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Interview With Bill McKibben, Winner of Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship and Gregory Vickrey, Winner of International Peanut Butter Subsistence Prize

Posted by keith on 24th February 2011

Climate reality writer and activist Gregory Vickrey. (L) ( Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Founder of 350.org, writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben. (R) (Photo: Nancie Battaglia /
350.org)

Bill McKibben, Schumann distinguished scholar at Middlebury College, is the author of a dozen books about the environment, including “The End of Nature” (1989), regarded as the first book for a general audience about global warming. He is also founder of the global grassroots climate movement 350.org, which organized what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” Most recently, he was the recipient of the annual $100,000 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. Of this honor, McKibben said:

“I’m a beginner as an organizer; it’s a great honor to be included on this list of people who have changed America for the better. I am deeply grateful to The Puffin Foundation and The Nation Institute for this recognition of my work. I am even more appreciative that this award is representative of a shared conviction that now is a singular moment in our history for all people of good conscience to come together in defense of the planet. Our work has never been more urgent.”

Gregory Vickrey, Peace of the Action distinguished board member and generally unknown writer and activist, is the author of not a few critiques of environmental organizations, including “Environmentalism is Dead”, likely one of the least read articles on Counterpunch, ever. He has been lucky to work with Cory Morningstar of Canadians for Action on Climate Change; otherwise, he’d be extra-unknown. Most recently, he was the recipient of the $0 Peanut Butter Subsistence Prize. Of this honor, Vickrey said:

“It sucks to be broke and targeted, but what can I do? The entire world is at stake. So few of us stick to our guns and speak the truth about climate change – recognizing it as the greatest crime against humanity in history – I’d hate to cull myself from that group. Even if it meant I could also afford jelly on occasion.”

On that note, I interviewed Bill McKibben and Gregory Vickrey and would like to share our conversation with you.

Mickey Z.: You’ve noted that this award highlights your shift from writer to organizer. Can you tell us more about how and why you made that shift?

Bill McKibben: At some point, it became obvious to me that we were losing badly in the global warming fight, and that one reason was we had no movement. All the scientific studies and policy plans on earth don’t get you very far if there’s no movement to push them. So we’re doing our best to build that – too late and too slowly, but as best we can.

Gregory Vickrey: I think Bill is genuine here. He did realize we are losing badly in the global warming fight – and we still are. It is important to question ourselves when we endeavor to build a movement. In Bill’s case, I think one of the first questions was funding. And that’s can be a dangerous question, especially when one considers the history of the environmental movement, and even recently sees organizations like The Nature Conservancy cutting deals with Dow Chemical. Unfortunately, with the incarnations of what was to become 350.org, we find seed money from the likes of Rockefeller Brothers Fund (think big oil), and we find a pronounced effort to create a brand, rather than a movement – and that strategy was created by Havas, one of the world’s largest marketing firms.

MZ: Of your work, Derrick Jensen has said: “One of the problems that I see with the vast majority of so-called solutions to global warming is that they take industrial capitalism as a given and the planet which must conform to industrial capitalism, as opposed to the other way around.” How do you respond to this critique?

BM: It strikes me that the single biggest variable explaining the structure of the world today is the availability of cheap fossil fuel – that’s what happened two hundred years ago to create the world we know, especially its centralization. I think if we can put a serious price on fossil fuel, one that reflects the damage it does to our earth, then the fuels that we will depend on – principally wind and sun – will push us in the direction of more localized economies. Those kind of changes have been the focus of my work as a writer in recent years.

GV: What strikes me is that Bill did not respond to the question that was asked. What Bill says instead is that we should depend upon the political system that got us into this mess to get us out of it by taxing the crap out of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, we could elect Bill (or me!) as president and we still wouldn’t get the policy in place to force corporations to kill the carbon economy. Jensen is on point with the quote you provided, and Bill and corporate brand 350.org ignore that part of reality.

MZ: So many people believe they’re already “doing their part,” e.g. recycling, using CFL bulbs, bringing their own bag to the grocery store etc. How do we help them see ASAP that this isn’t even remotely enough?

BM: Well, I think we keep encouraging them to become politically active too, not instead. It’s good to do what you can around your house; and our job is to help people realize that there are ways they can be effective in a larger sphere too. That’s what movements are. And especially with climate change, the feeling that you’re too small to make a difference can be crippling.

GV: This is another arena where Bill has no forthright response at the ready, because he and 350.org are not in the business of systemic change. They believe in green capitalsm, so changing light bulbs is good, recycling is good, etc. See, the “feel good” in recycling allows us to continue consuming at preposterous rates. Changing light bulbs damns us to suffer Jevons Paradox, and corporations love that. So 350.org loves that. Instead, we should be making people aware of reality: our only chance is effective zero carbon emissions, and we must get there in a matter of years. That means dramatic systemic change. That means drastic lifestyle changes. It’s apolitical, in the end, because Mother Nature doesn’t care about having a seat at the table in DC. She doesn’t need it.

MZ: The US Department of Defense is the world’s worst polluter, the planet’s top gas guzzler, and recipient of 53.3 percent of American taxpayer dollars. How does your work address this situation and the concurrent “untouchable” status the US military has among the majority of American citizens?

BM: I’m not sure it really does, directly. Indirectly, I think the biggest reason we have the oversized defense that we do is that we rely on distant and unstable sources of energy as the core of our economy. I remember one sign in particular from the early Anti-Iraq-War rallies I went to: “How did our oil end up under their sand?”

GV: Bill’s work doesn’t address militarism at all. We need to drastically cut military spending in order to subsidize systemic change in the short term, and that mechanism is the fastest way to start cutting carbon. You won’t find that on the 350.org website.

MZ: Since 51 percent of human-created greenhouse gases come from the industrial animal food business, are you encouraging people to adopt a plant-based diet lifestyle?

BM: I’ve written time and again that industrial agriculture, especially factory livestock farming, is a bane – not only for its greenhouse gases, but for myriad other reasons. Interestingly, though, scientific data from the last couple of years is leading to the conclusion that local, grasspastured, often-moved livestock, by the action of their hooves and the constant deposition of manure, improve soils enough to soak up more carbon and methane than they produce. (This would explain why, say, there could have been more ungulates on the continent 300 years ago than now without it being a curse to the atmosphere). So there may be hope for meat-eaters as well – but only if you know and understand where your dinner is coming from.

GV: Again, Bill misses the point. Beyond eliminating militarism, we can cut into our carbon budget most drastically and immediately by scrapping the agro-meat industry. In time, Bill’s scenario providing hope for voracious meat eaters may come into effect, but we do not have the time to gradually shrink agro-meats. If we implement a strategy of incrementalism here, we are doomed to suffer the worst effects of climate change.

