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An Open Letter to Mike Gonzalez, and Everyone Else Writing About Evo Morales

Posted by keith on 4th October 2011

To: Professor Mike Gonzalez, Glasgow University

Hi Mike

I’ve just read your article “Eva Morales Defence of Mother Earth Rings Hollow in Bolivia” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/oct/03/evo-morales-indigenous-people-protest) and am a little concerned. I assume (hope) you weren’t responsible for the headline as that only reflects a personal opinion, even though the headline implies this as fact. You are no doubt more qualified than me to comment on the political situation in Bolivia, but to suggest that the actions of an over-zealous police force reflects on Morales’ worldview when earlier in the article you show it was subordinates of Morales who ordered and defended the actions of the police is confused, if not dangerous.

There is a huge amount of economic interest in Bolivia, as you correctly state, and to ignore the enormously powerful forces of corporatism and state-sponsored agitation (as has been rife in South America over the past 45 years) in favour of an attack on Morales principles is disingenuous to say the least. A common tactic in past regime changes has been to undermine the head of state through the buying out of lesser politicians, and creating a feeling of unrest on the street by the spreading of rumours, the control of the military and subsequent violence to suppress dissent, and other tactics more subtle yet just as effective. I, and others like me, suspect this is happening at this very moment.

Mainstream NGOs are, of course, blind to such activities as they will always pursue the populist agenda, i.e. that which supports the viewpoints expounded by the bulk of their supporters – after all, where would they get funding from if they were campaigning counter to the viewpoints of their funders? Of course the frontline prevention of unethical activities has to take place, but to report on this and ignore the background of supremely powerful influences bent on regime change (and how better to make it happen than to tar the regime with the brush of “inhumanity” – how ironic given the previous paragraph) is not acceptable. The real kicker here is that none of the mainstream NGOs have signed up to the ground breaking People’s Agreement of Cochabamba, or the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth which Morales himself has pushed for since 2009. This is a telling sign, if not absolute evidence, of the mainstream bias of the media bodies and NGOs reporting on the current situation in Bolivia.

I would urge you to read the article at http://wrongkindofgreen.org/2011/09/30/who-really-leads-on-the-environment-bolivia-verses-the-movement-the-facts-speak-for-themselves/, and perhaps ask that your article be amended to reflect the wider background of corporate and state influence in South America.

Kind regards

Keith Farnish

(More information at http://wrongkindofgreen.org/2011/09/30/peak-hypocrisy-u-s-organizations-exploit-bolivia-crisis/)

Posted in Government Policies, Human Rights, Media Hypocrisy, NGO Hypocrisy, Political Hypocrisy | No Comments »

The Consumer Culture Will Never Be Convicted

Posted by keith on 17th August 2011

Green Acres Mall Walmart Stampede

November 28, 2008: As the recession really started to bite in the Western world, something was stirring in the minds of people across the USA. Black Friday, that time of year when, traditionally, retail businesses move from being in the “red” to being in the “black”, had taken on a Pavlovian significance. Pre-programmed individuals, now operating as a herd, took to the streets in the early hours to elbow their way to the doors of big-box stores in every city. At the Green Acres Mall – whoever thought up that name deserves an award for creative expression – just outside New York City, the Walmart store was under siege; a siege of the company’s own making. Approaching 5am and the fuse had been lit by a notice taped to the front door, implying that shopping was now on a war footing: “Blitz Line Starts Here” it read. The New York Times takes up the story:

By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.

Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

Some workers who saw what was happening fought their way through the surge to get to Mr. Damour, but he had been fatally injured, the police said. Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.

Four other people, including a 28-year-old woman who was described as eight months pregnant, were treated at the hospital for minor injuries.

Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, who is in charge of the investigation for the Nassau police, said the store lacked adequate security. He called the scene “utter chaos” and said the “crowd was out of control.” As for those who had run over the victim, criminal charges were possible, the lieutenant said. “I’ve heard other people call this an accident, but it is not,” he said. “Certainly it was a foreseeable act.”

As I write, over one thousand people have been arrested in England for various offences related to the events, described as “riots” by the mainstream media, that took place between 6 and 10 August, 2011. Two men have been sentenced to four years imprisonment for “incitement to rioting” on Facebook. On first sight this might seem like a reasonable sentence, given that 5 people, to date, were killed at least in the vicinity of the events, if not directly as a result of them. But take a look at the outcome of the “incitement” carried out by these two men:

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, set up an “event” called Smash Down in Northwich Town for the night of 8 August on the social networking site but no one apart from the police, who were monitoring the page, turned up at the pre-arranged meeting point outside a McDonalds restaurant. Blackshaw was promptly arrested.

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Latchford, Warrington, used his Facebook account in the early hours of 9 August to design a web page entitled The Warrington Riots. The court was told it caused a wave of panic in the town. When he woke up the following morning with a hangover, he removed the page and apologised, saying it had been a joke. His message was distributed to 400 Facebook contacts, but no rioting broke out as a result.

