As we stand on the edge of climate apocalypse, we must wake up and acknowledge that what the big greens are not saying is far more important than what they are saying.
From the Non-Profit Industrial Complex with Love. Excerpts from a controversial new book to be released 2010-2011. This article – Explosive Climate Report Kept from Public – is the second in a series in which we discuss the connection between environmental campaigns and their corporate sponsors.
Explosive Climate Poll Results
This cartoon appeared in the LA Times on Sunday, June 27, 2010 – Courtesy of Stephanie McMillan | CODE GREEN
When it comes to our chances of avoiding global climate catastrophe, a 2010 Gandalf Group poll, commissioned by Climate Action Network (CAN) Canada, could be one the most important reports ever produced. Yet, CAN has not released the most critical findings of the poll to the public.
What this poll (2010 – Gandalf Group) found is that the Canadian public (which is not so different from the American public) is well aware of and very concerned about catastrophic global climate change. What the report advises is that Canadian environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should start to communicate the truth of climate catastrophe and should be campaigning on the basis of climate catastrophe.
The text of the report is explosive because it has life or death implications for hundreds of millions of climate vulnerable people around the world, the future of humanity, and all life on our planet. Meanwhile, climate change negotiations are paralyzed, Canada remains one of the number one obstructionists, the UN climate convention secretariat advises us not to expect a new UN climate treaty for decades, and the messaging of NGOs … well, let’s just say, the song remains the same.
In order to hold the fossil fuel industry to account, it is essential to publicize the very worst catastrophic risks and the now inevitable catastrophic impacts of global climate disruption. Yet NGOs are not conveying the severity of the situation to the public. The world’s most vulnerable – the men, women and children who make up populations in developing countries and small island states – are the first victims of fossil fuel greenhouse gas pollution fuelling the climate crisis. The NGOs’ silence is failing to hold to account those guilty of climate crimes, allowing them to continue business as usual.
Compromised policies of the large NGO institutions have, for years, downplayed the full extent of the catastrophic risks to human populations, future generations of humanity and the whole biosphere of continued greenhouse gas pollution. As humanity stands on the very edge of climate apocalypse, these compromised policies cannot be allowed to continue – not without a challenge. As well, there are ethical questions. If NGOS are privy to, what they identify as a devastating report, should they be bound by ethics to release the information to civil society whom they claim to represent?
A barrier within the climate crisis, and one that might have helped the crisis escalate to beyond dangerous, stems from the assertion by NGOs that the public cannot be told the truth because citizens cannot deal with the reality of dangerous global warming or the risks of climate catastrophe, which now confront humanity on an epic scale.
NGOs continue to downplay the catastrophic risks of global climate change, even now as those risks are rapidly increasing. A paper for the Four Degrees and Beyond conference in September 2009 titled Psychological Adaptation to the Threats and Stresses of a Four Degree World, written by Clive Hamilton (Charles Sturt Professor of Public Ethics in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University) and Tim Kasser (professor of psychology in the Department of Psychology at Knox College, Illinois, USA) states: “At present most governments and environmental organisations adopt a ‘don’t scare the horses’ approach, fearful that exposing people fully to the scientific predictions will immobilise them. With climate scientists now stressing the need for extremely urgent action and spelling out more catastrophic impacts if action is inadequate, this now seems to us a dangerous approach to undertake.”
Although, as Hamilton and Kasser point out, several leading climate change experts have clearly stated that the world is beyond dangerous interference with the climate system (now glaringly obvious, post-Russian fires, post-Pakistan floods, post-Niger double drought), the environmental movement has still not stated that the climate situation is beyond dangerous, nor has it made submissions to the UN climate negotiations to this effect.
It is common knowledge within the environmental movement that the environmental NGOs have agreed on a common strategy that amounts to a conspiracy of silence with respect to the most potent aspects of the global climate change crisis. The NGOs avoid any messaging to the public or to governments that includes the language of dangerous climate interference or catastrophic climate impacts. This myth – that we can’t handle the truth – is also the defense that the most powerful environmental NGOs in the world repeat to anyone who dares challenge the passive messaging they convey to the public.
The NGOs claim that the public cannot be told the truth about the risks of climate catastrophe. To place this argument into perspective, imagine a doctor examining a patient. The doctor finds that all the evidence points to a terminally fatal condition, yet the doctor then decides to withhold the evidence from the patient. She tells the patient that she will continue to monitor certain health problems and asks the patient to return for a check-up at a later date. The doctor wants you to believe that this is practicing good medicine because it is not right to cause anxiety in the patient.
