Now, the “ethical oil” campaign has a new backer: Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama and current Principal of SKDKnickerbocker, a public relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C.; New York City and Albany.
The T.V. ad then switches to serene music and landscape views with pipeline stretched across it, alluding to “ethical oil” coming from Canada if the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline is approved by both the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama.
This is Part One of a three-part series on the political greenwashing of the tar sands in Canada.
When I hatched the idea to write a book about the use of spin and propaganda in the battle over the tar sands, a close friend of mine suggested I avoid the term “tar sands.” His logic was simple: using this term, which has become a pejorative, would turn some people off, people who might benefit, he said, from reading my book.
His recommendation was meant to be helpful, but it speaks to the power of manipulating language to make people believe something appears to be something that it is not. “Greenwashing” refers to the strategy of intentionally exaggerating a product’s environmental credentials in order to sell it, and nowhere has greenwashing been more generously used than in the promotion of the tar sands and the new and bigger pipelines that proponents hope will carry it around the world.
Greenwashing is fairly recent phenomenon—it was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999—but it has become commonplace as public concern has grown over the spate of environmental problems we now face, and as consumers demand “greener” products as a means of solving them. The most recent analysis by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing found that although the number of green products is growing, the marketing of more than 95 per cent of them still commits one the seven sins of greenwashing.
The most urgent environmental threat to Canadians isn’t climate change, the declining health of our oceans, or the extinction of species. It’s the pollution filling our nation’s public square.
The public square – the forum for free debate that we depend on in a democracy – is being choked by misinformation, denial and bitter adversarial rhetoric. It is causing the Canadian public to turn away in despair, creating an epidemic of mistrust and what’s worse, disinterest.
Instead of open and healthy debate, dysfunctional public conversations have become the norm, preventing us from confronting the reality of our destructive impact on the planet. We seem unable or unwilling to weigh facts honestly, disagree constructively and deliberate collectively.
This is the third and final post in the series China-Canada Investment “Straitjacket:” Exclusive Interview with Gus Van Harten. You can access Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Canada has already begun the short countdown to the day the China-Canada Investment Deal becomes ratified in the House of Commons, although the nation has been granted no opportunity to clarify or discuss the full economic or environmental significance of the agreement - the most significant in Canada's history since NAFTA.
International investment lawyer and trade agreement expert Gus Van Harten has landed center-stage in the controversy as one of the only figures willing and qualified to speak up against the investment agreement. He told DeSmog that Canada's rush to enter into an investment deal of this sort endangers Canadian democracy, threatens Canadian sovereignty and could fracture the government's loyalty to its people.
In this post, the final segment of our interview with Van Harten, he discusses in more detail just how bad this deal is for Canada economically and how much it threatens to corrupt our way of doing business.
On March 25, 2012, the Compliance Division of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) received a letter from Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP (aka JSS Barristers). In 11 detailed pages, JSS Barristers lodged a complaint against Environmental Defence, a charity registered with the CRA, on behalf of Ezra Levant’s brainchild, the Ethical Oil Institute. A month later, on April 24, the JSS-Ethical Oil team sent the CRA a second, similar letter, this one a 44-page imputation that the David Suzuki Foundation, like Environmental Defence, was “in contravention of the CRA rules surrounding registered charities and political activity.”
According to the CRA, and as echoed in the Ethical Oil Institute’s complaints against Environmental Defence and the Suzuki Foundation, a charity may not be created for a political purpose, and it can't “take part in an illegal activity or a partisan political activity.” Specifically, the CRA states that charitable organizations must devote “substantially all” (i.e. 90%) of their resources to charitable activities, and that any political activity is “subordinate” to its stated purpose.
That's not to say that charities can't promote their work and educate the public about issues that have political implications. But in doing so they must ensure that public awareness campaigns aren't their “primary activity, and their information must be “well-reasoned.” It goes without saying that they don't connect their views to specific political parties or candidates.
As an example, the CRA states that “a purpose such as improving the environment by reducing the sulphur content of gasoline would very likely require changes in government regulations. Generally, any purpose that suggests convincing or needing people to act in a certain way and which is contingent upon a change to law or government policy (e.g., “the abolition of” or “the total suppression of animal experimentation”) is a political purpose.”
Given all of this, and given the Ethical Oil Institute’s obvious concern about registered charities flouting CRA rules — namely, engaging in partisan political activity, or spending too much time and money influencing public opinion about laws, policies, or government decisions — it’s surprising that Ethical Oil didn’t send a third letter complaining about perhaps the most politically partisan of all Canadian charities — the infamous Fraser Institute.
Some supposedly “Canadian” oil companies including Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Imperial Oil and Husky are predominantly owned by foreign interests. More than half of Canada’s oil and gas revenue goes to companies under foreign control.
This revelation stands in stark contrast to the talking points of the Harper administration and its media echo chamber, which insist that there is too much foreign influence over Canada's resource decisions from environmental groups. In fact, the evidence shows overwhelmingly that foreign interests are influencing tar sands and other resource decisions - chiefly Chinese and other foreign oil companies.
Recall that when the Ethical Oil Institute launched its allegedly “100% Canadian” OurDecision.ca website, this was the statement by spokesperson Kathryn Marshall: “We’ll never take foreign money to undermine our country’s national interests.”
The group admits that it receives funding from companies active in the tar sands. Now that it's been revealed that all these companies are predominently foreign-owned, the group's claims to be 100% Canadian are highly misleading. We await their statement correcting the record.
Anticipating that someone, perhaps from the 'ethical oil' team, will quickly attempt to do damage control by claiming that this is just some ginned up report by ForestEthics, let's be crystal clear that the data underlying the report are all from independent sources including Bloomberg Professional and industry journals.
U.S. libertarian oil billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch have poured at least half a million dollars into The Fraser Institute over the last few years. In case you haven't been following their trail, here's a bit about them:
If the Koch brothers didn't exist, the left would have to invent them. They're the plutocrats from central casting – oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits.
According to The New Yorker, “The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.”
Along our journey we discovered the proposed wolf cull bears a striking resemblance to another ploy designed to protect the interests of the oil and gas industry: the “ethical oil” campaign.
Here are 3 basic points of resemblance between the two:
1.The Bait-and-Switch:Both the wolf cull and the ethical oil campaign share a deceptive bait-and-switch strategy.
For the wolf cull the bait comes in the form of the euphemistic catchall term, ‘wildlife management,’ used to discuss caribou recovery in Alberta. Sure, most people want caribou to survive and will favor a wildlife management plan designed to save the province’s caribou. Nobody likes wild species going extinct, right?
And the switch: in order for this management plan to work, we’ll have to sacrifice another of the province’s wild species, the wolf. And, as a hidden cost, we’ll be choosing to ignore more effective alternative remedies to caribou declines, like habitat protection, for instance.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.