The environmental movement has enjoyed smooth, mostly untroubled progress since its beginnings in the 1960s, when its activists romped around the northern sea floes off the coast of Labrador. The enviros migrated with almost the same punctuality as the seals: Every spring, you could treat yourself to the sight of them bobbing up and down on the ice-pans, high-bosomed starlets stroking the pelts of large-eyed newsmen and seals alike, whole platoons of photographers aiming for the perfect cute shot, and a kite tail of various enthusiasts and camp followers to give a sense of noise and drama. Labrador is more or less quiet these days: Those Who Care have decamped to the oil sands and other pastures.
Robert Redford, when he can tear himself away from the general dorkiness of the Sundance Festival, is big on saving the planet these days. James Cameron can generally be found rustling the vines somewhere in the Amazon rain forest. Leonardo DiCaprio is always good for a Vanity Fair cover as long as its backlit and there’s a polar bear somewhere. Mixing it up with the environmental crusaders is good PR for Hollywood one-percenters — takes the heat off their monstrous paydays, their jets and, for that matter, most of their silly movies.
Some enviro groups have grown corporate in size, techniques and attitude. Greenpeace is now to the environmental world what GM used to be to the automobile world. The various Sierra Clubs dot the world like McDonald’s. As the example of Canada’s own Northern Gateway pipeline shows, modern environmental protestors have refined a basic set of skills to near perfection: deploying legal challenges to stall a project, taking advantage of hearings to protract and delay, signing on huge numbers of groups and individuals to take part in such hearings. They are expert at singling out one activity and applying all their focus and energy toward stopping it.
Updated below by Tom Harris
The big-name environmental groups are routinely excellent communicators — faster, clearer and quicker with the message than governments or industry. I credit them for this, incidentally. Good for them that they have tuned themselves so finely, learned the game. Businesses and politicians have always been way behind in the new world of publicity and protest, and it is their own fault — half-laziness and half arrogance — that they are.
The greatest advantage the greens have had is the relative absence of scrutiny from the press. Generally speaking, it’s thought to be bad manners to question self-appointed environmentalists. Their good cause, at least in the early days, was enough of a warrant in itself. And when it was your aunt protesting the incinerator just outside town, well that was enough. But when it’s some vast congregation of 20,000 at an international conference, or thousands lining up to present briefs protesting a pipeline, well, let’s just say this is not your aunt’s protest movement anymore.
There is no such thing as investigative environmental reporting — or rather very precious little of it in the established media. Environmental reporters rarely question the big environmental outfits with anything like the fury they will bring to questioning politicians or businesspeople. Advocacy and reportage are sometimes close as twins.
And so the great thing I see about Resource Minister Joe Oliver’s little rant against Northern Gateway pipeline opponents a few days ago — asking whether some groups are receiving “outside money” or if they are proxies for other interests — is not so much the rant itself, but rather the fact that at last some scrutiny, some questions are being asked of these major players. Big environment, however feebly, is being asked to present its bona fides. And that’s a good thing: The same rigor we bring to industry and government, in looking to their motives, their swift dealing, must also apply to crusading greens.
Where does their money come from? What are their interests in such and such a hearing? What other associations do they have? Are they a cat’s paw for other interests? Do they have political affiliations that would impugn their testimony? In hearings as important as the ones over the Northern Gateway pipeline, with the jobs and industry that are potentially at stake, the call to monitor who is participating in those hearings is a sound and rational one.
No one should be excluded from those hearings — at least, no one who has a solid and honest objection to the project. But some amount of transparency from all those environmental groups that demand “transparency” from everyone else is a reasonable ambition as well. Let us have some vetting of the vetters. To that degree, I applaud the Minister.
Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV’s The National and is host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup.
Update from Tom Harris...
Earlier today, I added the following comment after the article. The money issue is ICSC's biggest obstacle right now and so I am all ears if people have suggestions:
Here is my comment as it appears on the National Post Web site - fee free to send it or post it anywhere you like:
., many of the crusades of the environmental movement are very easy to contest because, in general, the science is often NOT on their side.
However, most of the scientists who know this are either too poor at communicating in layman's language or don't know the ins and outs of media so that they can get covered broadly, or simply don't have the time to do the desperately needed communications job done so well by environmental movement. That is especially true in the case of the climate debate in which much of the science of alarmists is either wrong or grossly exaggerated, but they have literally hundreds of millions of dollars to make their case, misguided though it usually is.
That is why the International Climate Science Coalition was created in 2007, to help these scientists simplify their messages so that the average person can understand them and then to help these experts get heard in main stream media. While we have been successful in many areas--radio, TV, newspapers, at UN conferences, in public presentations, and most recently the senate hearing that you can read about on our Website--we face several barriers to progress if we are to move beyond being a prototype organization demonstrating the potential impact of the science-based, nonpartisan, international approach we take:
1 - the first is obvious, namely main stream media's resistance to publishing or broadcasting anything opposed to their environmentalist allies (and in many cases, they are allies, not just providers of timely, easy to use copy). This necessitates that we make many, many submissions of, say, any newspaper OpEd, to get just a few published. To do this takes manpower and to have that manpower takes money, which leads to our second obstacle.
2 - industry are afraid to fund us in case they are found out (although all donations to ICSC are confidential), so, unlike the climate campaigners who have dump truck loads of money from corporations (have a look at the David Suzuki Foundation's annual report on the Web, for example), we have none at all. This means that we rely on donations from the average person, typically in the $100 range. The only way we can compete with the heavily funded enviros then is if we get literally thousands of donations. But, we don't; we get perhaps a few hundred a year, which keeps our organization in the prototype stage forever since we can't hire contractors to help us out, buy ads, go to conferences, etc. as our opponents do all the time.
ICSC has demonstrated how to beat the extreme enviros and, in our small way, we continue to do that, but without adequate financial support we remain a relative small fry in the debate, only able to contribute what we can with the resources we have.
One of two things needs to happen for ICSC to play a more prominent role in ending the climate scare. Either the big funders in corporations and foundations need to get over their fear of funding a politically incorrect (but scientifically correct) organization, or more of the public needs to do more than send us supportive messages (which we appreciate but can only take us so far). It takes considerable money to be at UN conferences, put out news releases on major wire services (translated for different countries - for example, our 2009 Copenhagen news release cost over $6,000 to get into a dozen media markets (where it was very well reported on, BTW)) and support scientists who need help preparing testimony, articles, speeches, etc.
Suzuki knows this which is why he ends his talks (at least those that I have seen) with an appeal for financial support and the left have been very generous in supporting his cause. Strangely, those on the right and the centre are generally much less generous to support the counters to Suzuki et al and so we continue to be unable to expand our message enough to properly contest the climate alarm.
At this point, it is all about the volume of work we can do. We know our message works in bringing people--left, right and centre--over to climate realism. ICSC simply needs the resources to do a great deal more of what we are already doing.
Suggestions and support is very welcome. Oh, and BTW, Rex Murphy is generally right on with his analyses, scientifically as well as economically and politically.
International Climate Science Coalition