The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Archive for the 'Should Know Better' Category

Friends of the Earth, iPods and The Competition That Killed a Charity

Posted by keith on 5th February 2011

It was a windy Thursday evening at the beginning of 2011. An office in north London buzzed with anticipation at the launch of something exciting; something that would appeal to a new breed of eco-conscious consumers who want that extra something to keep them feeling good about their fast-pased, technology filled lives. The team responsible felt confident that this was a good move in raising the profile of an organisation that for a few years had been chugging along the same well-worn path, each move forwards barely perceptible in the bigger scheme of things.

A few clicks later and the new page was live. A little later, to the west and little south of this office another few clicks and a press release was moving like a flock of electric pigeons toward the in boxes of the mainstream press, a perfect digital partner for the web page.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 4, 2011 —
Ethical shopping is easier than ever now that The Ethical Company Organisation’s best selling The Good Shopping Guide is available as a mobile phone app . And in today’s financial tough times, consumers will be pleased to know that switching to a more ethical product choice often comes with no price premium.

Publically launched today (Fri 4th February 2011), the latest ethical shopping advice is just a button push away on your iPhone, iTouch and iPad – and at only £2.99 its kind on your pocket as well as the planet. 10% of net revenue will go to green campaigning charity Friends of the Earth. The app is available to download from iTunes (http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/the-good-shopping-guide-ethical/id416083134?mt=8).

The Good Shopping Guide Ethical Shopping App is the first ethical shopping app on the UK market to give the user the ability to make clear comparisons with other brands within each product sector. Choosing, for example, the most ethical cup of tea or bottled water has never been easier.

• Over 700 famous brands are ranked in 72 product-specific league tables under the 7 main sections of Food & Drink, Health & Beauty, Travel, Energy, Fashion, Home & Office and Money
• Easy-view summary table shows ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ brands in relation to the environment, human rights and animal welfare within each product category
• Detailed research tables for 72 product-specific categories across 15 different ethical criteria
• Ethical Company Index scores give an overall ‘ethical rating’ to easily identify the best performing brands/companies
• In-depth editorial support, giving information on the ethical issues involved in each product

William Sankey, Director of The Ethical Company Organisation said:
”Ethical shopping has never been so easy, in store or online. Our readers asked us to develop a comprehensive comparison tool they could take into the shops and our mobile app does just that.

”We could only have dreamed of such a neat mobile tool when we printed the first (painfully heavy) 350 page The Good Shopping Guide reference book a decade or so ago. Companies’ ethical records have never been so easy to access for millions of concerned consumers.”

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director, said:
“Despite the recession more and more people want products and services that don’t trash the planet – but don’t have much time to investigate the best options.

“The new app provides quick and reliable advice when you’re out and about – and helps raise vital funds for Friends of the Earth work to ensure a thriving environment for everyone.”

Life would never be the same again for the people in the north London office. The connection was made between the App, the gadget and the environmental NGO. While The Good Shopping Guide made its usual symbolic stab at breaching the interminable void between consumption and sustainability, Friends of the Earth made an entirely unsymbolic stab at the ground that would contain their own grave.

An “environmental” NGO accepting money off the back of sales driven by the purchase of entirely unsustainable iPods and iPhones – the very same gadgets produced in polluting factories more accurately described as Slave Farms. An “environmental” NGO promoting this commercial partnership by way of a competition offering one of those gadgets; somehow imagining that we would all be ignorant to this abject hypocrisy.

Friends of the Earth, 1970-2011
RIP
Locally grown flowers only.

Posted in NGO Hypocrisy, Promotions, Should Know Better | 10 Comments »

The Unsuitablog’s Worst of 2010

Posted by keith on 4th January 2011

Taking a cue from all the awards and “looking back on”s going on at the moment, it seems like just the right time to pick the very worst ethical hypocrites of 2010. Taking the year as a whole, there is a huge selection to choose from even when just looking at the pages of The Unsuitablog; and that’s going to be the focus – I could reach out to other places but I think that just throwing a few darts at a board of corporate logos is far less instructive than looking into the dark recesses of near history and seeing what can be pulled out of the grime for a further airing.

Best of all, it gives me the chance to have one more pop at those offenders who really deserve a second go at.

Worst Large Company

Lockheed Martin would deserve this award for merely having the word “responsible” anywhere on their website, but as we found out in June, it seemed that one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world had undergone a complete logic transplant.

LOCKHEED MARTIN ANNOUNCES NEW GREEN INITIATIVES FOR 140,000 EMPLOYEES, THEIR FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES

BETHESDA, Md. – Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) today announced new green initiatives to reach its 140,000 employees, their families and communities. The orchestrated effort is rolling out in conjunction with National Environmental Education Week (EE Week), the largest organized environmental education event in the United States.