Six months after the trampling to death of Jdimytai Damour – a death that was directly attributable to the shopping frenzy whipped up by Walmart’s Black Friday campaigning and the consumer culture that Walmart are an integral part of – the company were fined $7000 for “inadequate crowd management”. No mention was made of the nature of the event that led to the death of Jdimytai Damour in the formal letter sent by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to the CEO of Walmart and other major retailers, such as JC Penney and Target. Although Walmart fought the original citation, they needn’t have bothered because the consumer culture – the lifeblood of mass retail activity – got away scot-free.

The true cause of the Walmart death did not pass Peter S. Goodman by, though. In a New York Times article published the day after the stampede, he stated: “For decades, Americans have been effectively programmed to shop. China, Japan and other foreign powers have provided the wherewithal to purchase their goods by buying staggering quantities of American debt. Financial institutions have scattered credit card offers as if they were takeout menus and turned our houses into A.T.M.’s. Hollywood and Madison Avenue have excelled at persuading us that the holiday season is a time to spend lavishly or risk being found insufficiently appreciative of our loved ones.”

Fast forward to August 2011, and in a scathing indictment of the culture within which the English unrest took place, the comedian and broadcaster Russell Brand writes: “Amidst the bleakness of this social landscape, squinting all the while in the glare of a culture that radiates ultraviolet consumerism and infrared celebrity. That daily, hourly, incessantly enforces the egregious, deceitful message that you are what you wear, what you drive, what you watch and what you watch it on, in livid, neon pixels. The only light in their lives comes from these luminous corporate messages. No wonder they have their fucking hoods up.” Russell Brand seems to be one of the few lights in the corporate and politically generated swill masquerading as journalism.

So we look again at the four year sentences handed down to Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan for “incitement” to riots that never occured, and wonder why, if the real cause of looting and the violence that often surrounds such incidents is the simple desire to attain the consumer goods that we are implored to seek out, the huge corporations that make money from our desires never have the finger pointed at their activities. And we have to conclude that without the consumer culture there would be no economic growth, and without economic growth there would be no more industrial civilization. That is a price that no politician, CEO, media-mogul or investment banker ever wants to pay.

And that is why the consumer culture will never be convicted.

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, Media Hypocrisy, Political Hypocrisy | 2 Comments »

Money for Nothing and Your Soul for Free

Posted by keith on 6th July 2011

We, the media and I, have an interesting relationship. They leave me alone for the most part, and I give them hell because for the most part they are an industry dedicated to anti-life propaganda. Sometimes, though, they will contact me for a quote, an interview and some advice on how to keep the system running. Usually they go away disappointed, not because I don’t deliver, but because I deliver entirely the opposite of what they are looking for.

On rare occasions I make a conversion. Those are good days.

Today, there was a call from a media organisation. Gerald was after some advice on energy efficiency to syndicate to various web sites and other media outlets. I said it was a bit mainstream for me. He said that would be ok, I could still give a comment if I wanted. Being in the middle of a conversation with a friend I asked him to email me some questions and I would be sure to get back to him.

When I got back home the email was there:

From: Gerald Heneghan
Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2011 11:19 AM
To: keith[at]theearthblog.org
Subject: Advice for eco-conscious homeowners

Hi Keith,

As mentioned, we’re writing a series of articles on steps homeowners who are concerned about environmental can take to improve their green credentials on a day to day basis, i.e. with home upgrades and/or the types of purchases they make. I’ve included some of the key areas we’re looking to cover below. As mentioned, we syndicate our content so if there’s some places you’d rather your comments didn’t appear (i.e. the websites of energy companies for instance) then please let me know.

- What are the best steps for a UK homeowner who is concerned about the environment to take on a day to day basis?
- Can home upgrades, i.e. energy efficient light bulbs, double glazing, insulation be of use?
- How those concerned about the environment alter their consumer behaviour to reduce the impact of global warming?

If there’s anything further you’d like to add, please feel free to digress.

All the best,

Ged Heneghan
Reporter

There wasn’t much of interest there, and I was about to respond as such, but then thought to myself: “Hang on, if he really wants my views then I assume he will be prepared to pay for them.” The company, Adfero, make money from news syndication and advertising (not that I would see it, having AdBlock installed) and yet they are expecting me to provide their material for nothing. In a radio interview there is always an opportunity to get across something of my radical agenda, which means I never ask for payment of any other kind, but pure news syndication is a business. Why should I do that for free?

From: Keith Farnish
Sent: 06 July 2011 13:23
To: Gerald Heneghan
Subject: Re: Advice for eco-conscious homeowners

Hi Gerald

Thank you for your enquiry. Please ensure that my responses are uncredited, to prevent any potential conflict – you can just say “A respected environmental expert” or suchlike.

My flat fee is £100, for which you will receive an immediately usable set of answers that can be adapted to suit within 24 hours. Payment is by bank transfer / BACS.

Kind regards

Keith

The intention would be to word a fairly radical response in a way that it could not be taken out of context without losing the meaning. That would probably take me a couple of hours to compose and as a someone who, so I have been told, writes well and authoritatively on the issues in question, that sounds like a fair deal. Apparently not.

Hi Keith,

I’m afraid we’ll have to pass on this one, we’re unable to offer remuneration for comment.

