Category Archives: Media Ethics

The Denier’s multi-million dollar funding machine

According to Exxonsecrets.org, run by Greenpeace, Exxon is engaged in a ‘multimillion dollar campaign’ to create public confusion about global warming. http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/assets/binaries/exxon-secrets-analysis-of-fun. All told, between 1998 and 2006, Exxon is alleged to have spent nearly 23 million dollars funding various groups that publish studies and pay scientists to publish studies that claim something other than the ‘consensus’ of man-made CO2 emissions causing global warming.

My first thought when I actually read this was THAT’S IT ??

Greenpeace/Exxonsecrets pored over XOM’s annual tax returns for the numbers, and then summed them up in the article linked above. They were kind enough to summarise all the data from Exxon for the reader, warning the public of a veritable Denial Machine hell-bent on suppressing the Truth about Global Warming.

The TOTAL DOLLAR AMOUNT from Exxon to these alleged ‘denial groups’ between the years of 1998-2006 is $22,854,423. Keep in mind, however that this total is spread over 80 groups over a period of eight years. Curiously, the same article claims “several organizations and journalists have confirmed that ExxonMobil is the only known oil company to fund a network of organizations that deny the science and urgency of global warming”. So no other oil company engages in that sort of funding then? Environmentalists are a lot of things, but they aren’t lazy. If ConocoPhillips or Imperial Oil or Royal Dutch Shell or some other petroleum company was funding these ‘deniers’ en masse, it would be equally widely-publicized.

I haven’t yet dug into what the coal industry is alleged to have spent, but coal companies have never been responsible for pathetic (though certainly publicity-generating) pictures of sad-looking, dying oily birds and therefore don’t make for a particularly great target.

So the sum total from the ‘oil industry’ to ‘denialists’ is that same $23 million spread among 80 organizations. This is an average of $287,000 each, spread over eight years, or just the equivalent of just under $36,000 per year for each organization. This is the average per organization per year that has gone into funding this veritable Machine that is alone responsible for any confusion the public might have regarding Man’s role in causing the earth to warm at an ‘unprecedented rate’ that will cause future catastrophe.

Not that I would ever turn down such an amount, but that’s probably roughly the amount of salary that I earned in that same eight years as I made my way up through a variety of entry-level to middling positions. So basically, the sum total of this ‘multimillion dollar campaign’ would in reality only be enough to fund a single and not terribly well-paid junior research assistant for eighty different groups.

Now, it is true that this oh-so generous $23 million over eight years isn’t distributed evenly to each of the groups. The Property and Environment Research Center got a piddling $55,000 in that time period. The American Enterprise Institute fared better under their largess, but no single organisation seems to have been able to get Exxon to cough up more than the Competitive Enterprise Institute managed – barely over $2 million in that time frame – and under pressure from Environmental groups, they’ve since been cut off.

I’m actually familiar enough with CEI to know that they have a life outside of global warming – they fund studies on other things Exxon might be interested in such as capital gains taxes or securities regulations and so on, but let’s just pretend that every last cent did indeed go to funding these “denialists”.

Don’t take it on my word alone when I say that a couple of million here, or 23 million in eight years isn’t a lot of money even from a company that pulled in $40 Billion in 2007. If anything, Exxon’s a cheapskate. Really, if they were funding these organisations because what Environmentalists claim about global warming is such a threat to their future earnings don’t you think they’d be spending a little more than such a tiny fraction of their profits? They probably spend more on post-it notes and staplers. But numbers in isolation are still meaningless – unless there’s something else to compare them to.

Let’s take a look at a well-known advocacy group, taken at random, (also one for whom numbers are easy to come by – they’re less so for Greenpeace, who publish their numbers in Euros for a start). Let’s take PeTA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their annual budget is $30 million.

But on to environmentalist lobby groups.

Environmental Defense’s Annual report for 2007 brings up this gem: “Total program and supporting services expenditures for fiscal 2007 reached $73.8 million” So in a single year, one single environmentalist lobby group had expenditures that were well over three times the sum total of what ExxonMobil spent on 80 lobby groups spread over 8 years. Natural Resources Defence Council fares about the same – around $75 million in 2007.

Another Dow 30 company, General Electric has been busy lobbying for subsidies for ‘alternative energy’ to the tune of $20 million in the past three years. Whoops, that’s annually, meaning around $60 million. Sorry, my mistake.  That doesn’t include their own ‘Green Week’ programming either.

In March of this year, Al Gore announced a $300 million advertising blitz on climate change. That’s more than 10X more than Exxon spent, according to Greenpeace, over eight years.