The Gandalf report, commissioned by CAN Canada themselves, has powerful implications. In no uncertain terms, this report dispels the myth that the public cannot handle the truth. In fact, it turns out that the vast majority of the (Canadian) public not only understand that the consequences of global warming are likely catastrophic, but their desire for action on the part of government is motivated by concern about the catastrophic consequences of INACTION by the government. The report states to CAN: “There is no reason to be defensive – momentum is with you…. The catastrophic consequences make not addressing this issue morally untenable.”
Key points from the report:
- Today a majority of Canadians believe global warming is happening and that the consequences of it are likely and catastrophic.
- Canadians are concerned about climate change – less than 10% are not at all concerned.
- It is concern about the catastrophic consequences of inaction that inspires the desire to act. The greatest benefit is to avoid disaster.
- This issue is more likely to be seen as important than urgent – but almost half (48%) of Canadians believe this issue is both very important to solve and very urgent to solve – this is a key group.
- Canadians believe the effects of climate change will be global and severe.
- And they believe climate change will affect the Canadian environment – melting of the Arctic ice, extinction of species, and more severe and unusual weather.
- This argues for a change in emphasis from glaciers and polar bears to spread of disease and catastrophic food and water shortages.
- An increased likelihood of consequences and increased concern about consequences are significantly associated with an increased sense of urgency to address climate change.
- Among target groups, those who believe the following are most likely to want urgent action:
– The consequences of climate change are catastrophic and we must act now to avoid them.
– If we don’t take action now it will be too late.
– Canadians use more energy than anyone so we should do more to reduce emissions.
– Canada is better off than a lot of countries and can afford to take the lead in addressing climate change.
– Investments in green technology can create jobs now and benefit the economy.
– If we act now, we can save animals, plants and ecosystems.
- Almost half of Canadians see the issue as very important to solve and very urgent to solve.
- And a large majority of Canadians believe that significant and global consequences of climate change are likely and of concern.
The findings and recommendations of this report are stunning, not only because they prove that the past and present strategy of the NGOs is wrong and increases the likelihood of humanity drifting into catastrophe, but because the NGOs have actually been instructed to focus their messaging to the public on the risks of global climate catastrophe – supported, of course, by the recommendations to avoid catastrophe.
What did CAN Canada do with this report? Apparently next to nothing. They issued a news release on 25 June 2010 that headlined the Canadian government rather than the crucial fact that the research derived recommendation is for NGOs to campaign on the concern of catastrophic climate change (which the NGOs have thus far rejected). While they indicated that Canadians are concerned about catastrophic climate change, they failed to reveal that the strategy behind the NGOs at present is a losing one. The CAN campaign, by not supporting the call to keep the temperature below a rise of 1C degree from pre-industrial levels by returning to 300 ppm (parts per million greenhouse gas emissions) or lower does not address the impending catastrophe. Adding further insult to injury, it appears CAN has continued to sit on these findings for some time, prior to the fires in Russia, an ecological disaster that killed over 15,000 people, and prior to the Pakistan floods that killed hundreds and resulted in over 20 million people homeless. If an environmental NGO wants decisive action from a government, the only pressure they can apply is to publicize the worst risks of government inaction – a tactic that is even more powerful when the public already understands the risks, expresses concern, and knows that urgent action is necessary. (Call it political will.)
What could have been the effect if the public had been told that a very large percentage of Canadians understood there is a real risk of climate catastrophe, were concerned of the risks and wanted government action on it? Predictably more Canadians would have come to understand the catastrophic risks that governments and corporations are running. And more Canadians would be accepting of urgent and effective remedial action, which would include full compliance with the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as a new binding and effective international UN climate treaty. As a matter of public security, a Canadian government that refused to comply with the will of the people would be turned out of office by the electorate.
To sit on a report of such magnitude and relevance, by not messaging the true risks of catastrophic climate change to the public as tipping points continue to be crossed, must be challenged. The environmental NGOs know the full extent of the catastrophic risks, but they use the unprecedented extent of the risks as a reason for not communicating the risks to the public, the fossil fuel corporations, or governments.
Time is not on our side. The Cancun UN climate conference is quickly approaching. Checking out their websites, it is tragically clear that all parties have given up on our shared the future. The secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) demoralized the process by pre-judging its outcome as an epic failure to be expected for decades. Perhaps her comments are a direct reflection of the that fact governments of wealthy countries continue to support the environmentally perverse free market economy – far ahead of the survival of future generations and life on Earth.