All the best,

He wasn’t asking for comment, he was virtually asking for a free article. Here’s some advice for my peers – you are not media whores. Always ask yourself: “Who stands to gain most from this?” If the answer is, “The person / organisation doing the asking”, then walk away.

Well, you get paid, don’t you? It’s only fair.

I have to eat.

Keith

Posted in Advice, Media Hypocrisy | 6 Comments »

Scholastic U-Turn On Coal: Shame About Their Other Partners

Posted by keith on 17th May 2011

Well, that didn’t last long. From the first outrage to a “Move along, nothing to see here!” clean up of the website, Scholastic seem to have recovered relatively easily from what they claim was just a mistake. When Scholastic published a set of four worksheets and a printable map (see here for a cache image) that had been produced by the American Coal Institute, the group Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood went into overdrive. May 11, 2011 saw the first offensive which had snowballed into a well-orchestrated furore the next day, followed a couple of days later by an apparently complete reversal of publishing policy by the much-loved American publisher of schoolbooks and materials.

Here’s how it played out in the New York Times:

Coal Curriculum Called Unfit for 4th Graders
Published: May 11, 2011

Three advocacy groups have started a letter-writing campaign asking Scholastic Inc. to stop distributing the fourth-grade curriculum materials that the American Coal Foundation paid the company to develop.

The three groups — Rethinking Schools, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Friends of the Earth — say that Scholastic’s “United States of Energy” package gives children a one-sided view of coal, failing to mention its negative effects on the environment and human health.

Kyle Good, Scholastic’s vice president for corporate communications, was traveling for much of Wednesday and said she could not comment until she had all the “United States of Energy” materials in hand.

Others at the company said Ms. Good was the only one who could discuss the matter. The company would not comment on how much it was paid for its partnership with the coal foundation.

Scholastic’s Big Coal Mistake
Published: May 12, 2011

Children’s books and other educational materials produced by the publisher Scholastic reach about 90 percent of the nation’s classrooms. With this enormous access to what amounts to a captive audience of children, the company has a special obligation to adhere to high educational standards.

It fell short of that when it produced a fourth-grade lesson packet called “The United States of Energy,” a treatise on coal that was paid for by the American Coal Foundation, a nonprofit group. As Tamar Lewin noted in The Times on Thursday, the lessons talked about the benefits of coal and the pervasiveness of power plants fueled by it — and omitted mention of minor things like toxic waste, mountain-top removal and greenhouse gases.

The issue came to light recently when children’s advocacy groups hammered Scholastic for giving a one-sided view of coal usage. This is not the first time that the company had come under fire. Last year, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood attacked Scholastic for encouraging schools to have classroom parties with, and to collect labels from, the sugary juice drink SunnyD as a way of winning free books.

(We’ll come to that last point later)

Letters: This Lesson Plan Is Brought to You by…
Published: May 16, 2011

“Scholastic’s Big Coal Mistake” (editorial, May 13) acknowledges that Scholastic’s children’s books, magazines, reading programs and Web site content are used in most American classrooms — a responsibility and trust that we have built through painstaking work through 90 years of service to teachers and schools.

A tiny percentage of this material is produced with sponsors, including government agencies, nonprofit associations and some corporations.

Your editorial criticizes a lesson packet called “The United States of Energy,” about different sources of energy — coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, wind and natural gas — primarily for its sponsorship by the American Coal Foundation.

We acknowledge that the mere fact of sponsorship may call into question the authenticity of the information, and therefore conclude that we were not vigilant enough as to the effect of sponsorship in this instance. We have no plans to further distribute this particular program.

Because we have always been guided by our belief that we can do better, we are undertaking a thorough review of our policy and editorial procedures on sponsored content to ensure that we publish only those materials that are worthy of our reputation as “the most trusted name in learning.”

RICHARD ROBINSON
Chairman, President and C.E.O.
Scholastic Inc.
New York, May 13, 2011

It is now all but impossible to find any evidence that the worksheets and map were ever on the Scholastic web site unless you search various web caches. Of course the American Coal Foundation still proudly peddle their filth because that’s what business does. There is no sense in suggesting that the coal industry stop producing these materials as the commercial model that they and all corporations work by is the need to continually generate profit for shareholders; if they don’t grow then they fail, therefore any way of getting in the minds of vulnerable individuals (including you and me) is fair game for a corporation.

Scholastic is a corporation – it may produce what it likes to call “educational” materials (a.k.a. whatever is approved by the industrial capitalist system) but it still needs to make money, so willingly takes any handouts it can from other corporations. There isn’t a lot of money in “educational” publishing, the margins are simply too low, so sponsorship is the way to go for any good corporation. As CCFC point out:

For years, Scholastic has exploited its reputation as an educational publisher to serve as a Trojan horse for all sorts of inappropriate marketing in schools—from the highly commercialized content of its Book Clubs, to marketing the over-the-counter drug Claritin in elementary schools, to urging teachers to throw parties for the sugar-laden beverage SunnyD in their classrooms. Scholastic’s InSchool Marketing division offers its services as curriculum producer for hire. The program is designed “to promote client objectives” and “make a difference by influencing attitudes and behaviors.”