Held each year during the week before Earth Day, EE Week coordinates environmental education outreach nationwide to increase Earth Day’s impact. Lockheed Martin will celebrate EE Week and Earth Day by introducing several new company-wide employee initiatives to encourage environmentally-friendly behavior at work, at home and in local communities.

“At Lockheed Martin, it is our goal to raise awareness of natural resource conservation and to help our employees take an active role in their communities,” said Dr. David J.C. Constable, vice president, Lockheed Martin Energy, Environment, Safety & Health. “With the reach of our organization’s network, we have the opportunity to inspire hundreds of thousands of individuals – starting with our employees, their families and communities – so that as a corporation, we can make a big impact one small action at a time.”

The only response I could make was a video spoof, which still hasn’t been seen enough. It seems like a suitable enough prize for this video to be posted as far and wide as possible.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRfGzFMypIk

Worst Small Company

Cairn Energy is not a very small company, but compared to the other players in their sector (oil and gas) they are just a baby. Yet, for all their size, they seem to have become experts at pissing off communities and exploiting pristine environments that put even the oil giants to shame. Their efforts in greenwashing are similarly spectacular:

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

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

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

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

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

People and Planet have a slightly different viewpoint:

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

The prize is a free-of-charge rebranding.

Worst Industry Front

The American Petroleum Institute is a long established front for, well, the American petroleum industry, and have a strong pedigree in producing all sorts of highly damaging misinformation for the benefit of the American public. In September, the API went all Tea Party – a prime audience for their rhetoric – in organising a series of rallies against oil industry regulation, apparently to benefit the general public.

Just in from Public Citizen is a report on a series of rallies around the USA which are being organised by the American Petroleum Institute (API) on behalf of the oil industry. Here is the report:

Today marks the start of rallies across the country organized by the oil and gas industry to block Congress from passing much-needed measures to address problems that came to light during the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), which is organizing the events in Texas, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico and Colorado, claims to speak not only for industry workers but for “countless consumers” who are concerned about the proposals.

By staging these rallies, API is trying to distort public perception. In fact, people want the government to ensure that another BP oil disaster never happens again. Lawmakers would be derelict in their duty if they didn’t respond to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Last summer, API President Jack Gerard sent a memo to API member groups that laid out a plan to create astroturf rallies as a tactic to oppose climate change legislation. The memo asked recipients to give API “the name of one central coordinator for your company’s involvement in the rallies.” And it warned: “Please treat this information as sensitive … we don’t want critics to know our game plan.”

The astroturfing is pretty blatant, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see API banners at the rallies; but just in case the links aren’t clear, the rallies are being organised under the banner “Rally For Jobs”, which is coincidentally the current headline graphic on the API web site. If you go to the “partners” page on the Rally For Jobs website then the American Petroleum Institute are there, standing in pride of place.

Their prize, in recognition of their phony “people power” is for all of you to go and buy yourselves a decent pair of shoes, and start walking instead of driving. Who knows, you might even meet some real people.

Worst Charity or NGO

Conservation International easily take the prize for being both the largest and the most corporate-friendly “environmental” organisation around. In 2010 they continued their romp with business by launching Team Earth; an astroturf with a twist, for it pretends that corporations can play nicely with the public.

One is tempted to abandon the idea that NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) have any part to play in the removal of destructive actions upon the natural world. I think that’s a fair assumption. None of the NGOs come out of this well, not even the apparently “radical” ones like Greenpeace and RAN who are still batting on the side of industrial civilization; but if you had to choose which ones to really steer clear of, and relentlessly attack and expose, a surefire way of choosing is to look for the names of “Corporate Partners”.

If an NGO partners, or receives money from a corporation, then thay are not to be trusted.

Here is one excellent example, that I found while trawling the web:

Team Earth is all of us, working together to make our world a place of clean air, fresh water, plentiful resources and a stable climate, today and far into the future. Team Earth is companies, schools, non-profits, you, your family and friends – everyone who wants to help make sure the Earth is healthy enough to support us all.

This is straight out of the corporate style book; almost excruciating in its “Hey guys, let’s put on a show, right here!” mentality. Alarm bells! Scroll down a few lines and the rationale becomes clear:

Who’s on the Team?

You. Me. The neighbors down the block. Your boss. Parents and kids across the country. People in big cities and small towns.

We are companies like Starbucks and Wrigley. Students and teachers in thousands of classrooms and schools.

Nice bit of community togetherness, and then “WE are companies” – you might be “on the team” but “Team Earth” is a group of companies who are greenwashing as though their survival depends upon it.

Another prize of a free corporate rebranding for Conservation International, or rather Corporation International.

Worst “Environmental” Campaign

So many to choose from with so many awful disasters and civilization-made catastrophes happening in 2010, but my personal choice was the unspeakably crass video produced by the 10:10 team in the UK. Now I’m all for tough messages, but the idea of blowing people to smithereens because they didn’t agree with the specific message espouced by the 10:10 Organisation (yes, the organisation that uses military style dog-tags as a branding opportunity) really pissed me off.