MZ: Is there a question you’ve always wished to be asked during an interview? If so, please feel free to ask and answer now.

BM: I’ve … done a lot of interviews.

GV: How do we get to zero? In short, the United States, Canada, and Australia must get to zero emission before 2020, with most of the cuts occurring over the next 5 years. Europe, Japan, China, India, and a few other countries must accomplish the same before 2025. The rest of the developing world must accomplish the same before 2030. Even in the best of circumstances, this scenario does not protect us from the feedback loops that are not included in any of the predictive models. But it gives us our best shot. Assuming policy-makers balk at this, we need an all-out global uprising to overcome, overwhelm, and overtake the system, and to be prepared for massive sacrifice. The system and its masters will not be easily returned to the masses. We must give them no choice.

MZ: What do you like to do when not engaged in writing, organizing and activism? What inspires you outside of those realms?

BM: I like to be outdoors – cross-country skiing most of all, or hiking. That’s why I live in the woods. And that’s why it’s tough to be on the road so much organizing. But I love the people, especially the young people, who are my colleagues.

GV: I chase dogs and kids and soccer balls. I succumb to the “need” of college basketball. I wonder where my next meal is coming from.

MZ: How can readers connect with you and get involved with your work?

BM: By going to 350.org and signing up. We spent what little money we had on a website; it works in about a dozen languages, and we think it’s pretty sharp.

GV: People can learn more about Bill’s work here and here. People can go to my website to get in touch and learn more about climate reality; it works in one language – occasionally two when I can manage to get a translator – and it’s pretty sharp considering I still owe the guy who helped me with it some cash. Maybe I can fix him a peanut butter sandwich instead.

Note: The preceding interview is not real. Mickey Z. and Bill McKibben held an interview that may be found here; their sections remain the same. Gregory Vickrey’s sections are a fictitious addition meant to bring the reality of corporate brand 350.org to the fore, and to urge everyone to get serious about climate change. Wake up. Tear down. Rise up.

Posted in Celebrity Hypocrisy, Funding, NGO Hypocrisy, Spoofs, Symbolic Action | No Comments »

Undermining in 2010: How Did I Do?

Posted by keith on 27th December 2010

There is something very human in looking back over a specific period of time and reflecting on what you have achieved, failed in or could just have done a bit better. It’s part of the learning process that civilization discourages, because if we really did look back and reflect upon what really matters to us, then we would – me included – have more than a few regrets as to how little we actually did. All that time spent shopping, watching TV, social networking, being taught pointless bits of information at school so we can end up doing pointless things at work in order that we can shop, watch TV and socially network…a boon for the industrial economy; another nail in the coffin of life.

But among that monotony and technologically-assisted repetition are signs that change is happening: that the system is creaking under the joint pressures of material shortage, financial instability and – how it warms my heart to write this – a determination from formerly benign quarters to no longer take this toxic existence lying down. The impact of WikiLeaks on the psyche of people who previously might have considered freedom of information a luxury, is perhaps the most high-profile indicator of this change; but there are other signs, such as targeted rioting across Europe, an upsurge in on-the-ground direct action in the Americas, and a not-too-insignificant backlash against the mainstream environmental movement’s stubborn intransigence. In parallel with that is the growth of survivalist and anti-civilization groups, and a widespread move towards self-sufficiency.

This is just a tiny taster of what is perhaps a much wider air of discontent with the industrial system, but there is no room for complacency – it is just as likely a reaction to financial hardship, rather than altruistic, or communal, desire; nevertheless, the light of humanity does seem to be flickering back into life.

For my part, I have been involved in a number of external and internal struggles that have manifested themselves in all sorts of unexpected outcomes. The Unsuitablog has provided a frosted window for peering into some of these, and given that I made Undermining the focus of this blog in 2010, I think it only right to explain, as far as I can, how I think I did in this area. As I made clear in the opening salvo of this year-long campaign, being an interested bystander was no longer an option. We all had to, and could do something significant:

“One action a month, by every person who reads The Unsuitablog: that’s a lot of actions that could really drive some terminal nails into the coffin labelled “Hypocrites”, helping to free up the minds of a misled and brainwashed public.”

The rule I set myself was that for every Monthly Undermining Task article posted on The Unsuitablog, I would do at least one of the tasks contained therein. I don’t believe in passing the buck; we all have a part to play, and if dramatic change is to happen we have it within our gift to provide the environment where that change can take place.

January‘s “The Great TV Turn-Off” was the opener, partly because television is such a ubiquitous and usually negative influence on humanity, and partly because I wanted to provide some ideas that everyone could carry through with immediate impact, and without great risk to themselves. After a few forays in local shopping malls with my TV-B-Gone, I decided to upgrade to a high-powered TV-B-Gone model (my first soldering project) that was so effective I had to make quick exits from a number of stores. On Christmas Eve 2010 I discovered, to my delight, that Burger King menus were now on LCD TVs…I didn’t hang around to see the chaos. Sadly I never had a chance to use my Grid Key Switch, but will try my best in the new year.

February‘s “Time To Break The Ads” saw a sudden outbreak of torn billboards in my hometown, along with AdBlock Plus becoming a staple of every computer I tuned up in my work. Again, I wasn’t ever in a position to switch off lit billboards, but did a fair bit of poster “reconfiguration”.

March saw the joint campaign called “Throwing off the Shackles of Debt“, which featured prominently in the ouvres of three writers of far greater significance than myself, creating a huge amount of fuss in one particular place. As a family we, even with a move from England to Scotland, reduced our spending and reinforced our desire never to be indebted. That month I sent a fake press release on behalf of a major retail bank to dozens of radio stations in the UK outlining the bank’s plans to go loan-free. As with most undermining activities, I have no idea whether this came to anything, but on the other hand did it with no comeback whatsoever (partly due to posting the letters in a different part of the country).

In April I targeted the school system, and it’s brainless testing regime in “Sack The SATs“. This coincided with our move to a place that does not have the regime I railed against, but while in England there was time to persuade a few parents not to subject their children to extra-curricular cramming classes, and steadfastly refused to give any time to pre-SATs homework. It was wonderful to learn that a quarter of schools had, for their part, decided to boycott English SATs – a serious blow for the testing regime. Immediately after moving we learnt about the joys of unschooling with one of our children, though haven’t quite got to the point where it’s necessary to take them out of school altogether – they need to make friends, after all.

