24 November 2013

Co-opted, Manipulated and Had

Another series of convergences in my life this week, the second week of the 19th COP in Warsaw, coal capital of the world. 

Last Sunday afternoon, I went for a walk with a friend who wanted to talk over some work ideas. But before she brought up her latest plans, we talked for a while about a dilemma she's been experiencing. She's someone who likes to focus deeply rather than spread her attention and resources widely. Which environmental NGO, she was wondering, should she support? That led to a discussion about hope (schmope) versus optimism (a topic I'm getting sick of) versus just getting busy promoting a change in political will. (Which didn't help her decision making because both the ENGOs she knows and loves are focusing on changing political will these days. Alas.)

That led to a discussion about conspiracies, particularly the theory (my theory, but not mine alone) that many ENGOs have been co-opted by the corporate world — not blatantly or overtly, but by being kept busy adopting business models (rather than keeping or adopting a grassroots model) and kowtowing to their foundation funders, most of whom are fronts for big corporate interests. 

The greatest example here on the west coast of Canada is all the money and energy being thrown into keeping (more) oil tankers from plying our coastal waters, and therefore stopping construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline, and now the twinned Kinder Morgan pipeline. All the while that thousands of British Columbians are giving money (and getting money) to stop these potentials, rich Americans are actually already buying up rail lines and tank cars and are moving more and more tar sands oil by rail. I've actually had two or three environmentally concerned friends tell me they don't believe it. I guess they don't read Bloomberg or the Financial Post

Oh man, what the heck was I telling you about? (I just got sucked into the internet vortex, looking for those links!)

Oh yes, convergences. 

A couple of days later, another friend sent me an article called How to Win the Media War Against Grassroots Activists. If you choose to read it, prepare to finally believe that ignorance is bliss. 

Ronald Duchin, of the PR firm Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin (MBD), once (or a dozen times) gave a talk entitled "Take an Activist Apart and What Do You Have? And How Do You Deal with Him/Her?" In it, Duchin referred to different subtypes of activists: "radicals, idealists, realists and opportunists." From the article:
Radical activists "want to change the system; have underlying socio/political motives" and see multinational corporations as "inherently evil," explained Duchin. "These organizations do not trust the … federal, state and local governments to protect them and to safeguard the environment. They believe, rather, that individuals and local groups should have direct power over industry … I would categorize their principal aims … as social justice and political empowerment." 
The "idealist" is easier to deal with, according to Duchin's analysis. "Idealists … want a perfect world…. Because of their intrinsic altruism, however … [they] have a vulnerable point.... If they can be shown that their position is in opposition to an industry … and cannot be ethically justified, they [will] change their position."
So, all you idealistic activists, you've been had! But there's more:
The two easiest subtypes to join the corporate side of the fight are the "realists" and the "opportunists." By definition, an "opportunist" takes the opportunity to side with the powerful for career gain, Duchin explained, and has skin in the game for "visibility, power [and] followers." 
The realist, by contrast, is more complex but the most important piece of the puzzle, says Duchin. "[Realists are able to] live with trade-offs; willing to work within the system; not interested in radical change; pragmatic. The realists should always receive the highest priority in any strategy dealing with a public policy issue."
So, all you pragmatic realists, you've been manipulated. 
Duchin outlined a corresponding three-step strategy to "deal with" these four activist subtypes. First, isolate the radicals. Second, "cultivate" the idealists and "educate" them into becoming realists. And finally, co-opt the realists into agreeing with industry. 
"If your industry can successfully bring about these relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy solution," Duchin outlined in closing his speech.

We have all been had and manipulated. We've all been thinking that the corporate types, when they realized what climate chaos would do to their kids' future, would come around in time. But no. They are in a deadly game where the winner takes all, at all costs, then dies anyway, taking his children and most life on the planet with him.

Meanwhile, what of the environmental NGOs? Well, have a wander around The Wrong Kind of Green (forget it; looks like it's been hacked). It presents a fascinating look at how we've been manipulated, co-opted or, at best, simply kept "busy in the bushes," as a friend used to say about our movement.