So this apparent U-turn and clean-up of the web site is really just a way of saving face because a lot of potential customers really do want less commercial influence in schools, enough customers to offset the losses caused by refunding the American Coal Foundation.

Not to worry, though, because there are plenty of other sponsorship opportunities available that might seem a little more acceptable to the school system. I had a look through the Science section on the Scholastic web site and, as they say, there are few overt commercial connections: I found the Lexus Environmental Challenge and the extremely blatant Count on Wet Ones Wipes (that’s for the indoctrination of tiny people). But what was more interesting was the number of resources that clearly had an extreme bias towards industry and the culture of imperialism:

What Is Technology, and How Does It Benefit Us? is such an obviously loaded title that you don’t have to read the contents to realise that technology is bound to be seen as a Great Thing. But read I did, and found this little gem (my emphasis):

Explain to students that although technology presents many benefits to humanity, there may also be by-products or issues that arise through the process of manufacturing and the development of technology. Engage students in a discussion of these benefits, as well as the by-products or issues and how these issues are being or might be addressed. If your students don’t include environmental challenges in their discussion, suggest the responsibility everyone has in controlling waste, and that recycling represents our effort to achieve that. Examples of how technology can enhance society might include: battery technology, solar power, satellites, text messaging, MP3s, gaming, plasma TVs, air and water testing, improved product designs.

Nice bit of accentuate the positive going on there.

The Culture of The Inca does a remarkable job in ignoring virtually anything to do with the culture of the Inca, including their brutal massacre by Spanish conquistadores, favouring instead to focus on llamas!

The empire of the Inca existed for many centuries in Peru. Today the descendants of these people continue many aspects of the culture, including traditional language, stories, folk songs, dance, and farming practices.

The descendants of the Inca still live in Peru. Visit them, listen to their songs, read their jokes, and try out a bit of their language at http://www.andes.org/.

[various instructions]

Did you notice llamas in the pictures you looked at? The llama was the most important animal to the Inca, and is still important today. To find out why, go to http://www.llamapaedia.com/origin/domestic.html. List at least three ways the Incas used llamas.

Extension Activity:

Llamas are also popular in the United States. You can find out much more about llamas at http://www.llamapaedia.com/index.html. Work with your classmates to research and report on different aspects of llama care, llama behavior, and how llamas are used today.

And just as I was going to wrap up the examples, I found a perfect example of state-sponsored brainwashing in the form of Save the Flag: Find out how to keep yours in shape for summer’s patriotic holidays. Are you ready?

What you need:

one 12″ x 12″ sample of each of the following: red felt, white felt, blue felt, 100% cotton white fabric
scissors
bowl of hot water
sandpaper
dirt
sunny window

What to do:

1. Discuss famous flags from U.S. history with your child — the Betsy Ross flag and the flag that inspired the national anthem, among others...

…at which point I could safely assume that Scholastic probably isn’t the best place to get information about the slaughter of Native American peoples either. Nope, thought not.

Posted in Company Policies, Corporate Hypocrisy, Media Hypocrisy, Sponsorship | 5 Comments »

Sudden Oak Death – It’s News Because It’s Commercial

Posted by keith on 19th January 2011

It’s commonly called Sudden Oak Death, so why the picture of a stand of larch trees? That’s a question well worth asking, but a far more important question is: why has Phytophthora ramorum, the name of the fungus responsible, become such big news in the UK?

Ever since P. ramorum started blowing its way through the great Californian coastal forests in the late 1990s there has, rightly, been great concern for the future of many varieties of oak and other related trees in the western USA; although the impact is so far not as great as some speculators had suggested. Then, in 2010, after some 8 years of the A1 strain of P. ramorum in the wild in the UK, and 6 years or so in other parts of northern Europe including Ireland, the news began to increase at a blistering pace.

In August 2010, a BBC report from Northern Ireland stated:

Whole stands of trees in County Antrim have been killed by a disease known as Sudden Oak Death.

This fungus-like organism attacks anything from larch to rhododendron, and it can devastate wide areas of woodland.

It has already destroyed hundreds of acres of trees in England and Wales and now its here with devastating results.

The accompanying video was suitably doom-laden, using the words: “The effects are devastating, and this didn’t happen overnight…this is more like the set from an environmental disaster movie, because that what it really is – a small environmental disaster.” Now, consider those words “environmental disaster”, and then look at the species that are currently being affected in the UK and Ireland:

In Europe known hosts include the trees and ornamentals described above [all native USA species]. Beech and red oak are the most susceptible tree species so far; infection on these takes the form of extensive bleeding cankers on the trunk. Infected individuals of holm oak (and sweet chestnut have also been reported, but only the foliage is colonised by P. ramorum. With some ornamental species, particularly Rhododendron and Pieris, leaves and shoots are affected, whereas with Viburnum the stem bases are affected.

