May 15, 2012
By Matt Palmer
What side of the fence we grew up on influences how we see the truth. We can see this play out in our lives every day. It does not come as a surprise then, that over the last few days there has been a new war against rational conversation playing out in the media. According to the recently published reports in the Guardian the fossil fuel industry is coordinating a massive “campaign to build opposition to against wind power in the lead-up to the U.S. presidential elections next fall.” Another article in the Huffington Post from today is titled “Shocking New Oil Propaganda Plan to Fool Americans“.
On the other hand, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) seems to be implementing their own plan aimed at discrediting anti-wind groups, in order to ensure the renewal of the US governments Production Tax Credit. See this article from the Washington Examiner as food for thought.
Here in Canada we have seen coordinated efforts aimed at discrediting the environmental movement attacking funding they receive from foreign sources, and now the energy industry is being called out over foreign investment, and think tanks like the Fraser Institute are being questioned about funding from the Koch Brothers.
I cannot vouch for what is true or not, but it would be nice if it were easier to have some sense of where the truth does lie. These obfuscations serve only the self-interested partisan groups, and leave the rest of us to deal with the mess. Few, if any, journalistic institutions seem willing to ask the hard questions, or dig for the truth.
Perhaps I am naïve and too trusting, but someone does need to explain to my why oil companies would fund anti-wind campaigns? It makes no sense to me because we do not burn oil for electricity, and we don’t use wind to drive cars or make petrochemicals, so where is the threat to oil? Oil companies are driven by bottom-line mandates, and generally risk averse, in addition there are many oil companies that are now investing wind technology (i.e. Shell, Statoil, Suncor, etc.) so for many, an attack against alternative energy damages their own initiatives.
What if there are parties on both sides engineering public relations campaigns, using whatever tactics necessary to obscure the truth in the name of defeating the enemy? All oil companies are branded as evil, and all environmentalists are tarred as being extremists, and all alternative energy sources get branded as boondoggles. We all end up blind.
Each side points fingers at the other claiming poor and unethical conduct. One side says the other is engaging in propaganda, while they themselves merely have a well-thought out strategic marketing and education initiative based on good science and the truth. And, each side trots out “their” scientists to back them up.
This may be shocking to say but, all oil companies (or corporate leaders) are not evil, and not all environmentalists are extremists. However, anyone knowingly participating in a disinformation campaign is completely distorting and misdirecting their own good intentions. I say this because, in the end, I do believe that most of us who care about the future of society and the planet, no matter where you sit ideologically in these issues, has good intentions. Does our desire to be right have to override our ability to be civil and open to rational and pragmatic solutions? What matters is the strength of the argument for a cause or issue itself, using the facts and science as they are known – it should stand or fall on its own merits. Engaging in a propaganda or disinformation campaign and then accusing the other side of doing the same is schoolyard behaviour. Maybe we all need a “time out”.