A right-kind-of-green friend wrote to say that in an ENGO she's been involved with, "the people are so deep in denial and their own delusional idea of 'successful campaigns' that their posts are no longer worth reading. Same old nonsense. They refuse to accept where we are at. They refuse to accept/acknowledge science. We are so human-centric that I guess we believe that what we want is more powerful than nature herself."

This reminded me (convergences, remember?) of the film we watched earlier this week, The Island President. I hadn't realized that Mohamed Nasheed (of the Maldives) sold out at the Copenhagen climate talks. In the movie, you can pretty much pinpoint the moment when his ego takes over! It's an interesting point in the film (and if you're in love with this 350.orger man, you likely won't see it). 

He doesn't see himself slipping from "I must do something to save my people" into "I must do something to save these talks — because, look at all these important people who are meeting and talking with me." One of his key advisors (his environment minister, I think) notices the sell-out-in-the-making and calls him on it, but the president can't see it and pretty much asks him to be quiet.

In other words, it was almost like Duchin was there using his tactics to "deal with" this Maldivian idealist. In fact, that moment in climate change history would make an *excellent* case study of how we're all being co-opted, manipulated and had.

17 November 2013

Ho Ho Hum, Another Climate Change Conference

Here we are, in the middle of the annual United Nations climate conference (known as the 19th Conference of the Parties or COP 19) being held in Warsaw ... and who gives a flying leap? As Canada's CBC News explains: 
"Expectations for this one are even lower than usual, after the disappointments and plodding progress of the last few conferences."
Even that is overstating it. There has been no "progress" at these conferences at all. Some activists never got over the crash-and-burn fiasco (and complete loss of hope for global action) at the Copenhagen COP in 2009. (Remember Hopenhagen? Remember why I started this blog?) But hey, nice logo, eh?

No, negotiators from almost 200 countries just sit in a big hall and talk, and then they sit and talk some more, and sit and talk and sit and talk. And in the end, they dramatically stay up all night so that they can agree to maybe sort of kinda perhaps someday possibly agree to agree on something one day off in the future, if the stars are in alignment and not a single rich person or corporation anywhere has to lose one single cent to stave off the climate change crisis.

Why, oh why, do they bother with this charade? They would all be better off rehearsing for a Christmas pantomime together instead. (I'd pay for tickets to see it!)

It does seem there's a moment of realness at each COP, however. This year's moment, as I'm sure you know by now, was an impassioned plea from the Philippines' delegate, Naderev (Yeb) Saño, following the devastation of Super Typhoon Haiya that impacted hundreds of thousands of people in his homeland. He is now on a hunger strike, which people around the world have joined in on, until the end of the COP.

But there they sit (and talk and sit and talk and mainly sit), while the following headlines swirl around them:
Greenhouse gas levels hit new record high [oh, but the Americans shipped some of theirs overseas, so it must all be a hoax or something] 
Time for climate change fix running out, IEA warns [yeah, that's the International Energy Agency — you know, the fossil fuellers — telling us that]
World temperatures go off the chart by 2047, study says [yup, that's in our children's lifetime] 
Climate change draft report predicts war, heat waves, starvation [duh! how long have we been warning about this?]
Leading climate change understanders have been trying to warn the world for years. This year, a leading voice is Mary Robinson, former Irish president and head of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice. Speaking directly to my country, she said, "Moving to a low-carbon economy would be very good for Canadians' futures, and for everyone's future. And as well as that, we don't have a choice. We're running out of time."

Ms Robinson is also reported to have said that "If you're serious about preventing the worst of climate change, you have to leave that bitumen, oil and gas in the ground." Hey, is there an echo in here?

But they'll all just sit and talk and sit and talk. But it's not like they're sitting on their thumbs (which I suppose is an expression that means "doing nothing"). No, they're all sitting on their crossed fingers, hoping like hell that what just happened to the Philippines won't happen to their country. 

At least, not before the next COP.

(Please know that although I can sound flippant at times, I see this international procrastinating as the greatest ever crime against humanity ... and it breaks my heart.)

10 November 2013

Meeting a Witness to the Evil


noun: profound immorality, wickedness and depravity

adjective: profoundly immoral and malevolent; harmful or tending to harm

Yesterday we had lunch with one of my husband's climate change heroes, a physicist. They've been corresponding online for many years and Peter holds this gentleman in very high esteem. So it was a great honour for us that he took time away from a conference he's attending nearby to spend some time with us. 