In May it was time to “Mind Your Language“, for which I took a more analytical approach towards, publishing a major piece on The Earth Blog, which was republished in far more high-profile locations. Subsequently I have been a lot more careful with my own use of loaded words, but not being in more public-facing role there hasn’t been a lot more I could do.

June‘s “It’s The Freeconomy, Stupid!” coincided with the profile raising of the Freeconomy movement, particularly the Guardian’s featuring of Mark Boyle’s work – so I can’t take any credit for that. However, my barter-based computer servicing business has been quite successful, both in terms of work and the number of people in our village taking a renewed interest in bartering and sharing of goods and skills. In the 5 months since the business was established I have worked for: vegetables, the services of an electrician, some shelves, the labour to build a chicken fence, a loft full of sheeps wool insulation, a hand-made scarf and all sorts of knick-nacks that were offered.

July encouraged people to “Escape The Tourist Trap“, but I have watched in dismay as people close to me seem to have taken more overseas holidays, not less; although we have come across an array of neighbours who think close to home (or at home) is the best place for a holiday. For my part, we steadfastly refused to go any further than back to where we used to live, and even paid for a (relatively cheap) holiday next year which included people who might have otherwise gone far further afield. Fortunately for society in general, icy weather and industrial action stopped an awful lot of needless vacations in 2010, which is some comfort.

In August I wanted people to “Crash The Mainstream Environmentalists’ Party“, which saw a major ally in the form of the Cochabamba Agreement that made clear which NGOs were actually on the side of Earth and the people. It turned out that few were – the presence of the Agreement can only make things increasingly uncomfortable for the mainstream. I’m afraid I was distracted from doing anything really effective myself at the time, apart from becoming the bane of the Nature Conservancy Facebook Group, and publishing a few blogs about NGO hypocrisy here; but I have a couple of irons in the fire which will become apparent in 2011.

I was 40 in September. Just thought I’d mention that, and the fact that it just made me more determined to get stuck into things. I started writing a new book all about Undermining, but can’t really put that into the mix until its published. I did take a swipe at the fashion industry in that month, and October, making “Unfashion” the priority. Being a distinctly unfashionable person, there is little more I can do to change things at home, though I am working with a friend who produces goods from scrap and offcuts, and doing my best to imbue everyone with a love of the second-hand. Unfashion is more a state of mind than an activity, but if you fancy taping up any new year sales as a crime scene then be my guest…

The last published MUT was in November. Entitled “The Online Infocrunch” it was a shout-out to everyone with a taste for online activism to subvert and correct the skewed worldview given to us by the internet heirarchy. I have carried out a few subtle corrections to Wikipedia, helped out with a few bits of online subterfuge and – earlier in the year – created my own fake online announcement which made it to the front page (as a refutation) of the target company’s website. To my sheer joy, the company involved later pulled out of the relevant activities, although I probably can’t take much credit for that. I guarantee that more of the same will be happening in 2011.

Finally, I intended the December Monthly Undermining Task to be related to WikiLeaks, with a call for people to help the site, and to leak information wherever possible. Then I got involved in a bit of hard reality, and with the help of a few other people, EnviroLeaks was born. This is ostensibly an extension of the call for information from readers of The Unsuitablog, but with the stakes so much higher now that information leaking has become mainstream news. EnviroLeaks is not a substitute for WikiLeaks: we hope instead it will complement that offering with a more conversational and also targeted approach to environmental malpractice.

2011 may be a bit more barren on the pages of The Unsuitablog due to this and other committments. We all have so much to do – and even if we can’t or shouldn’t write about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Have a great and very active 2011.

Keith

Posted in Exposure, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Reviews, Sabotage, Spoofs, Subvertising, Unsuitablog News | No Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, November 2010: The Online Infocrunch

Posted by keith on 9th November 2010

Where do you go for information? I guess, because you are reading this as a web page, then your primary resource for information that you need in a hurry (and aren’t we all in a hurry nowadays?) is the Internet. As far as corporations go, online presence has now eclipsed printed and television media as the primary location for information. Well, I say “information” but that would be crediting the corporate world with far too much honesty: what I really mean is that the Internet is the primary location for propaganda. Call it PR, corporate information, spinning…whatever you like, but what the corporate world presents to the public is always going to be propaganda.

The Internet is manna to business, not particularly because it presents new opportunities for selling stuff – after all, the richest man in history (John D. Rockefeller, whose fortune is still being used to fund organisations like 350.org) made his fortune in an era when newspapers were king – but because the “information” can be so much more tightly controlled. Want to know about ExxonMobil, and most people will just type “Exxon” into Google and, at the time of writing, the three top hits will be ExxonMobil corporate links. The fourth proper link, not unexpectedly, is to the Wikipedia entry; something I will come to later. By controlling the portals of “information” ExxonMobil are able to control the message that is sent out to the world – to wit:

And a lovely spinny molecular graphic which, presumably is some kind of hydrocarbon.

What if the logo changed?

There, that’s a lot more accurate – it would really piss the company off, and take the rosy hue from the public perception that ExxonMobil have been so careful to cultivate. But here’s the thing: no one is going to see my new logo because (a) it’s not on the official ExxonMobil websites, (b) my own website doesn’t have much presence compared to the other links, (c) even if it did, it wouldn’t fool anyone that this is the real ExxonMobil logo because it’s not on a corporate web site. And that’s besides the obvious problem of being sued for passing the logo off as genuine.

That said, spoofs are most definitely part of the game on the Internet, which is why none of mine have ever been subject to a “take down” demand; the corporations are far too savvy to draw any attention to something they really wouldn’t like in the public eye, whether it’s a more truthful logo, the wording on a pretend “genuine” website, or a Wikipedia entry. Which brings me to the next point: I bet from time to time you have wanted to change something on Wikipedia; you might have even made a change, only to find that the article reverts back to the original as soon as your back is turned. Moderation exists on Wikipedia – by far the most referenced source of general information on the Internet, if not the entire global information corpus – to prevent vandalism; regardless of how well-meaning changes may be, if a change is made for nefarious reasons then it is considered to be vandalism. This isn’t looking very easy, is it?

So what about creating a new website that will be referenced as much, if not more than the corporate propaganda one? You’ll be lucky. It can be the finest example of the genre; it can be Digg-ed, Like-d and Reddit-ed to the hilt, but to hit a major corporation with a Googlebomb is asking for a minor miracle. There have to be easier ways to undermine the world of online information.