There is no mention of larch because it was not until 2010 that they began to be affected, possibly through a mutation of the infectious agent. Not entirely coincidentally, it was not until 2010 that Sudden Oak Death became big news in the UK. The reason for this is made very clear for anyone who cares to read the Forestry Commission web pages:

However, few trees in the UK were affected until 2009, when P. ramorum was found infecting and killing large numbers of Japanese larch trees in South West England. Then in 2010 it was found on Japanese larches in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

This sudden change in the pathogen’s behaviour was the first time in the world that P. ramorum had infected and sporulated (reproduced) on large numbers of a commercially important conifer tree species. It was also an unexpected setback to efforts to tackle ramorum disease.

We and our partners have moved quickly to respond to this development. Full details about the pathogen and what’s being done to research it, minimise its impact, and support affected woodland owners are available at the links on this page.

I didn’t start investigating this until today; yesterday I was walking through an avenue of lime trees in my village wondering, with great dispondancy, why the news of Sudden Oak Death had hit me so hard, possibly harder than anything in the last year. I felt that there was nothing at all I could do, I guess. Today I am angry, both with myself for allowing myself to slip into such a deep funk, and with the mass media for taking the bait about this “environmental disaster” hook, line and sinker.

Sudden Oak Death in Europe may be something to be concerned about, but no more than hundreds of other threats to the natural environment, such as water pollution from arable fields, the loss of insect habitats from the same arable fields due to intensive agriculture and the use of broad-spectrum “pest” killers, and the sell-off of vast areas of ostensibly public woodland to commercial interests. The same commercial interests who would love to rip up the varied habitat and plant out great tracts of pine, spruce and larch.

Ay! There’s the rub.

The “shocking” news of larch woodland being grubbed up in south-west England, described in armageddon-like tones – the same tones that gave me such a miserable sense of loss:

no-one is sure where it will travel next.

Alison Field, regional director for the Forestry Commission in the south west, said: “We’re worried because this is one disease, will there be another?

“And what might we expect with the changing climate, the warmth of the summers, the cold winters, the wetter summers of the future?”

The Forestry Commission is the commercial forestry arm of the UK government. This scaremongering is drawing attention to a disease that is commercially harmful; the outcome, the government and the large timber companies hope, is to make people fear for the future of all woodland, thus allowing huge amounts of money to be pumped into protecting commercial plantations.

Professor David Gowing of the Open University puts SOD into a far more sober context than the shrill media outpourings of recent weeks:

“Sudden Oak Death is not known to affect either of our native oaks, so the name gives the wrong impression to the UK public. In fact it does not currently appear to threaten any of our native trees, so from a nature-conservation perspective, it is not a concern at the moment.

“Indeed some conservationists may see a potential benefit because Rhododendron ponticum, the scourge of woody habitats in the west of Britain, seems to be its preferred host in this country.

“Foresters have valid concerns, however, because the fungus which is responsible for the disease, Phytophthera ramorum, is becoming prevalent on Japanese larch, which is an important commercial species – but no larch species are native to Britain.

“The other tree species reported to have contracted the disease in the UK include sycamore, horse chestnut, sweet chestnut and beech, all of which are considered non-native and may have succumbed to disease following the run of cool, damp summers in 2007-2009.

“Hopefully our native species will prove to be better adapted to such conditions and will keep the fungus at bay.”

The saddest part of this is that a syndrome that could actually kill off huge humbers of oak trees – far more than Sudden Oak Death – is being ignored. Acute Oak Decline is something that, if you live in the UK, you will have definitely seen the effect of: leafless oak trees standing like giant naked sentinels in the middle of the fields they once dominated, and blessed with their sprawling, teeming green canopies. Yet this causes barely a ripple in the media – 4 stories on the entire BBC News archive, as compared to 49 stories about Sudden Oak Death – because commerce just isn’t interested, and thus the government just isn’t interested.

The moral of this sad tale of twisted priorities is thus: if you want to make an environmental story big, make sure it’s also a commercial story.

Posted in Government Policies, Media Hypocrisy, Political Hypocrisy | 1 Comment »

Mother Nature Network: A Hypocritical Crock Of Shit

Posted by keith on 10th January 2011

I make no apologies for the title of this post: I have just spent a short while reading the biographies of the Mother Nature Network Team, and have ended up in the kind of moral position that Immanuel Kant might have struggled with if he had had the internet to contend with in his philosophical struggles.

MNN promotes itself as covering “the broadest scope of environmental and social responsibility issues on the internet. And, we do so in a way that is engaging and easy-to-understand. As opposed to scientists, activists or experts—MNN is designed for the rest of us—everyday people who simply want to make our world better.”

So who are these people referred to as “the rest of us”? Clearly not scientists, activists or experts – although I would have thought that these people would at least play some part in making “our”* world better – but perhaps people such as those on their team. Now I don’t pretend to have a squeaky clean career path leading (or rather, nothing at all to do with) my current vocation as a DIY troublemaker; but nor do I proudly exhibit all the companies I have worked for, as though this is somehow a qualification for making the world better. Unlike their CEO, Joel Babbit, who was a high-flying PR guru whose “clients have included The Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Dell, USA Today, American Express, Holiday Inn, UPS, and Citigroup [and] is especially noted for his marketing work related to corporate transitions which have included the acquisition of RJR Nabisco by KKR, BellSouth by AT&T, Georgia –Pacific by Koch Industries, and numerous acquisitions during the formation of Coca-Cola Enterprises.”