However, 2010 marks a significant new direction in the climate negotiations. The People’s Agreement, agreed upon during the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth on April 22nd, 2010 (Cochabamba, Bolivia) is by far the best position to date. It is also the first position to state the necessary targets as well as the realities based on climate science. Climate justice advocates now have a legitimate position paper, critical text of which is now being recognized for the first time by the UNFCCC. Climate justice groups across the world, including Canada’s Council of Canadians; Canada’s largest citizens organization, have endorsed and campaign on this powerful agreement. Surely now is the time to pull together and work harder than ever. Solutions do exist. Therefore, the question that must be asked is this: Why is the climate crisis being abandoned by many and why has an incredibly powerful report been kept from the public – when the public wants action?
It is important to note that all big greens including 350.org, RAN, Greenpeace, CAN Canada and CAN International have thus far declined to endorse the People’s Agreement. CAN-International has roughly 500 members in over 80 countries.
Friends of the Earth groups in Africa; Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda endorse the People’s Agreement. You can read their press release here: http://bit.ly/962OZE
They Know – And Have Known for a Long Time
On 18 April 2007, Ken Ward of Grist writes:
The deliberate decision a decade ago to downplay climate change risk in the interests of presenting a sober, optimistic image to potential donors, maintaining access to decision-makers, and operating within the constraints of private foundations has blown back on us. By emphasizing specific solutions and avoiding definitions that might appear alarmist, we inadvertently fed a dumbed-down, Readers Digest version of climate change to our staff and environmentalist core. Now, as we scramble to keep up with climate scientists, we discover that we have paid a hefty price. Humanity has <10 years to avert cataclysm and most U.S. environmentalists simply don’t believe it.
If we did believe it, we would be acting very differently. Why do we continue, in our materials and on our web sites, to present climate as one of any number of apparently equally important issues? Why, if we really believe that the fate of the world will be decided within a few years, haven’t our organizations liquidated assets, shut down non-essential program[s] and invested everything in one final effort? Why, given the crushing circumstances, is there essentially no internal debate or challenge to our inadequate course of action? Why, for that matter, aren’t environmentalists all working weekends?
These are not gratuitous questions. Environmentalists are not immune from the social and cognitive barriers that make it difficult for almost every individual, institution, society, and nation to come to terms with the threat of cataclysm. However, the whole point of environmentalism is to anticipate precisely the conditions in which we now find ourselves. The purpose of the precautionary principle is to encourage the long view, “out even to the 7th generation,” and the ethos of environmentalism is a fundamental challenge to the dominant paradigm. Our values and principles are supposed to buck us up when, as individuals, we lose our way.
A must watch 2009 video of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ross Gelbspan is riveting. Seldom does anyone have the conviction or courage to speak so boldly, so bluntly. Gelbspan reveals that what began as an initial response of many institutions – denial and delay – has now grown into a crime against humanity. Based on his investigative reporting, Gelbspan speaks of how politicians, big oil and coal, journalists, and the irresponsibility of the big greens have fueled a climate crisis. Gelspan has an interesting theory about why the environmental movement, downplaying the risks and avoiding talk of climate catastrophe, has communicated the climate crisis to the public with unrealistic “optimism.” He suggests that perhaps they are emotionally traumatized deep down by what they really know about the terrible extent of the risks of catastrophic climate change.
“It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” – Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe
Self Censored or Muzzled by Funders?
Upon investigation, we find a stream of polls showing that the NGO attitude on communicating global warming is completely out of step with the public. While the NGOs offer climate change platitudes, some possibly paralyzed with anxiety on how to communicate the catastrophic risks to the public, the majority of the public has already come to understand that the situation is looking more and more dire as real-life climate-induced weather events unfold before our eyes. The polls (which NGOs will not make a move without) actually have shown for some time now (see the polls below) that citizens are concerned about the risk of global climate catastrophe, and they want action.
However, the NGOs have steadfastly refused to campaign on this basis. Rather they continue to campaign on their false assumption that North Americans must not be made to worry too much. Don’t frighten the public – it could affect the economy! Furthermore, the polls show that citizen demand for action is growing stronger in Canada and the United States. And where do they believe the leadership should come from? NGOs. Considering that the reason “not to scare the public” is the number one excuse they fall back on to legitimize their inaction, one must ask – says who???
