in any other sphere, and it becomes clear how surreal it is. It is as though Amnesty International’s human rights reports came sponsored by a coalition of the Burmese junta, Dick Cheney and Robert Mugabe. For environmental groups to take funding from the very people who are destroying the environment is preposterous – yet it is now taken for granted.

I went through a period of masquerading as corporations in order to find out what steps NGOs would be prepared to take in order to get finances with which to continue their operations. What I found was often revealing and disturbing. Up to now I have not linked directly to a phone call that I made to The Woodland Trust, but feel it is time to demonstrate how easy it is – by nature of the cosy relationship with corporations – to get such information from hypocritical NGOs. The recording can be found here:

There is something exhilarating about getting such blatant admissions from what is apparently a “green” group; and if you are able to carry out such subterfuge from the comfort of your telephone (the techniques are described here) then I can assure you, you will remain hooked. If you are not willing to publish your findings to the wider world, then you can always send the recordings to me and I will publish them on your behalf, with as much negative publicity for the Group as I can muster.

Finally, you might have noticed that a number of activities listed in “100 ways” go beyond what most of the Mainstream Groups are willing to do; but that doesn’t mean these actions cannot be carried out “on behalf of” such Groups. We are talking about the kind of things they would not condone themselves, such as barracading shopping malls, or send out radio or TV blocking signals during advertising breaks – to undermine the consumer society. If you can leave a relevant “signature” in the course of your action, then two advantages come into play: first, you are less likely to be found out (it won’t incriminate the group as there won’t be sufficient evidence) and, second, it will force the group to admit they wouldn’t do such a thing, thus undermining their own credentials as activists*. The risk of this area of activism depends on the action being carried out, and is only limited by your own imagination.

I suppose it is fortunate that there are no truly high risk undermining actions that can be taken against mainstream environmental groups – assuming that you are not dealing with psychopathic supporters – but in the event that the combined efforts of Underminers does lead to the downfall of such organisations as wish to see the burgeoning power of corporations and their political puppets continue; to anyone still in awe of the Sierra Clubs and WWFs of the world this is a hugely risky strategy. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about bloody time millions of genuinely caring people stopped being relentlessly asked to carry out pointless tasks on behalf of these groups: it’s about time we decided for ourselves what real change looks like.

*Make sure the action is effective, not just symbolic: hard-core activism that does not have a useful outcome is no better than softly-softly symbolic action.

Posted in Advice, Exposure, Monthly Undermining Tasks, NGO Hypocrisy, Sabotage, Sponsorship, Spoofs, Subvertising, Symbolic Action | 20 Comments »

Can a Shopping Voucher Skew Survey Results?

Posted by keith on 3rd August 2010

A couple of weeks ago I – or rather our house – received a letter from an organisation called the National Centre for Social Research, inviting us to take part in an annual survey called British Social Attitudes. I like filling in surveys when I have time because it lets me think more about what I believe, and also provides a nice opportunity to screw up systems of categorisation, having found out some time ago that I neatly fitted into not a single one of the geodemographic categories that corporations and governments like to believe we should all be defined by.

This letter contained a little surprise, though; and not a very pleasant one. From the envelope fell a voucher for £5, going by the name of “Love2shop“. This voucher, like all gift vouchers, specifies precisely where the face value can be redeemed, and the range of outlets is ok…if you can see past the gruesome “Love2shop” monicker.

I hate shopping.

But personal opinions aside, what is far more worrying is that the British Social Attitudes survey is meant to be an objective and robust record of British attitudes (at least of those people who have mailing addresses). The letter states:

British Social Attitudes is the most respected and accurate guide to what people in Britain think about a range of issues, so you may have come across facts from our reports in the newspapers or on television. For 27 years our findings have been used by government, top universities, charities and the media to inform policy and insight.

By my reckoning, if such a survey is to fulfil all that then nothing can be allowed to skew the randomisation of the subjects, nor their mindset when answering the questions. The problem is that even though the addresses selected for survey, and the person selected for interview in that address, is statistically random, no one is obliged to take the survey. The questionee has to accept the invitation, so there is a significant element of self selection involved in the survey. Now, who do you think is more likely to be persuaded to take part in a survey upon receipt of a Love2shop voucher: someone who considers themselves to be a “Consumer” or someone who does not?

If this outcome was intentional then I would say that someone was trying to doctor the survey in favour of a consumer society.

I contacted NatCen to find out why, given the apparent objectivity of the survey, someone had thought it would be a good idea to include a shopping voucher as an incentive. The nice researcher I eventually spoke to seemed keen to listen, and indeed took what I said quite seriously; but also said categorically – as far as she knew – that there were no extenuating circumstances: the voucher just seemed like a nice idea at the time and, as far as she was concerned wouldn’t affect the outcomes of the survey. I begged to differ, pointing out that the methodology was already bound to account for the likelihood of different types of people to take surveys, and therefore if the effect of the shopping voucher had also not been accounted for then the survey would be void.

She promised to let someone know.

As an aside, I was also very keen to know the contents of the survey itself, ostensibly to find out whether the questions and the way in which they are asked skewed the outcome towards any particular outcome – one, for instance, that may be desired by a society obsessed with industrial and economic growth. Surprisingly, she not only sent me a link to the survey (you can download the PDF here) but, on first glance, it seemed to be a fairly well conducted survey – albeit something that might have been commissioned by the Daily Mail.

So what of the voucher? Well, sadly it seems to reflect the blanket attitude that everyone in public life seems to have smothered humanity with: we all want to shop.

Posted in Promotions, Public Sector Hypocrisy, Should Know Better | No Comments »