Well, there are; but you can also do all of the aforementioned as well – you just have to be smarter than smart about it, which is what I am going to try and help with here. I may not be clever enough to actually execute all of this, but I reckon the two of us (and anyone else you want to work with) can do a pretty good job screwing up the online corporate propaganda machine if we set our minds and hands to it…

Quick Wins

The following Undermining actions are low risk and easy to do, so there’s really no excuse not to do at least a couple of them when you have a moment to spare. The first one, is one that sticks pins in corporations’ feet. Social networking has been monopolised by Facebook – and there are plenty of bad things to say about Facebook now, including how it makes people feel they have achieved something useful, when they haven’t – and many corporations, along with the more corporate-friendly NGOs (like The Nature Conservancy and WWF) have created Fan Groups to give themselves a wider online presence. If you have a Facebook account, then I would encourage you to look for these Groups, join them and make mischief. The worst that can happen is that you get blocked, but as with the Nestle group, enough people who “Like” but don’t like has completely destroyed their social networking presence, despite Nestle recruiting hundreds of people to make positive comments.

You might like to try the same with The Nature Conservancy and Chevron; keep your eye out for more, because the corporations would love to control social media as much as they control the mass media.

Talking of the mass media, virtually every newspaper in the industrial world now has a web presence, and in very many cases it positively loves people to comment on stories. Some papers like The Guardian have a very high level of comments per article, but some – like the New York Times, surprisingly – get very few comments on the articles they open up. This one on BHP Billiton, is crying out for a few negative comments. The point is that you and I are almost certainly not going to get enough web connectivity to attract readers to blogs about companies; the big newspaper web sites, on the other hand, are highly syndicated and reposted, so that’s the place to do the Undermining.

Some of the more widely read blogs, such as Huffington Post and Mashable, cover corporate stories on a regular basis – again, negative comments, correcting the assumption that growth and profit are a good thing (amongst other lies) are always worth a shot. Even if you get flamed, you will have still made a point in a place where lots of people are likely to see it. The Technorati list is a good place to start looking for potential Undermining targets.

The following three Undermining Actions are a little more involved – in fact they can be very involved if you want them to be – and are listed in approximate order of both risk and also effort. There is no real correlation between risk and effort, and often the more effort you put into something, the less risk you entail; but if something requires more effort full stop to attain, then there are more opportunities to make mistakes, so be careful if you find yourself biting off more than you can chew: it may be that you are not up to the task, and that’s no bad thing to admit.

Wikicorrecting

I’m not one of those people who generally looks at Wikipedia and thinks, “That’s completely wrong, it must be changed!” Part of the reason is that as a media form, Wikis are supposed to be self-regulating, and the more people involved in the Wiki – in general – the better the self-regulation. Ok, there are some Wikis, like the infamous Conservapedia, that have such a bulk of prejudiced users that any attempt to correct information is doomed to failure (that said, it would be fun to try…) but in the main, a good Wiki, like Wikipedia is going to end up about as balanced as it’s possible to be in the context of Industrial Civilization. You can’t really expect it to go against the tenets of the industrial system, but you can make it more objective.

As an example, I stumbled across an article (presumably) posted by an employee of either IBM or one of their PR firms. The article in question was promoting the virtues of IBM’s Green Computing, and was a blatant advert. Simply by marking the article with the appropriate “Speedy Deletion” tag – in this case {{db-promo}} – the article was deleted by an administrator, never to be seen again. One bit of greenwash consigned to the virtual dustbin.

Of course, there is more to Undermining than just correcting obvious bias: what about exposing the real truth behind the corporate system? Yes, you can do it on Wikipedia, but you need to tread lightly…

It is easy for a person to vandalize Wikipedia. Since anyone can edit any page, the possibility is always there. The vandal might add profanity or inappropriate images to a page, might erase all the content of a page, etc.

However, there are tools that make it easy for the community to find and remove vandalism. There are also other tools available on Wikipedia to help corral users who are persistently destructive. For example:

* It is easy for anyone who sees vandalism to revert pages back to a pre-vandalism state.
* It is easy for any user to alert the rest of the Wikipedia community to vandalism that is in progress.
* It is possible for an admin to block or ban users (or IP addresses) who are persistently destructive.
* It is possible for an admin to protect a page temporarily to keep people from changing it.
* It is possible for an admin to delete an inappropriate page.

Tools like these make it easy for members of the community to quickly eliminate vandalism and prevent vandals from coming back.

(from http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/basics/wiki3.htm)

It’s no good just steaming in with a rant as, certainly in the case of higher-profile pages, the changes will be undone. Therefore, you have three options:

1) Make sure the changes you make are evidence-based, referenced and written properly. Anything that suggests vandalism will be reverted. You have to justify inclusion of new information, and removal of someone else’s, so you might need to refer to “reinstating balance” or suchlike in your notes.

2) Make subtle textual changes that alter the meaning of entries, undermining any positive image the company or organisation may benefit from. Always mark changes as “This is a minor edit”, and explain it is for clarity.

3) Make changes to unwatched entries. From the point of view of a Underminer, the most useful Wikipedia page by far is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Database_reports/Most-watched_pages (this is probably second: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Database_reports/Pages_with_the_most_revisions) as it indicates those entries you cannot “vandalise” (a.k.a. make more accurate) without comeback. Also, look for the last edit date: if it is more than a year ago then you should be able to get away with more nefarious changes, even blatant hacking without the change being reverted.

In all cases, make changes either anonymously (for minor edits) or under a disposable alias.

Online Subvertising

Subvertising is the act of undermining the message that advertisers wish to present. There are many ways to do this, and I have gone into a great deal of detail elsewhere on The Unsuitablog. Here is the related Monthly Undermining Task, here is the Subvertising Gallery, and here is the Earth First! guide to subvertising billboards for anyone who wants to take it to a more practical level.

Assuming you have a new, more accurate graphic, the wider the coverage of it, the better; this does not mean getting a few mates to post it on their blogs – unless those blogs are read by thousands of people* – it means that the subvertising has to effectively usurp the advertisers’ message in situ, just like a subvertised billboard does. The difficulty is that, as I said above, you can’t just change the corporate web site (I’m sure there are a one or two people willing to hack sites just to change a logo, but it’s a big risk for a change that will likely only last a few minutes); you need to find places where the logo or advert is normally placed online and find a way of replacing it. Wikipedia is, of course, one such place – with the provisos above; and as an experiment I have changed the logo on the Rainforest Alliance entry:

Somehow, I don’t think this will last long, but are there better places for subvertising? What about getting your logo on Google Images? Google Images is often used as a place for people to download corporate graphics. If you have a fairly well connected blog, like this one, or are able to contribute to something like that then you could be onto a winner at least with smaller companies, organisations or campaigns. The Avon “Hello Green Tomorrow” campaign was something I blogged about, and as a result it immediately went to near the top of the Google search rankings for “hello green tomorrow”, but the graphic I used didn’t do so well in the Google Images ranking. What I did wrong was not to include anything in the Alt Text – so as another experiment, I have inserted the following: “Hello Green Tomorrow Avon logo”. Prior to making that change, the logo languished on page 3. Almost immediately, the image search has placed it; well, here you go:

I’m sure you can be more creative than that.