It also pissed off mobbsey on the Powershift forum, who stated beautifully:

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.

A prize of some blood-soaked 10:10 tags is very, very appropriate.

Worst Politician / Government

Up to the end of 2010 there were so many dodgy politicians to choose from that I would probably have had to call stalemate on this award. Then WikiLeaks released Cablegate, and the military-industrial politicians spoke as one in their condemnation of…not the crap and hypocrisy revealed in the cables, but the fact that the cables were released at all. In a scramble to be the most shrill commentator of all, few topped Sarah Palin’s claim than Julian Assange was “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands”, although various US and Canadian politicians did manage to suggest that a mass cull of everyone involved in WikiLeaks would be of benefit to humankind.

So, in tribute to the efforts of this august institution (WikiLeaks, not world government) the award goes to every politician who suggested violence in the face of freedom of speech in 2010.

The prize is a few more people mirroring the WikiLeaks website, copying the Insurance file for safekeeping, and sending on a few choice leaks to a site of your choice (EnviroLeaks is your friend).

Worst Religious Hypocrisy

It was going quite well in the religious world until Christmas, with even the Pope railing against environmental damage, and all sorts of religious institutions helping in community efforts. And then that hardy annual Operation Christmas Child came along to spoil the party of every poor child who doesn’t want Christian Evangelism shoved in their faces. Where help is concerned, missionaries have never exactly been on the side of the unconverted, but OCC are taking it to a level not seen since the Crusades:

I’d like to share with you just one story about what God did in a little village in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mimbulu is a collection of mud-brick houses and thatched huts with no electricity or running water. Most of the villagers are subsistence farmers living on far less than $1 a day. You can imagine how happy and excited the children were when our team handed out shoe box gifts from Operation Christmas Child. Later, hundreds of girls and boys signed up for our Discipleship Program, and most of them made commitments to Jesus Christ through the Bible study course.

Traditional religions and occult practices are common in this part of Africa, but many people in Mimbulu have been delivered from spiritual darkness as a result of this evangelistic outreach. Three girls, all under the age of 10, confessed to being involved in witchcraft, repented of their sins, and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ. One cult leader, after reading his son’s Bible lessons, renounced his false religion and surrendered his life to the Lord. Other adults turned to Christ at the graduation ceremony where they heard their children recite Scripture and listened to a pastor preach the Gospel.

The Lord is doing great things in Mimbulu, and we give Him all the glory!

We treat every single gift box as a Gospel opportunity. That’s why prayer is the most important thing we ask people to do when they pack their shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. We want each person to pray for the child who receives the box and ask God to touch that child’s heart. That’s where the real power of Operation Christmas Child lies—in God’s answers to those millions of heartfelt prayers.

Another appropriate rebranding for Operation Christmas Child, along with a bonus prize of hundreds of parents raising serious complaints with their children’s schools in 2011 should the brainwashing boxes be suggested.

Operation Christmas Child convert christian samaritan's purse

The “Too Naive To Understand” Award for Accidental Hypocrisy

Sometimes The Unsuitablog is a bit too successful, but rarely do I ever feel sorry for one of the targets. In May the Green Youth Movement was soundly berated for its sloppy attitude to environmentalism; being dressed up as the kind of thing you can “do” as part of your hectic Beverley Hills lifestyle.

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

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

The attack was justified on the basis that GYM hired a PR company to pump up its image – then I found out that the parents of Ally Maize were far worse than Ally herself (see the comments below the article). Too late: GYM was dead in the water, or as near as dammit. A good thing too, because if we are to bring the next generations along in the fight for environmental justice, the last thing we should be telling them is that it’s ok to just do little things.

I can’t present Ally Maize with a sense of modesty, but I think perhaps the magic curtain has been lifted a little for one deluded person. That’s reward in itself.

The “Cannibalism” Award for Self-Destruction of the Environmental Movement

Anyone who says the Environmental Movement is growing is a fool. There is no one “movement”, and even if there is something resembling a movement then it’s so diluted as to be completely ineffective. When an organisation comes along and brands itself in such a way as to imply it has all the answers, then you should expect it to be pretty damn good.

350.org are pretty damn something, but it’s not good:

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.

350 parts per million – their lodestone number – is too high to prevent the Earth continuing to warm. The symbolic action, particularly the appeals to politicians, is not just pointless – it is extremely divisive. Symbolic action in defence of a dying planet is like a Band Aid on an amputation. 350.org should be ashamed of themselves for perpetuating such a dangerous idea.

But they aren’t, because they think they are right – they have become too big.

The best prize for them is a real movement of people who get things done, and don’t accept compromise. We will see this in 2011; mark my words.

Posted in Company Policies, Corporate Hypocrisy, Cover Ups, Government Policies, NGO Hypocrisy, Political Hypocrisy, Religious Hypocrisy, Should Know Better, Sponsorship, Symbolic Action | No Comments »

Greenpeace Inc. [Guest Article]

Posted by keith on 26th August 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Mentality™: Turning Consumers into Fans

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

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

Social Milieus: Do You Know Your Demographic?