There is a possible explanation for this gross breach of trust. Money. If this is true, the big greens, through their inaction, are in effect protecting the fossil fuel economy ahead of the planet and the planet’s children of all species. Such refusal to tell the truth to the public has also created deepening divisions within the climate justice movement itself – the corporate greens versus the legitimate grassroots groups.
This situation must be brought out into the open. It is past time for all organizations to start campaigning aggressively for the future of the planet and humanity – and this means communicating the escalating risks of planetary catastrophe.
Gross Negligence on an Epic Scale?
Remember the game we all played when we were little called Telephone? You whisper something in someone’s ear, and the message goes all the way around the circle until it reaches back to the original person. But when it comes back, it is so distorted from what was originally said that everyone bursts into laughter. This seems similar, but not so funny. It’s like the vicious rumour that starts, spreads like wildfire, then, after the damage is done, no one even knows who started it or if it was even true in the first place. In the “big green bible” on communications “for global warming advocates from global warming advocates” it reads: “While impacts are an important part of the case, making impacts the center of public attention can be counterproductive. To avoid this trap, communicators must discuss impacts in ways that are clearly tied to both causes and solutions – a coherent and hopeful big picture.” To put this in perspective, imagine the government believing it should not tell the public about terrorism or “terrorist alerts” because the fear may be too overwhelming for people. We certainly don’t seem to have a problem conveying that message. And we certainly don’t feel the need to constantly offer the causes of and solutions to terrorism as governments pump out billions of tax dollars on ‘security measures’. How about the H1N1 virus? No problem there, either. In 2009, the United States declared H1N1 a national emergency. Canada prepared for mass inoculations for the reported pandemic. Media screamed emergency. Lineups for vaccines circled blocks. The pharmaceutical industry made billions (Makers of H1N1 vaccines reported sales of $3.3 billion). And when they were done, it simply disappeared from the media.
The following are recent polls contradicting the NGO passive messaging strategy:
- 30 November 2009, Canada, Poll: Climate change seen as planet’s defining crisis.
- 19 December 2009, AP Poll: 3 in 4 view climate change as serious problem, say Earth already warming; Nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, said that if nothing is done to reduce the threat of global warming, future generations will be hurt a great deal or “a lot.”
- 4 January 2010, Canada, Poll: Planet in peril: More than half of Canadians believe greenhouse gases produced by human activity are a key factor spurring climate change, and they say the planet is in peril if significant action isn’t taken soon. The highest support for immediate action on greenhouse gases came in Quebec, where almost 70% of those asked said human activity is a key driver of climate change. They want something done now.
- 10 January 2010, Canada, Poll: Canadians say climate change a bigger threat than terrorism. Canadians believe climate change poses a significantly bigger threat to the “vital interests” of this country over the next decade than international terrorism
- 25 June 2010, Climate Action Network, G8/G20 Poll: There is a growing understanding of the catastrophic effects of climate change. Those two factors combine in a demand from Canadians that their government be a leader, not a follower, in finding global solutions.
- 27 October 2010, United States: Another poll shows narrative on climate change is dead wrong: “… front groups are just dead wrong when it comes to climate and energy policy and that voters are not motivated to vote against climate and energy supporters. What the polling data show, and what the overwhelming support of independent voters demonstrates, is that climate change is a winning political issue with broad appeal, especially among those who are interested in a future that includes energy security.”
- Recent Polls Show Support for Limiting Climate Change Pollution: “Polls clearly suggest that Americans want to address greenhouse gas pollution and are even willing to pay for it.”
- Does Public Opinion Support Climate Action? “63% of Canadians and 40% of Americans would protect the environment even at the risk of hampering economic growth. This contrasts starkly with the Pew Research Center’s Public Priorities for 2010 poll, where ‘dealing with global warming’ ranked near the bottom of a 21-option priority list.”
Despite all the evidence that contradicts their allegiance to silence – in order to protect the public from a truth they have decided the public will be unable to cope with – the big greens remain silent. Even when they are told they are dead wrong in June of 2010. To share such an explosive report is to share the reality that their passive campaigning is unfounded. Will CAN Canada and its partners recognize that they have been tragically negligent?