*You can check how many visitors almost any site has by going to compete.com.

Spoofing

The final action, and no doubt the most complex, is the act of Spoofing. “Spoofing” means pretending to be somone or something you aren’t, but appearing on the surface to be that thing; a very common spoofing method is usually known as Phishing, which you will no doubt have encountered from time to time and, I’m sure, not been fooled by.

The basic techniques of phishing are certainly valid in spoofing a company or organisation, but like any method in this arena, they are not for the faint-hearted. However, by using a generic example of spoofing a corporation, including the option of phishing – not for money, but to damage their reputation – I can give an insight into at least the fundamentals of carrying out a large-scale spoof.

The best recent example of a corporate spoof (in both senses of the word) was that carried out by The Yes Men on Chevron in October, 2010. The non-technical details have been blogged by Andy Bichlbaum; but in a technical sense, what they did falls pretty much within the scope of the following, give or take a few steps.

1) Create your web page(s): make it as close to the look and feel of those of your target as works with the nature of the spoof you are carrying out. Ideally you should use as much of the source code of the original web site as you can, as well as (for all that you are not changing) using the original links. Test your page(s) thoroughly in every common browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Safari should cover it).

1a) If you are doing a complete bait-and-switch, i.e. presenting something completely different than the original, then the code is up to you; though be aware that anything more than a fake “holding” page will immediately be seen as a spoof.

2) Work out your hosting and URL redirection methodology. I’m assuming here that you have bought an appropriate domain name, such as www.chevron-weagree.com, otherwise your spoof will have to be of the Phishing variety (see 2a) If you have admin rights where the web page(s) will be hosted then you can control the way the URL displays, but will need to change the DNS record for the domain, and anyone with a bit of nous will be able to find out the details of your server(s). Alternatively, you can just set up a Framed Redirection via your domain provider, which will mask the URL of your spoofed page(s).

2a) For a straight Phishing attack you will be using what appears to be the official URL to go to the spoof page(s). Most anti-virus software will detect phishing in emails, but you could always use this technique in forums and blogs where you can edit the HTML. Even if you use phishing, you will probably still need the redirection or DNS change in place.

3) If you are not sending out a press release or invitation to view and just relying on the spoof, then that’s all you need to do; but you won’t get much traffic unless you have a really convincing URL (see www.vedanta-resources.com) so you will at least need to publicise your efforts as in 2a) above. If you are sending out a press release then you will need to set up at least one mailbox under your fake domain name, otherwise your information will lack credibility. If you can use a third party email client then that will protect your personal details (and the security of your own computer); most domain providers have that facility for a small additional fee. Be aware, though, that this is a form of abuse, so you may lose your account if you are found out.

4) Send out your press releases: make them as similar to the official press releases as you can, including embedded logos (proper ones) and contact details as appropriate. It is up to you whether you respond (the Yes Men don’t tend to), but if you do then keep all responses in the official form of the original. Telephone numbers are not recommended unless you have a call centre to hand.

5) Follow up. As per the Chevron spoof, a good follow up, turning the tables, can really extend the life of any spoof: my own blog on this contains the original text of the Yes Men emails.

Note that I have been fairly light on technical detail: if you are not technically adept at something like this then you either need to learn, or find someone who is and you can trust to help you. This is also only a rough template – there are so many ways of spoofing that are more complex, but I think this provides as least a starting point for those of you who may, very soon, be undermining the very fabric of the online corporate propaganda machine.

Posted in Advice, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Spoofs, Subvertising | 4 Comments »

Chevron Spoof Posters: Just The Start

Posted by keith on 2nd November 2010

On the coattails of their Chevron spoof (see here for the full story) the Yes Men have opened up the original graphics from their web sites for public subvertising.

Angry and frustrated that oil companies like Chevron think they can ignore their environmental and human rights abuses while cleaning up their image with high-cost ad campaigns? We agree! Enter our contest now and help hold Chevron accountable by making sure the company doesn’t get away with its greenwash.

If you’re game, study “Chevron’s real “We Agree” campaign and their TV and print ads. Figure out the funniest mashups, image swaps, collages, rewrites, or remixes of their print, web, and/or TV productions. And make sure to post whatever you do to your Facebook, and twitpic them with the hashtag #weagree. If you can, wheatpaste your posters around town, and twitpic photos of them with the same hashtag (#weagree). The best ad gets a big prize, the best picture of an in-situ Chevron ad gets another, and I’m sure we’ll be coming up with some other categories.

While you can enter the contest, and use the graphics for postering, don’t forget that this is just a seed of an idea that can spread across the entire mass media, and address all forms of ethical hypocrisy. The aim should be to drown out the greenwash with spoofing such that it becomes impossible for the corporate media and, of course, the general public, the tell which is a genuine bit of corporate greenwashing, and which is the truth. The corporate media won’t risk publishing the truth, so greenwashing will die.

That’s just the start: yes this is a big battle, but the war on the system is just beginning…

Posted in Spoofs, Subvertising | No Comments »

After The Yes Men’s Chevron Spoof, What Next For YOU?

Posted by keith on 26th October 2010

Strike while the iron is hot, or take a breather and think about your next move. The feelings of an Underminer during a hot spoof are often confused, but in some cases a retrospective look is necessary in order to understand what effective action really means. Case in point, the action by the Yes Men in undermining Chevron’s “We Agree” campaign, which for reasons Googley, I’m not going to link to.

At 07:37 BST (that’s 02:37 EST) an email popped into my mailbox purporting to come from Chevron Corp. Fortunately I was up at around this time, read the email, examined the headers, looked at the links and concluded it was a spoof: a very good spoof. Here’s the email:

From: Chevron Media Relations
Sent: Monday, October 18, 2010 7:37 AM
To: Keith Farnish
Subject: Radical Chevron Ad Campaign Highlights Victims

Chevron has added a news release to its Investor Relations website.

Title: Radical Chevron Ad Campaign Highlights Victims

Date(s): 18 October. 2010

To view this release on the web, please click here

Radical Chevron Ad Campaign Highlights Victims

By honestly featuring oil industry misdeeds, Chevron “We Agree” campaign scores ad industry first
SAN RAMON, Calif., Oct. 18, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) has announced a new global advertising campaign aimed at showing Chevron as a “real people” corporation, and admitting to problems that companies usually try to hide.