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



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



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

(Our emphasis)

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

Because Greenpeace is a brand.

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

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

Is this what the environmental movement should be?

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

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

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

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

Keith

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

Greenwashing In The BBC [Guest Article]

Posted by keith on 13th August 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can a Shopping Voucher Skew Survey Results?

Posted by keith on 3rd August 2010

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

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

I hate shopping.

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

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

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

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

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

She promised to let someone know.

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

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

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

Boycotting BP Is Like Choosing Your Least Favourite Genocide

Posted by keith on 2nd July 2010

Which is your least favourite genocide?

I don’t know about you, but if I lived in Rwanda then the genocide of 1994 that took the lives of a million people in some of the most brutal ways imaginable would certainly be at the top (or is that bottom) of my list. Then again, anyone who follows the Jewish faith or, indeed, lived through World War II, would have no hesitation in selecting the Holocaust as their least favourite genocide. Then there is the “lost” genocide of Armenia, which modern day Turkey still refuses to acknowledge – certainly not popular in the Caucasus.

I think it’s probably time to stop, don’t you?

Way back in the prime of my naiveté I played a significant part in the Stop Esso campaign in my part of Britain. Also known in the USA as “Stop ExxonMobil”, the Greenpeace-led campaign was inspired by the fact that the then-President of ExxonMobil, Lee Raymond, refused to acknowledge the human element in global warming. Thus, it was reasoned that ExxonMobil / Esso was the “bad boy” of the oil industry and must be suitably chastised.

For about 5 years I, and thousands of fellow campaigners, were tied up in the myth that somehow boycotting and protesting against a single huge oil company would actually make a difference. This was wrong on three counts:

1) Not a single non-political boycott has ever been shown to have a significant impact on the activities of a large corporation. Aside from political trade sanctions or embargoes, the profit margins and sheer scale of these companies are large enough to absorb the impact of such activities. Campaigns that call for boycotts are even less likely to achieve any satisfactory outcome, simply because only a small minority of people ever heed such calls.

2) The aims of the boycotts are, almost without exception, about getting an existing corporation to change its ways. Now in the case of an oil company, what exactly is it that the company is expected to do? Stop selling oil? I’m no financial expert, but this sounds to me like requesting the company effectively ceases trading, which is certainly not what the vast majority of campaigns aim to do. The campaign line ends with accepting a moral compromise which, as anyone who has studied ethics will attest to, is a morally unstable position at best.

3) Single company boycotts are, in effect, condoning the activities of other companies in the same business. I’ll give you an example: when I organised a serial protest of 45 Esso service stations in one day, those taking part in the protests encountered lots of resistance even to such minor demands as getting an oil company to admit to anthropogenic global warming; but more than that, we also encountered a number of very well informed people, one of whom had experienced at first hand the brutal treatment of Nigerians in the Niger Delta by Shell sponsored thugs, and the appalling conditions suffered by people due to the constant flaring of gas and pollution of watercourses. We were asked why we weren’t protesting against Shell, to which the best we could muster was: “That’s not the focus of today’s campaign.” That may have been the case, but by making a single oil company (Esso) out to be the bad boy, as far as the public were concerned, any other oil company was ok.

You may take part in your single company protest, confident that in your heart of hearts you also despise any other company that operates in a similar manner; but unless you make that explicit, or widen your target to include the entire operational gamut, then you are also publicly giving the other companies the green light, in more senses than one.

Posted in Advice, General Hypocrisy, Should Know Better, Symbolic Action | No Comments »

Hands Across The Sand: A New Low In Symbolic Protest

Posted by keith on 24th June 2010

“I dreamed early on in the BP crime-event that The Gulf Gusher could NOT be stopped. I woke up shaking, sweating, my heart pounding. I knew this was information more than merely a dream…I think we have a hole in our heads when we talk about effective action, and we’ve got to think more seriously about what effective action is to stop the destruction of the only planet we have and need…”
(Roxanne Amico)

Yesterday, myself and probably thousands of other bloggers and activists received a press release from New York PIRG, explaining what they would be doing about the horrors of the Gulf, the ravenous appetite of the industrial world for oil, and the continued scorched-Earth policy that all governments pursue in the search for wealth and continued economic growth.

MEDIA ADVISORY – For immediate release

Lauren Schuster, NYPIRG Staff Attorney
347.729.4729, LSchuster@nypirg.org

HUNDREDS TO DEMAND AN END TO OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING AND AN IMMEDIATE TRANSITION TO CLEAN RENEWABLE ENERGY WILL HOLD “HANDS ACROSS THE SAND” AT BRIGHTON BEACH

On Saturday, June 26th, hundreds of students, volunteers and members of NYPIRG’s 1Sky New York Campaign will gather on the shore at Brighton Beach to demand an end to offshore drilling and an immediate transition to clean, renewable energy sources. The activists, standing in silence, will clasp hands along the shoreline, in a stunning visual display of solidarity. The Brighton Beach Hands Across the Sand event is part of a national campaign with hundreds of events taking place in almost every state in the country. For more information about the nation event, please visit: http://www.handsacrossthesand.com.