Hmm. As I say, your past is not necessarily a guide to your future, but I’m slightly worried that this is considered relevant enough to highlight on your bio page, Joel.

Go further down the list, and it seems MNN is actually a big party for PR, marketing and technical bods rather than something to make “our”* world better.

*Ah yes, the asterisk; that’s because it is not “our” world, it is “the” world. We don’t own it, just happen to misuse it.

So what of the stories on Mother Nature Network? I picked one, that looked as though it would reveal the editorial policy of MNN, something about the Consumer Electronics Show. I would have assumed that to “make our world better” it would have to include an element of criticising the nature of technology, it’s ability to consume the human soul while at the same time despoiling vast tracts of land and water with pollution, sucking huge amounts of energy in its usage and making the lives of the millions of people involved in its manufacture anything but human.

This is the crux of the article:

Slick new smartphones, ultra-thin laptops, tablet computers to rival Apple’s iPad and Web-connected and 3D television sets are expected to grab the most attention during the four-day event at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

But the show floor will also feature more smart home appliances such as ovens which can download recipes and vehicles which give drivers hands-free voice control access to their smartphone applications.

Technology titans such as Cisco, Intel, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Motorola, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba were among the firms offering a glimpse of their upcoming products to reporters here ahead of the official CES opening.

Motorola Mobility and LG Electronics both announced plans to launch touchscreen tablet computers this year powered by “Honeycomb,” the latest version of Google’s Android software optimized for tablets.

It’s just a copy and paste from Associated Press; no comment, no critique, nothing at all. What the hell does this have to do with Mother Nature?!

Skipping around the site, reveals the news pages to be little more than a catalogue of light-green, consumer and lifestyle editorial, with nary a mention of anything that would actually make a difference to human behaviour; and the reason for the complete lack of anything challenging is made clear at the bottom of the every page:

That really is their list of sponsors, each of which has paid to sponsor a section within MNN, and each of which must therefore have been approved by MNN as being appropriate for that section.

Like Southern Company, sponsor of the Energy section – with two giant animated banner ads to show for it – and whose 43 gigawatt generation plant comprises 57% coal, 16% nuclear, 23% gas and – just so they can mention it in their “sustainability” page – 4% hydro. And that hydro plant is largely river-killing dams, in case you were wondering.

Like Georgia-Pacific, sponsor of both the Business Products and Healthy Eating sections, and solely owned by Koch Industries, primary supporters of the Tea Party anti-climate change agenda, and whose own website displays a level of climate change muddle-headedness and disinformation that can only come from a company whose income is dependent upon the continual consumption of dirty energy. For their part, Georgia-Pacific have repeatedly flouted pollution laws and continue to buy timber from illegally logged forests.

Like Siemens, sponsor of the Sustainable Business Practice section, whose business interests include weapons systems, oil and gas (“one of the most important technology partners for the oil and gas industry”) and all sorts of heavy industrial managementsystems, including those for nuclear power.

Like Coca-Cola, the water snatchers. Like MillerCoors, behemoths of the brewing world.

Get the picture?

So next time a web site claims it wants to make our world better, it’s worth thinking who exactly that “our” is. Could it be the companies who give them the money they need to run the site? Could it be the interests of the people who actually run the organisation? It certainly won’t be the world that needs to be given a bit of breathing space from all these corporations in order to recover.

Posted in Adverts, Media Hypocrisy, Sponsorship | No Comments »

BBC Radio Uses Industry Funded “Expert” for Balanced View on CCS

Posted by keith on 28th October 2010

I like the BBC. It manages to do a very difficult job being the national, public-funded broadcaster of the UK, while at the same time generally refusing to kow-tow to the demands of the state and it’s corporate owners. On the other hand there is a lot to criticise the BBC for, in particular its insistance that economic growth is a good thing, and that Strictly Come Dancing / The Apprentice contestants qualify as subjects for the news.

Sometimes, though, the BBC does stupid things just because it fails to research something properly. Take today’s episode of the really quite interesting radio programme, Material World, which you can listen to for the next week by clicking on the link below (the question is raised about 25 minutes in):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vhg9y

The item in question concerned carbon capture and storage, which had been correctly identified by a listener as a commercial failure waiting to happen, to which everyone involved in opposing the industrial system would no doubt add is just another way of keeping the machine of destruction running.

The respondant was Professor R. Stuart Haszeldine, announced as Professor of Carbon Capture & Storage at Edinburgh University. He responded that although there were potential losses in energy, big improvements would be made in the future. The technology was certainly not commercially problematic.

What the BBC failed to point out was that Professor Haszeldine’s full title is Scottish Power Professor of Carbon Capture & Storage, Edinburgh University: just two more words, but two words that reveal a huge conflict of interest. A quick internet search uncovers this recent announcement by Scottish Power:

ScottishPower Sponsors UK’s First Academic Alliance to Focus on Carbon Capture and Storage

9 September 2010

ScottishPower has announced its sponsorship of the UK’s first alliance between industry and academia to focus specifically on carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is the ground-breaking technology designed to remove CO2 from the exhaust gasses at fossil fuelled power stations. This will be known as the ScottishPower Academic Alliance, SPAA.