“We want the world to know that we’re just like you and me,” said Chevron Vice Chairman George L. Kirkland. “We’ve got problems and challenges, and we too make mistakes, but we’re telling truths no one usually tells, and looking wide-eyed into the future.”

The candid advertising campaign, created by award-winning long-time Chevron ad partner McGarryBowen, features real people on the receiving end of Chevron controversies in Ecuador, Nigeria, the U.S. Gulf Coast and elsewhere. Each print ad is designed with an authentic pop-culture street-art aesthetic, and features a sincere slogan followed by a big red “We Agree” stamp, the signature of Chevron executives, and the Chevron logo.

“Chevron is making a clean break from the past by taking direct responsibility for our own actions,” said Rhonda Zygocki, Chevron vice president of Policy, Government and Public Affairs.

“Oil Companies Should Clean Up Their Messes,” reads one ad; the small print refers candidly to the damage done by oil companies around the world. “For decades, oil companies like ours have worked in disadvantaged areas, influencing policy in order to do there what we can’t do at home. It’s time this changed.”

Another ad, “Oil Companies Should Fix The Problems They Create,” is just as topical. “Extracting oil from the Earth is a risky process, and mistakes do happen. It’s easy to pass the blame or ignore the mistakes we’ve made. Instead, we need to face them head on, accept our financial and environmental responsibilities, and fund new technologies to avoid these mistakes in the future.”

“We were asked to show an agreeable, involved, of-the-people face for Chevron, and we think we came up with some really great ways of doing that,” said Gordon Bowen, Chief Creative Officer of McGarryBowen. “But what’s unique and different here is the honesty. We’ve never been able to do this before.”

“We’re telling truths no one usually tells,” said Zygocki. “We’re changing the way the whole industry speaks.”

“BP’s response to the Gulf tragedy was widely perceived as perfunctory and insincere,” noted Bowen. “Chevron has big problems too, like in Ecuador – but they’re really stepping up to the plate.”

The “We Agree” campaign is an evolution of Chevron’s “Power of Human Energy” campaign, which launched in 2007 with a series of print, online, broadcast and outdoor ads that all sought to raise awareness and encourage discussion about the major issues facing the energy industry. Though the exact cost of “We Agree” remains confidential, Chevron routinely spends $90 million per year on US advertising alone.

“‘We Agree’ conveys that Chevron is all for people,” said Zygocki. “Just as ‘We’ is inclusive, so Chevron is inclusive. It’s time we were on the side of people, no matter where those people are from.”

Chevron Corporation is one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies. The company has about 58,000 employees, and Chevron’s subsidiaries conduct business in approximately 180 countries. Chevron operates across the entire energy spectrum – exploring for, producing and transporting crude oil and natural gas; refining, marketing and distributing fuels and other energy products; generating power; designing and marketing large-scale energy efficiency solutions; and commercializing the energy resources of the future, including biofuels and other renewables. Chevron is based in San Ramon, Calif.

Please visit http://www.chevron-weagree.com for more on the “We Agree” campaign. More information about Chevron is available at http://www.chevron.com.

At this point, some people other than me were bound to have uncovered the ruse, but rather than making a big deal of it, I chose to keep quiet and let things take their course: what is the point of supporting something if you’re going to uncover it in public in the same breathe? I also wanted to think that this wasn’t the work of the Yes Men.

A strange sentiment? Well, after popping back a quick note to the originators…

That is very clever – don’t worry, I won’t tell. But if you need any help then let me know. Good mask on the domain names too.

K.

…I noticed that this bore far more of a resemblance to the kinds of spoofs that I have been discussing on my blogs, and even (ahem!) carrying out myself. I really wanted this to be from at least a Yes Men spin-off, if not a completely independent entity, because it would mean that the PR companies and corporate killers were starting to lose control of things.

Later on in the day, it was becoming clear that the Yes Men were being fingered with the spoof, the spoof itself (partly “thanks” to various smartarse bloggers) having been exposed fairly quickly. Following this exposure period something happened which gave new legs to the action – another press release from “Chevron”:

From: Chevron Corp.
Sent: Monday, October 18, 2010 5:45 PM
To: keith-farnish.plus.com
Subject: STATEMENT: Chevron Deplores Subterfuge, Investigates Options


Chevron has added a news release to its Investor Relations website.

Title: Chevron Deplores Subterfuge, Investigates Options

Date(s): 18 October. 2010

For a complete listing of our news releases, please click here

Chevron Deplores Subterfuge, Investigates Options

SAN RAMON, Calif., Oct. 18, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Earlier today, a group of environmentalists cyber-posing as Chevron officials illegally spoofed Chevron’s just-launched “We Agree” advertising campaign, confusing reporters (link). While such a campaign does exist, its official URL is Chevron.com/weagree. The advertisements released earlier today, at Chevron-weagree.com, were an elaborate subterfuge and must not be mistaken as real.

“Chevron does not take this attack lightly,” said Hewitt Pate, General Counsel for Chevron. “We invest extremely heavily in our campaigns, and we take them extremely seriously. Such actions can never be tolerated.” Though the exact cost of “We Agree” must remain confidential, Chevron routinely spends $90 million per year on US advertising alone.

Pate also noted that the environmentalists have made libellous allegations regarding Chevron’s record and obligations in Ecuador and beyond. “Despite what some will say, we are not obliged to abide by decisions that Ecuadorian judges make or do not make. This is because we have binding agreements with the Ecuadorian Government exempting us from any liabilities whatsoever, granted in exchange for a $40 million cleanup of some wells by Texaco in the 1990s.”

“We have always upheld the best values of every country to which we are attached,” added Pate.

“This hoax is part of an ongoing effort to blame Chevron for 18 billion gallons of toxic waste dumped in the Amazon during drilling operations,” said Rhonda Zygocki, Chevron vice president of Policy, Government and Public Affairs. “This blame game continues despite Chevron’s long-standing agreement with the Ecuadorian government which very obviously puts the issue behind us.”

For further information please visit Chevron’s official press page. For more information about Chevron please visit www.Chevron.com.

What was going on here was an attempt to inject some confusion into the story, by using a fake press release site to disseminate fake anger at a real spoof, while also adding fuel to the fire of Chevron’s abuses in South America.

Again, I fired off a quick response, and then kept schtum:

Oh, that’s wonderful. Slight coding error on the website (“stories” and “global issue”s toplinks are broken) but otherwise a brilliant bit of “heading them off at the pass” just as people realise it was a hoax. *I’m* not convinced you’re the Yes Men, though

Keith

I didn’t get a response, as responding in the affirmative is something you should never do when trying to cover your tracks, but they did fix the links – someone was on the ball here.