Who: Hundreds of volunteers and activists from the NYPIRG/1Sky NY Campaign
What: Hands Across the Sand at Brighton Beach
When: Saturday, June 26th at 12pm
Where: Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY
Visuals: Hundreds of volunteers clasping hands along the shore
Photos: Photos of the event will be made available for those who are unable to attend

This is part of a national (i.e. USA) event, currently being held in 26 states, which no doubt will be attended by hundreds of thousands of people who for some reason feel that forming chains of people across beaches will do the job, will make things all better again.

> What is the point of this, Lauren?

Keith

Hi,

Thanks for your question. The event is taking place in almost every state
in the country at the exact same time and we are standing together to show
solidarity with the Gulf Coast. We will send the message that we want an
end to offshore oil drilling and we want clean renewable, energy now. I
think that sums it up. If you have any other questions or would like more
information, please feel free to call or email. Thanks!

Warmest Wishes,

Lauren Schuster, Esq.
Staff Attorney
NYPIRG | The New York Public Interest Research Group
9 Murray Street | 3rd Floor | New York, N.Y. 10007
LSchuster@nypirg.org
p. 212.349.6460 | f. 212.349.1366

http://www.nypirg.org/enviro/1sky/

Thanks for replying, Lauren. I still don’t understand how this will actually change anything – who will get the “message” and what do you honestly except them to do with it?

Keith

Hi Keith,

That’s a fair question. So, we hope to and already have started attracting a fair amount of media attention, which is the first step. We are also collecting petition signatures at the event which demand comprehensive climate and clean energy solutions. We will deliver these petition signatures along with pictures of the event and a letter urging out leaders at every level of government to support climate and clean energy legislation next week. Hopefully, the force of hundreds of people from hundreds of organizations across the country doing this at the same time will demonstrate that we’re serious. Finally, bringing people together at an events like this makes everyone feel energized and engaged in the issue. We are going to need a lot of passionate people who are ready to help us move mountains to get climate and energy done. At the end of the day, it’s really about about bringing people together.

With that said, you should come out, see what it’s all about and then you can be involved with the follow up so you can see how a little hand holding can have a big difference.

Warmest Wishes,

Lauren Schuster, Esq.

I think the key word here is “hopefully” – which suggests that even the organisers give little chance of it actually achieving anything. Do you have any examples where such actions have created the kind of change you are asking for? I personally, cannot think of one. All successful actions I am aware of have involved some element of direct action, including sabotage and/or mass disobedience.

Best

Keith


(Cartoon courtesy of Code Green by Stephanie McMillan)

The dialogue continues below – please join in…

UPDATE: Just received this comment from Chandra (see below) who seems to have uncovered some interesting information about the founder of Hands Across The Sand, Dave Rauschkolb. I don’t have the resources to verify everything here, but if it is all true then the movement would seem to be walking on quicksand:

As for the mastermind behind this protest, Dave R., he’s recently announced to our local community that he has ordered the new Nissan Leaf to show his commitment to renewable energy. I once had a conversation with Dave about Peak Oil, of which he had never heard. That’s innocent enough, we were all there once. Dave has personally been invited to numerous sustainable forums over the last few years, of which I don’t recall him ever attending. He’s a very busy man. Dave is a three restaurant owner surf dude, who jet sets all over the world and has been known to indulge in poker excursions to Las Vegas. Dave lives in one of the most affluent developments in our county. I seriously doubt that Dave has evaluated any of his menus for sustainably acquired seafood, yet Dave claims to love the Gulf and care deeply for it’s inhabitants. Dave cut down a vital stand of old sand oaks from the dunes that were impeding the beach views from his latest restaurant endeavor. Dave is now regarded as a local hero and face of environmental stewardship and activism. Dave is planning yet another Hands Across the Sand event for next year. Be sure to get your T-shirt!

Posted in NGO Hypocrisy, Should Know Better, Symbolic Action | 9 Comments »

It’s a Gusher: Outrage Erupts at D.C. Green Groups’ Ties to BP (from WCP)

Posted by keith on 4th June 2010

This had to be republished, for it reinforces many of the things The Unsuitablog has been going on about for years now. As I said a short while ago, the reason I keep raising the hypocrisy of so-called “environmental” NGOs is because organisations like The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, WWF and Greenpeace are doing far more damage than good with their slavish adoration of the corporate world.

It has to end, and it will be ordinary people, like us, that do it.