SPAA has been designed to match the needs of the UK’s fast developing CCS industry with the research capacity of some of the country’s leading academics from Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh. It will focus specifically on technical innovation around the capture and offshore storage of CO2, the policy and regulatory aspects of CCS and look at what the UK needs to do to capitalise on the commercial opportunities the technology offers – especially in developing a national skills capacity.

ScottishPower is investing almost GBP5 million over the next five years which will fund up to 12 full-time researchers working at University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London. ScottishPower will seek to leverage this funding through further contributions from Government and international sponsors which it hopes will consolidate the UK’s growing reputation as a centre of excellence for this embryonic industry.

Nick Horler, ScottishPower’s Chief Executive, said: “This is a terrific step forward for ScottishPower and will help us in our ambitions to make CCS a reality in the UK by 2014. I am enormously proud to be associated with the work of some of the world’s leading authorities on CCS. Their input will be vital to improve our understanding of this essential technology and help us to reduce CO2 emissions and tackle climate change.”

Professor Stuart Haszeldine, ScottishPower Chair of CCS at University of Edinburgh, said: “Developing a CCS industry in the UK will capitalise on our established offshore and engineering expertise and make a significant contribution to the economy of the country, creating new jobs and skills. I am pleased to be building on the CCS research results the University of Edinburgh has already achieved with ScottishPower, and to welcome Imperial College London as partners. The expertise of all three organisations will help to maintain the UK’s leading position in CCS.”

Thanks for that unbiased and balanced opinion on CCS, Stuart; and thanks BBC for that superb boost to Scottish Power’s CCS efforts – truly an excellent investment on the part of the energy industry…

UPDATE: As a result of a formal complaint that I made (and possibly this article) the text accompanying the podcast has been amended to read: “…and Professor Stuart Haszeldine, whose chair at Edinburgh University is supported by Scottish Power for research into carbon capture and storage.” I suspect this kind of oversight will not happen that often now.

Posted in Funding, Media Hypocrisy, Offsetting | No Comments »

Brilliant Rant About Symbolic Action and 10:10

Posted by keith on 8th October 2010

I have been sent a link to this wonderful “rant” – no, it’s not a rant, it’s telling it like it is – on the Powershift forum.

Here’s the Richard Curtis video he refers to, and if Mr Curtis would like my opinions on 10:10 then I would love him to bring his little red button to my house so we can discuss it…

Yeah, but what about the climate impact of the detergents and water to clean up afterwards? ;-)

This is just sick; not the fake blood (cinematic suicide bomber chic?), but the whole belief in piffling measures like low energy lights and the like as being the way we can cut emissions. We have to offer a vision outside of the present consumer paradigm that encourages a shift in lifestyle rather than the substitution of existing consumption trends. Actions like this are a simplistic exhortation to change brand or product, not to change the nature of the human system and its impacts on the biosphere. And if, in the rhetoric of “10:10″, this is just something easy to get people interested, that’s absurd too — a lot of recent work on issues around behavioural economics demonstrate that such incantations to change only work where the change is insignificant or equivalent, but fail when it requires a real and difficult realignment of lifestyle patterns.

I’ve just been sent the blurb — AGAIN — on the Crude Awakening demo in London — http://www.crudeawakening.org.uk/

Yet another example of people who want to “save the planet” and keep their iPods (OK, I’m generalising on that point!), when in fact it’s their atrophied, consumer-oriented outlook on the potential of their lives that’s the problem. Their perception of the drivers for the “problems” they seek solutions to are wholly divorced from reality, and rely on the simplistic media-spun agenda that is shaped by the very same forces that they state their opposition to. E.g., there’s no discussion of the resource supply issues related to oil (and other) as a source of energy — why do you think the industry is drilling in deep water/the Arctic in the first place?

There is no climate solution within the paradigm of consumption; that’s a demonstrable fact. We have to shift our lifestyles to a new economic and organisational structure that restricts demand, but unfortunately none of the self-proclaimed leaders of the eco-establishment appear to have the guts to promote such a concept at the leading edge of their agenda (of course, you might find such exhortations in the small print, but they won’t lead their sound-bites on this approach).

It doesn’t matter if, at present, most people “won’t like it”; it’s the only option that is able to address the drivers of the human suicide cult called “growth economics” — physical reality doesn’t negotiate, doesn’t compromise with ‘political reality’, and for that reason the eco-establishment as much as the political and economic establishment are going to be thrown into crisis by these trends as they arrive over the next two or three decades. Personally I think I’d rather be disliked for making a case based on evidence rather than promoting an eco-delusion assimilated by market forces. More importantly, people might not “like it” today, but if that argument is not put because of the movement’s adherence to the shibboleth of growth then the public will never have the choice of considering any option other than the market-centric solutions offered by all mainstream parties/groups.

