Lying to get to the Truth

It’s something we are not nearly smart enough to do, but some do believe they are sufficiently clever.

So apparently Greenpeace devised a fake website, twitter stream, video and accompanying ad campaign to bring to light everything Shell isn’t yet doing (but is prepared to do) in the Arctic. There are several problems with this, laid out here:

The first one is that I don’t think portraying Shell as inept is a very wise choice. If they wanted to influence public opinion, I suspect they’d pay decent money and get someone who knows what they’re doing to manage a new ad campaign and run a Twitter account. If they’re not doing that, it’s because the general public is not currently the target audience for their PR budget. But when we are, trust me: it will be a competent effort. If we’re only braced for buffoons and clowns, they’ll succeed at whatever spin they’re trying to convey.

The second, larger problem, is that Greenpeace lied to us. This wasn’t a nod-and-a-wink parody; this was a dedicated effort to deceive. They played the public for patsies and herded them like sheep. That kind of contempt for the people whose support (financial and otherwise) they need is inexcusable. For me, it puts them in a box with people like Bush and Blair, who were also flexible with the truth for the greater good.

Yes, people are very amused by the Yes Men. But adding to the general inventory of cynicism with your own disinformation campaign only lowers the value of accurate information that much further, which makes the work of Shell et al all the easier.

The boring and uncomfortable reality is that we have to be more truthful than ever about the effects of climate change and stop trying to filter it through ideas gauged to simultaneously make us feel better. Fossil fuel extraction companies are apathetic enough as it is – and attempting to shame or embarrass them through elaborate ruses only discredits the opposition and muddies the rising tides. They have no shame and cannot be embarrassed, only impacted by lower profit margins.

People already don’t know what to think because of the years of sophisticated, high gloss disinformation propelled at blinding speeds. Allowing any more vestiges of credibility to slip away intentionally is stupid and unforgivable.

And fortunately for the fossil fuel industry, sincerity already has the least currency imaginable. Think of everything it takes to keep this system in place. If you consider how difficult it would be to get millions of people to buy monster trucks that get <10 mpg and commute 50 miles to work each way each day, we’re talking at least a concerted effort, if not the addition of some magic potion. Don’t make it easier to go down.