WaPo’s story yesterday about the cozy ties between BP and the nation’s leading environmental groups has let loose a deluge of angry comments from members of the Arlington-based Nature Conservancy and other groups that have taken millions of dollars from the disgraced oil giant.

Here’s a good one from Cindy D., a Nature Conservancy member who last night accused the organization of censoring comments to its blog: “Why are my comments not being posted? Are the moderators afraid to leave up criticism of NC? I notice that my posts and those of others who are critical of NC have been removed. Even more reason to revoke my membership. Oh, and remember, you don’t moderate the world; there are plenty of other venues in which to expose your hypocrisy.”

You can read more of the e-wrangling between the group’s executives and its members here (provided these comments have not been similarly erased).

The British oil conglomerate has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade to transform its image from that of a dirty old oil company into “Beyond Petroleum” – a company so environmentally friendly it had transcended oil drilling (and spilling) for happy, sunny and clean technologies such as wind and solar. Never mind that the so-called “renewables” never received anywhere near as much investment as the company puts into exploring for and extracting oil and gas.

Most of the money went to the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide but, as the Post’s Joe Stephens points out, the oil giant has shelled out to prominent environmental groups – including several headquartered in the D.C. area. The Nature Conservancy has received nearly $10 million from the company. Crystal City-based Conservation International has received millions more and even gave BP chief executive John Browne a seat on its board from 2000 to 2006. (Browne relinquished his seat about the time a sex scandal ended his reign at BP.) And, the company has had dealings with the Sierra Club, Audubon, Environmental Defense Fund, among others.

While it may seem incongruous to their mission, the environmentalists haven’t tried to hide the corporate dough. They have, in fact, trumpeted their ties to corporations, arguing that these partnerships lead to better corporate environmental policies and less damage to the planet.

So it’s understandable that BP’s latest environmental debacle does not look good for its environmentalist friends – many of whom have been partnering with the company for a decade or more.

For BP, it’s been a decade replete with felony charges, criminal fines and consent decrees with various federal agencies. The Department of Justice ordered BP to pay $70 million in criminal fines and restitution to settle felony charges related to an pipeline leak on Alaska’s North Slope and an explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery that left 15 dead. And that ’s just a partial recap of BP’s various run-ins with the feds.

The unraveling of BP’s “green” marketing efforts would almost seem comical – perhaps poetic justice – if the accident wasn’t wreaking so much havoc in the Gulf of Mexico. By some estimates, it’s already gushed more petroleum than the Exxon Valdez. But much has changed in corporate-environmentalist relations in the 21 years since the Valdez hit a reef and spilled more than 10 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

The most telling quote in Stephens’ story is from Justin Ward, a Conservation International vice president: “Reputational risk is on our minds,” says Ward, eluding to the risk that people may lose all faith in environmental groups that get too close to corporate polluters.

Well, duh! But the interesting thing is the way Ward expressed the growing angst at the conservation group. The term “reputational risk” is a buzzword of companies like BP that have given lavishly to nonprofit organizations as part of their quest to be seen as (but not necessarily to become) “socially responsible” corporations.

It kinda makes you wonder if the environmentalists have been influencing the corporations or if it’s the other way around.

Posted in NGO Hypocrisy, Promotions, Should Know Better, Sponsorship | No Comments »

Jan Lundberg Attacks Sierra Club’s Support for “Clean Cars”

Posted by keith on 8th April 2010

Our good friends The Sierra Club are at it again – this time with regards to motor transport. The Sierra Club believe you can have “clean cars” as demonstrated by this press release, emanating from the new radical Executive Director, Michael Brune (didn’t take long for him to become a member of the establishment, did it?):

New Global Warming and Fuel Economy Standards for Autos a Major Win for America

Washington, D.C.—The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation today finalized important new combined global warming emissions and fuel economy standards for autos for the years 2012-2016. The new standards will bring fuel economy to 35.5 miles per gallon and carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced to 250 grams per mile. The efficiency gains in the autos sold under these standards will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. This is the first time the Clean Air Act has been used to directly tackle global warming emissions and is also the first significant increase in fuel economy standards since the original 1975 CAFE standards.

Statement of Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director

“These standards are a grand slam: billions of dollars in consumer savings at the pump, a huge reduction in oil use, significant cuts in pollution, and they will help a more sustainable domestic auto industry thrive. Sierra Club pushed hard to pass the California law that set the stage for these standards, our members pushed for the Calfornia standards to be adopted in more than a dozen other states across the country, and we defended them all the way to the Supreme Court. The ambitious standards being finalized today were made possible by these years of hard work and we are delighted to see them become the law of the land.

“Today’s new national standards are the result of state leadership and the leadership of President Obama and his cabinet, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Driving vehicle standards forward to 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016 is a result of President Obama’s work to bring together automakers, state leaders, environmentalists, and labor unions to secure a win for the nation.