As far as I can see, initiatives like this are just spinning a delusional rope that will in the near future hang them! Clearly, in the reversal of McLuhan’s observation, “the message has become the media”; and in the process the actions that they promote are conceptual extrapolations of reality (aka. ‘hyperreality’), not a realistic commentary on our situation that the public are able to assimilate and act upon. These “environmentalists” should stop using the Web 2.0/digital media that are driving IT emissions up and resource availability down, ditch their mobile phones and other lifestyle gadgets, and start living a more simpler way of life where we reduce consumption not for the motivation of “reducing emissions” (which, by many measures, does not have this effect on the economy as a whole) but rather to avoid the need to earn income and therefore the need to work long hours — in the process creating the spare time to engage in more activities that create a less consumptive and more local/resilient system, thus creating a feedback loop that reduces their lifestyle impacts further.

Simplicity is the future, not the illusion of some carbon-friendly ecotopia.

Another 10% next year? I don’t think so.

Posted in Adverts, Celebrity Hypocrisy, Corporate Hypocrisy, Media Hypocrisy, NGO Hypocrisy, Political Hypocrisy, Public Sector Hypocrisy, Symbolic Action | 1 Comment »

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 http://www.carbontradewatch.org/, 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 »

New Scientist Becomes A Mouthpiece For The System

Posted by keith on 22nd December 2009

New Scientist Corporate

For my Christmas present last year, I subscribed to New Scientist. It was a good present, because I like to keep up with the latest climate science and there was certainly a lot of that in 2009; most of it pretty worrying. There are also some really good articles about human psychology and more abstract ideas of existence – a few years ago I set myself the impossible task of trying to find a reasonable way of explaining the nature of the universe and whether it can indeed be infinite. Clearly I haven’t got their yet, but have been helped along the way by New Scientist.

I won’t be subscribing in 2010.

Without initially looking through the latest edition (Christmas 2009), I can confidently say that there is enough pro-corporate, anti-life rhetoric in that single issue to counterbalance everything good that the magazine does contain. Let’s take a look…

A full page advert by IG Index, promoting commodity trading (oil, gold, coffee, cocoa etc.)

P12: A piece entitled “At last, guilt-free piste bashing at a greener resort”, which actually says nothing of the sort about skiing – the software in question just uses erosion as a business risk factor.

P19: In a review of the year to come, a piece called “Electric Dream”, about electric cars or “green motoring” in which the phrase “If this is the future of green motoring, sign us up.” Yet, it is not an opinion piece, so why the hyperbole?

In the middle: An 8-page supplement sponsored by the greenwashing Carbon Trust, called “Clean Tech Pioneers”. The term “Clean Tech” has been identified by Corporate Watch as one of the classic buzz-phrases to be avoided, because it is just a way of making profit from climate change.

This edition was pretty exceptional for not containing a lot of advertising, probably because it is the more popularist Christmas edition, so the demographic is different, but go back a week and you find:

A two-page “Blueprint for environmental research” including (again) electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage, biofuels based on GMOs and geoengineering. Just because the research is happening, doesn’t make it good research.

A full page advert for Delta Airlines.

A full page promo for the next week’s “Clean Tech Pioneers” greenwashing fest.

A full page advert by Nestle, promoting a trivial Fair Trade agreement.

A full page advert by IG Index (see earlier)

A review of “Storms of my Grandchildren” by James Hansen, containing the astonishing phrase: “Extraordinarily, Hansen thinks civil resistance is now the only way forward…the third reason his book is so terrifying.”

While being a sterling campaigner on the side of good climate science vs. corporate denial, New Scientist appears to have recently got itself stuck in a bizarre, self-perpetuating loop that it doesn’t seem willing to wriggle out of: in essence, New Scientist has become a cheerleader for the corporate system. This is exemplified in the large number of full page greenwashing ads it carries, with no sense of irony, for the very corporations that fund climate denial thinktanks and astroturfs: in 2009, every issue except for the Christmas one carried as least two such adverts. Furthermore, any suggestion that technology does not hold the keys to a sustainable future is either poo-pooed — as per the Hansen review mentioned above — or simply ignored, as per the series of editions entitled, “Blueprint for a Better World” which laid out a cornucopia of techo-fixes, conventional economic and political “solutions” and all sorts of hopes for future technological research.

Alright, it’s a science magazine, what else should I expect? What I should expect is a sense of balance.

The science they republish is good science; it is balanced by its nature, and thus New Scientist really has no choice but to publish what the scientific body is saying. On the other hand, a great deal of New Scientist content is opinion-based, and thus subject to bias. If they are going to be so willing to carry the greenwashing adverts of corporations among the plethora of technological guides to the future (bearing in mind that technology, as opposed to science, is not neutral), then if NS is going to be seen as balanced, then it makes sense to also carry articles that show, not only that there are no current technological-based “solutions” that fulfil the required greenhouse gas and environmental degradation reduction criteria, but that the real solutions probably have nothing whatsoever to do with technology.

This is tragic, because when it tries, New Scientist really does manage to produce some fantastic articles. Sadly, though, because it has become so enamoured by the corporate system, what was once an excellent magazine has become something I am now ashamed to have in my house.

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