According to this site, Greenpeace, in the same time span that Exxon doled out it’s 23 million, pulled in around 2 Billion dollars. We’re not even getting into all the government grants and so on. But even with these examples it’s pretty clear where the money really is.  The World Wildlife Fund does quite well too and clears roughly the same amount.

Also, this is only a handful of examples (including, admittedly, some of the better-funded ones), but keep in mind that I haven’t factored in any government largess yet either.

Sorry, but who’s the one who’s ‘well-funded’ again?

The Cultural Studies Drinking Game (TM)

Controversy surrounding an alleged ‘art’ student, who shall remain anonymous, at least in my little world, suddenly took me back to my own university days. There was much controversy, blah blah blah, then a ‘manifesto’ – just like real artists have (at least back in the 20s) – that seemed to be cribbed directly from my old student reading material.

I studied Communications which unfortunately also involved Cultural Studies and Critical Theory. This stuff would be perfectly familiar to any one who took Feminist studies, anthropology and probably most senior-level arts classes too.

I say unfortunately in the sense that it was often a rather tedious challenge to get through a lot of obfuscation and unnecessary abstraction to the the actual ideas, some of which could be pretty insightful and interesting. For example, the concept of ‘hegemony’ the way it is used in Cultural Studies/critical theory is quite good, but rarely do people outside that realm have any idea what you’re talking about if you use the term.

However there’s a tendency for certain academics, and even more so their students, to hide weak ideas (or none) behind confusing and important seeming words in order to come across as intellectual. It really is so bad that Physics Professor Alan Sokal submitted an utterly fake paper to a then non-peer reviewed journal that was subsequently published.

Years later I had a room-mate who was growing frustrated with his International Relations courses – largely stumbling through the all the extraneous verbiage. Unfortunately for him, he lacked the filter in his brain that could just shut this stuff out. Most of it is neo-marxist tripe of one sort or another, some of which has some merits, but some of which is often just a hodgepodge of postmodern terminology that when actually ‘deconstructed’ can be nearly void of any actual meaning, or coherent train of thought beyond vague and dubious claims of western Imperialism.

So in the honour of my former struggling-student roommate and the spoiled Yalie, I’ve decided to invent the “cultural studies drinking game” (or if you prefer, the “critical theory drinking game”), which after 30 seconds of Googling, I’ve confirmed has not already been invented by someone else and is therefore mine.

Fiction – when referring to anything other than a book that is not non-fiction: pretend to take one shot

Myth – unless debunking a widely held belief such as changing lightbulbs will stop global warming: one swig of beer.

Ambiguity – one shot. Maybe

Adding ‘ity’ or ‘ities’ to any adjective in an attempt to turn it into a noun: e.g. ‘domestic’ vs ‘domesticity’ : two shots.

Adding any other extra syllables to any common word to make it sound more ‘academic’ – one shot per each syllable.

Relation to power or ruling class – everyone takes a shot.

Social construction – see ambiguity

Oppressive State Apparatus/Instrument of State Apparatus – throw your shot glass at the person sitting opposite

Appropriation – take the drink of the person to your right. If used in the same phrase as “class relation”, then three shots.

Discourse – everyone yells ‘chug chug chug!’ while you swallow the remainder of whatever is in your glass.

Consciousness – you’ve now lost consciousness from drinking too much. And you’ve only read two paragraphs.  Game over.

McDonald’s Report card? “F”

Arrgghhh. I usually can’t stand the ‘lone crusader’ types, and that’s how one mother by the name of Susan Pagan was cast in this Orlando Sentinal newspaper article.

The comments by most people seemed to come out against her as yet another busy-body ruining a chance for the common folk to get a free happy meal. After all, she could refuse to take her own daughter there.

She could. But if my kid came home with this:

McDonald’s report card

I think this little black duck would be none too happy about it. I’d be outright appalled. I think I’d be seriously thinking of home schooling if there wasn’t a school nearby that could afford to forgo corporate sponsorship.

I’m not much in favour of controls over advertising for the most part – even advertising directed at children – but I think when it’s directed a captive audience (it’s illegal to not send your kid to school) and there’s no way to reasonably opt out then the sensible thing is an all-out ban. You shouldn’t have to relocate to the hills of Montana to get away from the reach of advertisers.

There is a world of difference between McDonald’s advertising during children’s cartoons: you can just switch off the TV. Fine if McDonald’s wants to sponsor a little league team or drop coupons in the mail, advertise in the newspaper, yahoo email, whatever. But kids have to go to school and they have to get report cards. I don’t have a problem with McDonald’s even advertising on TV – ‘hey kids, get an A, get a happy meal’. Parental authority is undermined enough by these companies and limits do need to be set.

So I say hooray for Susan Pagan!