“The new tailpipe standards, promulgated under the Clean Air Act, demonstrate the Act’s power to spur innovation, fuel economic growth, protect our air, make America more energy independent, and fight global warming. Instead of using this and other important tools in the Clean Air Act to accelerate our transition to a clean energy future, some in Congress want to slam on the brakes and actually shift the country into reverse by gutting the Clean Air Act. We cannot allow this happen. It would be bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and bad for America. The only people it would be good for are Big Oil, big polluters, and America’s enemies overseas who continue to profit from our dangerous dependence on oil.”

Consumer savings? Helping the auto industry thrive? Fuel economic growth?

Not surprisingly, those people who have their hypocrisy detectors switched on, are furious at the double (triple) standards being shown by Sierra Club in this latest industrial-political love-in. Jan Lundberg, editor-in-chief at Culture Change, and expert on the oil industry wrote the following on a climate change forum which deserves to be published – with his permission – as widely as possible:

The Sierra Club is the quintessential “Liberals in Volvos with bumper stickers” imagining that reforming the system will fix inconvenient crises. I don’t mean to minimize good work, especially by Sierra Club chapters. But nationally the Club would not join our Alliance for a Paving Moratorium all through the 1990s because they thought that their anti-sprawl campaign could somehow be effective when more roads were allowed to be built or widened! And if the Club ever opposed a road project, the “solution” was to have the roadway plan relocated so as not to damage a sensitive ecosystem quite so much (as if a nearby ecosystem could be sacrificed instead).

What can you expect from a magazine, Sierra, that has had full page ads from Honda and Toyota for decades? That’s money in the pockets of nonprofit staffers who probably have cars too (and refrigerators, TVs, computers, etc., all of which trash the Earth when an overpopulated society is participating in consumerism).

You and I probably waste our time with these inquiries. In my experience the response is polite and gently defensive, as if the good an organization does makes any deficiencies insignificant.

The idea of 200,000,000 cars replaced in this country by slightly more efficient technology is the height of hypocritical idiocy, both on ecological grounds and from a peak oil standpoint. And as for the 1,000,000 animals smashed to death on U.S. roads every day by clunker and Prius alike — John Muir would not approve for one minute. David Brower did not either, which is one indication of why he was previously sacked as too aggressive for defending Mother Earth.

Jan

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

Swimming in Natural Gas: The Greenwashing of an Industry

Posted by keith on 13th January 2010

Gas Flaring

From COMMON DREAMS, January 4, 2010

There has never been a better moment for natural gas. It is the “other” fossil fuel, touted as a clean alternative to coal and oil. It may be non-renewable, proponents argue, but it is a bridge or transition fuel to a happier future. Not surprisingly, the industry has gone to great lengths to persuade local residents, members of congress, and the public at large that there’s nothing to worry about. Chesapeake Energy Corporation, one of the major players drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from New York to Tennessee, has successfully billed itself as an environmentally friendly operation.

So when Cabot Oil and Gas, a Houston based energy company, was fined for several hydraulic fracturing fluid spills in northeastern Pennsylvania last year, Chesapeake took the opportunity to distance itself from what had become an embarrassing situation. In addition to the frack fluid spills, there were numerous reports of contaminated drinking water wells in Dimock, PA. On New Year’s Day 2009, a resident’s drinking water well exploded, ripping apart an eight by eight foot slab of concrete. The Dimock experience had the potential to become an industry nightmare, perhaps even derailing efforts to drill in New York State. “Certainly, when an operation isn’t meeting the regulations laid out by the state, it doesn’t reflect well on the industry,” Chesapeake’s director of corporate development for the company’s eastern division told a group of executives at an event in November.

The natural gas industry has had little trouble attracting powerful and influential boosters. It has been championed by oil and gas executive T. Boone Pickens, who happens to own Cabot and Warren Buffett, the oracle himself. At the inauguration of the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus in October, Pickens, the keynote speaker, declared, “We are swimming in natural gas.” Residents of Dimock, many of whom have sued Cabot for poisoning their water, may take a slightly different view of natural gas’s potential. In December, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a consent order requiring that the company provide clean water or filtration devices to 13 families within a nine-square -mile area. They also slapped them with a $120,000 fine.

More recently, according to the Wall Street Journal, Chesapeake’s chief executive, Aubrey McClendon, has been touring the country alongside the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope trumpeting the benefits of natural gas. Its biggest selling point is that it burns cleaner than coal and oil, though the impact of extracting it from deep shale formations is highly controversial. It also requires the use of large amounts of diesel fuel to keep compressors and other machinery operating 24/7. Responding to criticism from local affiliates, particularly in New York and Pennsylvania, Pope asked, “Will the 20% of the membership that happens to live in places where drilling is happening be unhappy? I’m sure that’s true.” So much for grassroots organizing.