There are other silent indicators that something is not right. Big greens do not convey the fact that the fossil fuel economy must be abandoned at breakneck speed. The all-important and indispensable target of zero carbon emissions is seldom mentioned. The big greens have failed to capitalize on the fact that the vast majority of North Americans know global warming is real, that they understand we are in a dangerous situation, and that they want action. Common sense tells us that the NGOs should campaign on this fact (supported by the polls) in order to gain public support for the urgent actions required to prevent catastrophic global climate disruption. But they are not. Why?
The last poll listed above is particularly interesting, noting the conflicting results reported from the Pew Research Center where “dealing with global warming” ranked almost last. Who is Pew? The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew Memorial Trust. This enterprise made $205 million in “investment income” in 1993 from such stocks as Weyerhaeuser ($16 million), the mining concern Phelps-Dodge ($3.7 million), International Paper ($4.56 million), and Atlantic Richfield, which was pushing hard to open even more of the Arctic to oil drilling ($6.1 million). The annual income yield from rape-and-pillage companies accruing to Pew in this single trust was twice as large as its total grants, and six times as large as all of Pew’s environmental dispensations that year (about $20 million in 1993) [Source: From Green Scare: the New War on Environmentalism, by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, forthcoming from Haymarket Books].
Unlike the environmental movement, the Pentagon, the fossil fuel industry, and the governments of high fossil fuel consuming countries are not making assumptions based on psychology to determine the reality of our proximity to tipping points. In stark contrast, they are planning for resource wars due to drought, flooding, climate refugees, and extreme weather. Certainly they will seek to manage populations through psychological operations to control the level of desperation; but this will be a secondary factor based on the reality of having reached instability or tipping points. Therefore, it only makes sense that any organization that claims to represent civil society should be planning and organizing based on this reality, as well as leveling with the broad public on positive feedback loops we may have already reached. We must also acknowledge that the big greens are silent on the absolute necessity to divert the trillions of dollars funneled into militarism to an unparalleled mobilization effort to avert global catastrophe. In fact, the winner of ‘Project Censored’ top 25 articles for 2009 – 2010 news stories was ‘Pentagon’s role in global catastrophe’ by Sara Flounders.
Conclusion: The entire strategy of the environmental NGOs to stop global climate change is based on what is, certainly now, a fatally false assumption. This assumption – that civil society NGOs can transform the behavior of the public through green consumerism and token symbolic efforts – is completely out of touch with reality. After 25 years, this strategy has proven to be an epic fail, one that has brought us to the edge of collapse. NGOs know that the only greenhouse gas emissions target that can stop global warming and ocean acidification is a transition to zero carbon emissions at incredible speed. Today, individual behavior changes can never match the magnitude of the risks we now face.
The primary and urgent task of the environmental movement is to engage the public in the global climate change crisis, to motivate the public to insist on and support measures by government, the investment sector and industry to control greenhouse gas emissions with a supersonic trajectory to zero emissions. Only by changing the climate criminal system behind the investment banking industry and the fossil fuel industries, along with the criminally compliant governments and politicians, can the planet be saved from global climate catastrophe.
“My view is that the climate has already crossed at least one tipping point, about 1975-1976, and is now at a runaway state, implying that only emergency measures have a chance of making a difference…” “The costs of all of the above would require diversion of the trillions of dollars from global military expenditures to environmental mitigation.” – Andrew Glikson, Earth/Paleo-climate scientist
Recent history shows that when massive social and environmental movements changed the face of our society, the values and beliefs that inspired such uprisings arose from a very small minority of well-informed and outraged citizens who led the fight against injustices. Saving the planet from global climate catastrophe means a radical systemic change to our environmentally perverse model of economics and our environmentally incapable systems of government. Environmental NGOs who truly represent civil society should be leading the way. Failing this task, legitimate movements must lead millions of citizens to participate in global synchronized direct actions – that do not die down until the people win.
We are living in a time of gross criminal negligence, where government – corporate collusion thrives in the capitalist system – the root cause of the current climate crisis. The negligence, though, is not only caused by the collusion between governments and corporations but also by the silence and compliance of those who receive funding from corporations, governments and foundations.
Watch for the next article – third in the series, in which we continue to discuss the connection between environmental campaigns and their corporate sponsors. Article number one in the series ‘10:10:10 – Marketing, Manipulation, and the Status Quo’ can be read at: http://bit.ly/cUYCrn.
Cory Morningstar is climate justice activist whose recent writings can be found on ‘Canadians for Action on Climate Change’ and ‘The Art of Annihilation’ site where you can read her bio. You can follow her on twitter:@elleprovocateur