Someone at Business Week clearly wasn’t on the ball, as their article the next day clearly attests to. They may have been taken in by the further fakery related to Advertising Age, for not only was the Chevron site a fake, there was a fake AdAge web site to boot, something that is recorded in some detail by the real Advertising Age:

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — First BP was targeted with a satirical Twitter feed, and now oil giant Chevron has been hit by pranksters hijacking its corporate-public-relations efforts. While the prank may go unnoticed by consumers, it does raise issues for both marketers and media.

The hoax that Chevron is now grappling with is far more elaborate and is timed to the launch of an ad campaign from the San Ramon, Calif.-based company and its lead agency, Dentsu-owned McGarryBowen.

Not only was a fake website created that parodied the real campaign, but fake press releases were sent out, including one posted to a site that looks remarkably similar to Chevron’s actual website. That release uses fake quotes by Rhonda Zygocki, Chevron’s VP-policy, government and public affairs, and Gordon Bowen, chief creative officer of McGarryBowen.

As part of the prank, there was even a fake story planted on a fake Ad Age site. Ad Age received calls Monday morning from someone purporting to be a Chevron spokesperson saying an erroneous story was posted to the AdAge.com. While the story looked real — the masthead and frames were swiped from a Marketer of the Year story posted to AdAge.com and the text was replaced with a Chevron story — the URL was a fake, one that misspelled the “advertising” in advertisingage.com (and there was no byline on the piece).

So that is that, it seems. The story has all but blown over and, with more irony that a professor of linguistics could muster, Chevron’s latest press release is trumpeting a new attempt at large-scale deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

But that is not that!

It doesn’t take a computer genius or expert in public relations to dream up and execute something that could do great damage to a company or even an entire government; something I will be writing about at length in my new book. People who follow my writing may have come across this article on The Sietch a couple of years ago. You will have to take my word for it that at least three more spoofs have been carried out in three entirely different ways since then, with varying success.

And I am just one person.

What about you?

Posted in Advice, Exposure, Good News!, Spoofs, Subvertising | No Comments »

10 Things That Will Actually Make a Difference On 10/10/10 (and Any Other Day)

Posted by keith on 5th October 2010

As I write, thousands of activities are being planned around the world to coincide with the date 10 October 2010, which has been fortuitously chosen for its parallels with the aim to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by the end of 2010 (well that’s one plan blown, then).

Anyone on any mailing list of any mainstream “environmental” group will, in the last month or so, received at least one email and/or letter, imploring you to take part in some event that demonstrates your willingness to be part of a great movement for “change”. I put that last set of quotes in on purpose, because I too received an email from 350.org:

Dear Friends,

I don’t quite believe it.

I’ve been double-checking our numbers, and it’s beginning to look like we might shoot past the total of events from last year’s International Day of Climate Action. As I type this message, the counter is at 5203 events.

You might remember that there were 5248 events in 181 countries last year, and you can watch the compilation video from that day for a reminder of just how beautiful it was. And how massive it was: CNN said that it was “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” I was worried we couldn’t top that for the Global Work Party on 10/10/10–in part because “experts” kept saying people were too discouraged after the failure of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen.

But it’s looking like “experts” were wrong, and this movement is more energized than ever. When we see our leaders failing, we want to show them how it’s done. We want to get to work. We’ll let you know the minute we set a new record–you could help by emailing friends far and near to encourage them to take part.

And in case you needed a tiny bit more motivation to spread the word, this video just arrived from a friend of ours–Ellen Page.

Ellen is not only a great actress (you may have seen her in “Inception” or “Juno”), she’s also a devoted student of permaculture and sustainability. She wrote me the other day to say that Los Angeles had just set a new all-time temperature record, 113 degrees. From Los Angeles to Laos, it seems that we’re all in this together.

We’ll be in touch soon, but I have the feeling the next bit of news I send will be very, very good indeed.

Onwards,

Bill McKibben for the 350.org Team

Regular readers will remember the last big event that 350.org organised; the one Bill proudly quotes as being called, the “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” Not that we would want to make comparisons with, say, the No War For Oil protests in 2003 (around 2 million participants in the UK alone, in dozens of separate marches), but I think it’s a pretty good comparison if hyperbole is what Bill McKibben wants: one day of mass “action” across the globe, a real feeling of genuine achievement amongst the participants…and absolutely nothing achieved.

The war took place.

The emissions continued.

I responded to Bill, obviously knowing that my email would get nowhere near him:

Well, that’s nice Bill. And what has 350.org achieved so far – and what is it likely to achieve? I’m talking real change not number of events, banners, signatures, petitions, participants…whatever – I’m talking real change.

Please enlighten me.

Keith

The response was surprisingly quick, and from one of the senior people in the 350.org office:

Keith,

What does real change look like to you?

Thanks,

Phil Aroneanu

This was actually a very good question – what does real change look like? I thought for a while what appearance real change would take, and it became clear that, like the act of Undermining, Change (with a big “C”) invited nothing symbolic. It is something that fits into a neat progression towards humanity having a survivable future on Earth. Here is my response, highlighted, as I think this is critical.

Hi Phil

Success is:

- Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels back to pre-industrial levels (280ppm CO2e)

- All global ecological biomes functioning at full efficiency

- All synthetic chemicals removed from biosphere

- Species extinction and evolution rates returned to pre-civilized levels

Anything between the current situation and “Success” can be considered “Progress”; the process of achieving that is “Change”.

Change and progress are tangible. Action is not.

Why celebrate anything that is not tangible?

Makes sense to me.

Keith

The conversation continued, with Phil clearly not having understood the gravity of our current situation; nor the massive gulf between the symbolic level of 350.org’s goals and Bill’s celebration, and that which I stated above.

Keith -

Still unclear why people planting trees, painting bike lanes, installing solar panels…etc. on 10/10/10 alongside citizen lobbying isn’t action towards reducing CO2?

Phil

Because tangible progress towards the things I stated below has not been achieved.

As I said, action does not equal change.

Keith

No response was forthcoming, but rather than let this disappear into the ether as another lost opportunity to connect, I am being completely mercenary and hitching something onto the back of so-called 10/10/10 by giving you 10 things you can do any day of any year (until, perhaps, they are no longer needed) and really make a tangible difference:

1) Deface and tear down or otherwise remove commercial advertising.

2) Start paying for things, and offering the things you might sell, by barter.

3) Send fake press releases to newspapers and radio stations telling the truth about corporate activities.