I'm not sure what I was expecting (green scales and horns, perhaps, recalling our last encounter with a physicist). I'm a humanities major, and science has always felt quite foreign to me. I'm happy to say that it turned out to be a wonderful experience! A meeting of like minds and hearts. The conversation was the kind you have with a good friend you haven't seen in years. It flowed well, with lots of laughter and agreement.

But there were some very serious discussions, too. When it comes to the world of climate change science, this fellow has witnessed what I would call "evil" at several different levels. 

For starters (and I must admit, I don't know what order to list these evils in), this man has been vilely slandered and threatened not only by people who are scientifically ignorant, but also by people who, it turns out, are raking in the money from their fossil fuel involvements and investments. Are not conflicts of interest like this, when implicated in keeping the public and their governments from acting on the climate change emergency, villainous?

Next, this climate change scientist has built his whole scientific career on observation, but observing is now considered out of vogue in this age of computer modelling. When the lives of billions of people are at stake, is it not reprehensible and unforgivable to ignore reality if it doesn't fit with your computer modelled view of the world?

And finally, he has been part of the IPCC and has witnessed the contempt of some of his colleagues in that process. It's worse than what I blogged about a few weeks ago (The IPCC: "All About Modelling, Not About Protecting the Earth"). It appears that in some cases, even though the Fifth Assessment Report accepted new research up to 2012, if that research disagreed with a particular bias, it didn't get included.
Now, I understand human nature and world views and biases (after all, scientists are only human), but that's where peer review comes in. Except that in some cases, that review was rejected. Sounds like ego to me. And when the future viability of our biosphere is at stake, is not allowing ego to interfere with good science, well, evil?
It was a lovely lunch with a wonderful gent, but I came away saddened that our suspicions, notions and observations of evil had been validated by someone within the fray of international climate change science.

It's time to redouble our efforts on the side of good!
UPDATE: I just heard about the possible death toll from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. My heart goes out to my friends there and to everyone impacted by this super storm. What a terrifying experience it must have been for them. 

03 November 2013

Woke Up This Morning - A Compassion Tune-Up

We're on a mini-vacation this weekend (to recharge our food- and rest-powered batteries). We live in a fairly small island community (13 square miles and 2500 people, many of whom disappear about this time every year). 

About twice a year, my husband and I get "cabin fever" and need to "get off the rock." This is one of those times. 

(Funny thing is, we missed tons of "excitement" yesterday! Monsoon-style rains and high winds brought a tree down across the main road, caused a car accident, and cut the power for four hours. One of our inter-island ferries hit a dock and nearly ran aground just off a neighbouring island due to gusting winds. And passengers on a ferry that did venture out into the strait later in the day saw a super pod of about a thousand white-sided dolphins! See what happens when we leave our little rock?)

So I'd simply like to share this beautiful, heart-rending song with you this morning, as a compassion tune-up. It's called Woke Up and it's by Emily Maguire. 

Listen closely. Feel deeply. Enjoy your day. Then get back into the fray of helping politicians and other leaders make the right choices for mitigating climate chaos, choices that are becoming more and more complex all the time, the longer we wait. 

(And remember, if the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska contributed to the GDP (gross domestic product), then certainly spending money to safeguard the future of life on our precious planet should be seen as benefitting the economy, especially if we adopt the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as our measure. Don't let anyone tell you that it's going to be too expensive, or that it's going to ruin us. That's garbage.)

I offer this in honour of all those still suffering or struggling a year after Tropical Storm Sandy hit the East Coast of North America.

WOKE UP by Emily Maguire

I woke up this morning
All the trees were gone
A concrete jungle left outside
Oh no

They said on the radio
The seas were warm
And all the fish had gone and died
Oh no

So what do we do now?

I woke up this morning
All our water's gone
But now the ocean's at my door
Oh no

They said on the radio
A storm would come
And wash away my neighbourhood
Oh no

So what do we do now?

I woke up this morning
All the birds were gone
And politicians act alarmed
Oh no

They said on the radio
We'll wait and see
The economy cannot be harmed
Oh no

But can you see?
Do you believe it now?