‘A toxic soup’: why a Winnipeg neighbourhood is fighting for its right to a healthy environment
Lead, dust and soil so contaminated it isn’t fit for food gardens are a part...
Canadians are inundated with ads from Enbridge, Cenovus, Kinder Morgan, Shell and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
But we’re also targeted by a more insidious type of PR brought into the spotlight by the New York Times scoop on a speech Richard Berman gave to the Western Energy Alliance.
In that speech, Berman told the group’s members — mostly oil and gas companies — they had to be prepared to "win ugly" in an "endless war" against environmentalists.
We are now finding out we are also subjected to secretly funded propaganda from groups like the “Environmental Policy Alliance” (whose self-conciously chosen initials are EPA, the same as the U.S. government’s Environment Protection Agency), or the more obviously biased “Big Green Radicals.”
Let’s take publicity-averse oil and gas players like the Koch brothers, for example. They are one of the largest leaseholders in the oilsands, and major contributors to Canada's Fraser Institute. Their combined net worth of $85.4 billion is greater than that of Bill Gates. And they are no doubt secretly spending untold sums of money influencing elections throughout North America, lobbying against environmental groups and attempting to ridicule or “diminish [progessives'] moral authority.”
Propaganda, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, is “an organized program of publicity, selected information, etc., used to propagate a doctrine, practice, etc.”
It is regarded as misleading and dishonest. It often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. Propaganda can be used as a form of ideological or commercial warfare.
Enter Vivian Krause, the “researcher” who has spent years attacking Canada’s environmental groups.
Looking at a July 2014 Alberta Oil article penned by Krause, one can’t help but note how she delicately skirts around issues like the value of intact ecosystems and their useful services. She also ignores anthropogenic global warming and instead funnels the entire support system for Canada’s environmental advocacy groups down into her favoured conspiracy theory: the plan to destroy Canada’s fossil fuel industry to protect U.S. interests.
To do this, Krause needs some serious blinders on. For example, she describes a strategy paper called “Designed to Win: Philanthropy’s Role in the Fight Against Global Warming.” The phrase “global warming” is right there in front of her, in black and white, but she skips around it and zooms in on a pejorative view of the “education campaigns” to shift investment into large-scale renewable energy — as if going from fossil fuels to renewables was just some random, self-serving business decision.
She makes no mention of the concerns of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the American Association for the Advancement of Science or the World Bank (does she see them all as a soft, self-serving and self-indulgent elite?), all of whom think that global climate change is a really big issue, and all of whom have far more credibility than Krause.
Krause writes disparagingly of the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity, an organization created in 1987 by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Over the years, it has morphed into a focal point for philanthropic foundations that want to help make a better world. The stated vision of the organization is: “A sustainable, just and healthy future for all life on Earth, advanced by a vibrant and effective philanthropic sector.”
These high-minded goals are of no interest to Krause. All she cares about is that some of the $440 million handed out all over the world by the 64 charitable foundations that compose this organization has gone to Canadian environmental groups and First Nations communities, and some of that portion of their donations has been used to advocate against expansion of fossil fuel extraction, processing and transport.
But the real monstrosity of her claim is highlighted by a look at the bigger picture in which Krause’s critique is placed.
Adding up all the money that has been spent by American charitable foundations on environmental issues in Canada in the last 15 years — that appears to be the timeframe of Krause’ analysis — the entire sum, from the numbers scattered here and there in her article, is about $500 million.
That may seem like a very large sum of money at first glance, but put in context it’s not. First of all, this is spread across dozens of organizations and across a decade and a half, making the annual grants to any single organization modest.
Secondly, dwarfing these sums is the vast fiscal colossus of the fossil fuel industry itself. While berating environmental groups and their funders, Krause makes no mention of the astonishing wealth taken in and spent by the oil and gas industry on a constant, relentless basis, day in and day out.
In the year 2013, the players in the oil and gas industry who are connected just to the oilsands — let’s call them “the Bitumen Boys” — earned the following astronomical sums:
What is obvious in this table is that the in-and-out totals of the Bitumen Boys, and the profits delivered to shareholders, as well as the total revenue stream, dwarf anything received from philanthropy by several orders of magnitude. Of the 22 companies listed, most profited more in one year, by many multiples, than their non-profit counterparts gained in 15 years.
In fact, the total profits of these 22 Bitumen Boys in one fiscal year — $142.7 billion — is 284 times the entire sum of money given to all environmental groups mentioned by Krause over 15 fiscal years.
Put another way, all the money given to environmental groups over 15 years was 0.35 per cent of the net annual profits of the companies developing the oilsands.
Yet Krause finishes her Alberta Oil article by saying: “For the fossil fuel industries, the battle with environmental activists is no longer David versus Goliath.”
It’s misleading and dishonest and she’s got to know that isn’t the case. Propaganda anyone?
We don’t know the exact amount of money Enbridge is spending on its ad campaigns, because the cost for this public relations blitz is buried in generalized headings like “operating and administrative” or similar non-specific designations.
Krause never mentions oil company expenditures. Couple it with the plethora of opaque front groups like Ethical Oil that play by the Richard Berman playbook, and it’s clear that only the industry's inner circle can find out who pays for what.
Krause casts a blind eye toward oil industry spending, as well as the biological and climatological science that motivates many philanthropic foundations and non-profit groups to take action. She also adamantly skirts mention of the massive profits that motivate the fossil fuel industry.
If Krause wants to opine that global climate change, widespread pollution, population growth, species loss and over-exploitation of biological resources are minor issues, then she and I (along with most other Canadians) part company.
I’m throwing my lot in with the IPCC, with ecological economists like UBC’s Bill Rees, with my colleague John O’Connor whose direct field observations as a physician raise serious concerns about oilsands development, with the economists who are taking climate change seriously and with the public relations industry that has ruled out working with climate deniers.
The question is: who’s left to throw their lot in with Krause?
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