4) Switch off televisions in public places, remotely if you have to.

5) Set up a knowledge sharing scheme in your community to counter pro-consumer schooling.

6) Cook something fresh or make something from scratch and give it to a neighbour or friend, unbidden.

7) Make a nuisance of yourself whenever you see a politician being interviewed.

8) Relabel museum exhibits to reflect the true history of Empire, Colonialism and Exploitation.

9) Lock up already locked retail premises and car parks with your own chains.

10) Start a meme using the words “Economic growth is ecological death” by any means possible.

And that’s just ten things; there are many more here and here. Have a great time, but don’t restrict your fun to just the one day – real activists are always active, not just when we are told to be.

Posted in Exposure, Sabotage, Spoofs, Subvertising | 4 Comments »

Rebecca Spillson’s Propaganda Machine Undermined

Posted by keith on 2nd October 2010

Everything’s fine on the Alabama coast, especially at Gulf Shores / Orange Beach, especially now it’s Shrimp Festival time. Hey! Those persistent organic toxins aren’t going to eat themselves:

Yes, that really was posted on YouTube in the last few days, [dreamily] almost as though nothing had happened in the Gulf…

Jerry Cope at Huffington Post seems a little suspicious:

In its continuing effort to protect the public from toxic chemical exposure due to crude oil and Corexit dispersants, the City Of Orange Beach, Alabama, is hosting the Thunder on the Gulf boat races to bookend the 39th Annual National Shrimp Festival the weekend of Oct. 15. Although the vast majority of locals will not go in the water or on the beaches much less consume seafood caught in the Gulf, thanks to enthusiastic misinformation from authorities and intentionally lax testing methods such as the infamous “smell test,” tens of thousands of people will be exposed to toxic chemicals through inhalation, skin absorption and ingestion.

And it’s thanks to Jerry, and his damn suspicions that I have no option but to repost this redux version of the above…

Not too sure about the politics of the poster, but I think it would be rather fun if everyone posted these two videos together, just to show a few people what propaganda really looks like:

The original (the lie): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08GhZHgIt7A

The spoof (the truth): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxz5pD5TCS8

Posted in Campaigns, Corporate Hypocrisy, Cover Ups, Political Hypocrisy, Spoofs | 1 Comment »

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

Posted by keith on 9th August 2010

They (350.org) 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 350.org 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 350.org 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 300.org 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 350.org/300.org team.
_____________
350.org 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. 350.org 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 350.org 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 350.org – 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 350.org 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:

http://www.archive.org/details/WoodlandTrustAcceptDubiousCorporateSponsorship

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 »

True In All But Name [Video]

Posted by keith on 14th July 2010

And that’s how brainwashing works…

Posted in Adverts, Advice, Spoofs, Subvertising | No Comments »

Kit Kat Killers

Posted by keith on 18th March 2010

Have a break? from Greenpeace UK on Vimeo.

From Greenpeace UK – a very good spoof video indeed, for a very important message…

We all like a break, but the orang-utans of Indonesia don’t seem to be able to get one. We have new evidence which shows that Nestlé – the makers of Kit Kat – are using palm oil produced in areas where the orang-utans’ rainforests once grew. Even worse, the company doesn’t seem to care.

So the Greenpeace orang-utans have been despatched to Nestlé head offices in Croydon to let employees know the environmental crimes their company is implicated in, and begin an international campaign to have Nestlé give us all a break.

As we’ve noted many times before, Indonesian forests are being torn down to grow palm oil which is the vegetable fat of choice for companies worldwide, including Nestlé. But while many companies such as Unilever and Kraft are making efforts to disassociate themselves from the worst practices of the palm oil industry, Nestlé has done diddly squat.

By lining the route from East Croydon train station to their office with posters, leaflets and billboard adverts – not to mention orang-utans hanging off the side of the building – we hope to start raising questions within the building about the kind of companies Nestlé is doing business with. And we’re asking them to have a break at 11am this morning to find out what else we have planned. Join us back here at 11am for a quick break too.

The palm oil Nestlé uses in products like Kit Kat is sourced from what used to be rainforest in Indonesia, forest which is being destroyed faster than anywhere else on the planet. One of Nestlé’s suppliers, the giant Sinar Mas group, is responsible for a large part of this arboreal carnage and has a track record of appalling environmental and social practices, not only on its palm oil plantations but also, through its subsidiary APP, its pulp and paper ones. Just take a look at these photos for a small glimpse of what Sinar Mas companies are up to.

The evidence collected in our report, Caught Red Handed, shows how Sinar Mas is not only clearing forests but destroying carbon-rich peatlands. Burning and draining these peatlands releases vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, helping to make Indonesia the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

Meanwhile, the palm oil industry often comes into conflict with local communities over land rights and resources, and the already endangered orang-utans are being pushed closer to extinction. With the forests destroyed, they’re left without their natural sources of food and so are forced to venture into the plantations to eat young palms, where they can be seen as pests.

If you’ve been following Greenpeace for a while, you’ll know we’ve been working to halt the devastation in Indonesia for some time, and two years ago our orang-utans were out in force outside Unilever’s offices. As a result of our work, Unilever has recently dropped Sinar Mas as a supplier and other companies like Kraft have done the same.

Yet despite Nestle’s claims that it expects its own suppliers to uphold high green standards (as detailed in their Supplier’s Code), the Kit Kat makers still continue to do business with Sinar Mas. With other companies not willing to be tarnished by the devastation Sinar Mas is creating, this leaves Nestlé – like the orang-utans – out on a limb.

The recent Fairtrade certification for some of its Kit Kat range shows Nestlé is keen to point to its ethical credentials, but the benefit brought by the Fairtrade ingredients is undermined by the palm oil loaded with wilful deforestation.

It’s time Nestlé took a break from turning a blind eye to what its suppliers are up to.

UPDATE: There’s been so much going here over the last 18 hours that I’ve only now found the time to write an update. Since the last post here, the Kit Kat video which was pulled from Youtube (following a complaint from Nestlé about copyright infringement) was resurrected on Vimeo and has been racking up views like there’s no tomorrow – 78,500 as of this moment. Not the shrewdest move Nestlé could have made, and I liked how Canada’s Globe & Mail referred to it as “a global game of whack-a-mole”.

More Palm Oil hypocrisy here. Remember, so many products contain palm oil that the only way of really avoiding it is by getting a guarantee from the manufacturer that there is no palm oil in that product; if the product says “vegetable oil” then it might contain palm oil!

For UK shoppers, here is a useful guide from the BBC

Posted in Company Policies, Corporate Hypocrisy, Exposure, Spoofs | No Comments »