In early December I drove through Bradford County, PA and stopped in Towanda, the county seat. The small town of about 3,000 people, located on the Susquehanna River, is humming with activity. The Towanda Motel, on the northern edge of town, has been entirely occupied by Chesapeake employees since April. No Vacancy signs hang from the office window and a security guard keeps watch over the premises. The company’s fleet of shiny white pick-ups and SUVs can be seen everywhere, harbingers of what seems to be a very important mission. Nearly everyone I met had leased their land, from the young man who owned the Victorian Charm Inn where I stayed to the woman who worked in the county clerk’s office (open late now on Tuesdays and Thursdays to accommodate “abstracters,” company reps who comb through deeds going back to the early 19th century to find out if there might be any obstacles to acquiring mineral rights from local landowners). When I asked the owner of a local diner if things had improved in Towanda since Chesapeake came to town she replied curtly, “Sometimes.” Meanwhile, Chesapeake has opened a regional office in what was once an Ames Department Store on the south side of town.

On my way through I picked up a copy of the local paper, The Daily Review. Chesapeake had taken out a full page ad on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, describing the process as one that “pumps a pressurized mixture of 99.5% sand and water with a small amount of special purpose additives,” into a well bore to shatter the rock and release the gas. The ad goes on to note that, “The additives…include compounds found in common household products.” They fail to acknowledge, however, that the fracking formula, which varies from well to well depending on the geology of the region, is considered proprietary and we still do not fully know what is being pumped underground. The industry, which has been exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and CERCLA since 2005, has never been forced to publicly disclose the contents of the fluids it uses to fracture wells. The so-called Halliburton Loophole, inserted into the 2005 energy bill, was a gift of the Bush-Cheney administration (Halliburton invented the process of hydraulic fracturing), and essentially said that the EPA no longer had the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

Dr. Theo Coburn of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) has compiled what is probably the most comprehensive list of both drilling and fracturing chemicals based in part on samples from a well in Park County, Wyoming where a breach in surface casing released drilling fluids in 2006. They have uncovered 435 fracturing products that contain 344 chemicals including ammonium nitrate, ethanol, methane, and diesel. According to the TEDX Web site, “As natural gas production rapidly increases across the U.S., its associated pollution has reached the stage where it is contaminating essential life support systems – water, air, and soil – and causing harm to the health of humans, wildlife, domestic animals, and vegetation.”

Chesapeake has done a pretty good job of maintaining its environmentally friendly image, though two recent infractions reveal that accidents are perhaps inevitable and that Cabot Oil and Gas is not necessarily the exception.

On New Year’s Eve, evidence of a spill or contaminate release at a drilling site in Wayne County, PA was reported after aerial photos taken by an environmental watchdog group, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, uncovered damage to trees near a well pad. The photos show a row of dead, leafless trees extending from the drill pad. Chesapeake had not reported the spill, which would be a violation of state law if indeed they were aware that it happened. According to the Times Tribune, a “weathered petroleum product” was discharged into a forested area and soil samples show that it contained elevated concentrations of barium and chloride.

Perhaps more damaging were reports in early December of a large hydrochloric acid spill in Asylum Township not far from Towanda. The spill was said to have released 295 gallons of acid into the surrounding soil. According to the DEP’s consent assessment the acid contaminated soil was neutralized with soda ash and hydrated lime, 126 tons of impacted soil was excavated, and approximately 13,817 gallons of hydrochloric acid/water mixture were removed from the well site. According to a DEP spokesman, the contaminated soil was taken to a landfill in New Springfield, Ohio. Although Chesapeake reported the spill to the DEP in February when it occurred the clean up and investigation was only publicized in December after the company was fined a civil penalty of just over $15,500.

When I reached Asylum Township supervisor Kevin Barrett, who happens to grow corn just below the drill site, he said the company dealt with the spill responsibly. It was in a remote area of the township about a half-mile from a major water source or residence on land owned by a family that does not live there. Asked if he was worried that his corn might be contaminated with hydrochloric acid, he said the spill was small and posed no threat to humans, wetlands, or wildlife.

However, according to the DEP report, the estimated leakage rate was 7.5 gallons per hour, though “Chesapeake personnel did not know how long the tank had been leaking.” Chesapeake notified the DEP on February 9, 2009 that a leak had been discovered at around 9 a.m. A DEP representative arrived at 1 p.m. and Chesapeake’s emergency contractor six hours later. If we take the company’s figure of 295 gallons of spilled acid that means the tank was leaking for close to 42 hours. Presumably the tank was leaking hydrochloric acid for nearly 30 hours before anyone knew anything about it or bothered to report it to the DEP. So was all of the contaminated soil contained and removed?

Accidents do happen, Barrett told me. It’s part of the price of doing business. Something McClendon and the Sierra Club’s Pope might like to acknowledge as they make the case for an industry whose green credentials are far from certain.

“But we have to find a cheap alternative to coal!” Scream the denizens of Industrial Civilization, scared that perhaps the foundations of their beloved, energy-hungry world are starting to crumble. Keep screaming, one way on another it’s going to end in tears.

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