Peter Dykstra: the birth of greenwashing

When I was growing up, I had a fascination with phonies – that certain brand of phonies that make millions off a gullible audience by offering distorted reality.

They ranged from the staged athleticism of professional wrestling to the surreal promises of religious figures offering a combo: Eternal Happiness and earthly wealth.

On Sunday nights, I tuned in to Reverend Ike, a preacher who used hypnotic tones to offer unseen wealth to those who sent a large check to his address in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, in exchange for prayer cloth. Testimonials from newly wealthy prayer cloth owners sealed the deal for new recruits.

Later I was transfixed by the faith healer Ernest Angley, who brought here the maimed, the dumbbells and the blind (Luke 14:21) and seemed to heal them by sucking the demon straight out of their foreheads with the palm of his hand. .

Politics and professional wrestling

The Governor of Minn. Jesse Ventura speaks at a Youth In Government 2000 model assembly.

Credit: moleofproduction/flickr

And the tearful, gory theatrics of TV wrestlers was just one variation of that. When wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota in 1999, it seemed to confirm that theater that performed well in religion or athletics could perform anywhere.

Climate denial and greenwashing

In the 1980s and 1990s, the growing science around climate change and an abundance of other environmental issues created their own backlash. Those who sowed doubt seemed to be inspired by the religious and sports peddlers who fascinated me at the time.

This week, I will pay indirect tribute to the public relations efforts behind what so many of us would consider heinous work for the environment.

“Scientific” exemption for whaling

scientific hunting

Credit: Cetacean Research Institute, via the International Whaling Commission

Even an issue as widely supported as the end of commercial whaling has attracted a dissenter. Tele-Press Associates was a Manhattan-based PR firm with, for the most part, a single client.

They were the western voice of the Japan Whaling Association. Tele-Press was primarily a one-man show, a New York native named Alan MacNow. He founded the agency in 1959, according to sourcewatch, a website that studies the public relations efforts of the industry. Tele-Press’ main customers were the Japan Whaling Association and the Japan Fisheries Association.

MacNow accused conservation groups of misrepresenting whaling information and using the issue solely for fundraising purposes. He enlisted two US congressmen, Mervyn Dymally (D-CA) and Charles Rangel (D-NY) to accuse the groups of anti-Japanese racism. When the International Whaling Commission voted to end commercial whaling in 1986, he helped promote a safeguard clause whereby whaling for “scientific research” could continue. No evidence of how the research was ever used has emerged – except to set the quota for the following year’s research.

MacNow died in 2010. Tele-Press has been inactive since. But the “research” exemption continues.

American Council on Science and Health

Elizabeth Whelan (right) with Norman Borlaug and Christine Whelan

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to its own website, “The Council was founded in 1978 by a group of scientists with a singular purpose: to support and publicly use evidence-based science and medicine and to educate the public by debunking unwanted science and health scares. exaggerated”.

The American Council on Science and Health said its funding base includes minimal support from affected companies, but the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy concluded otherwise.

Six-figure donations from the Koch-linked Donors Trust, the Lynne and Harry Bradley Conservative Foundation, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, ExxonMobil and others have helped fuel the ACSH.

They were the go-to group in the 1990s to criticize just about any study or regulatory action that called for restrictions on widely used chemicals or pesticides. Founder Elizabeth Whelan, who called her opponents “toxic terrorists,” died in 2014, but ACSH is still active.

Kyoto Climate Accord

When the world came together in the mid-1990s to craft the Kyoto climate accord, the Global Climate Coalition brought the industries together to oppose it.

According to DeSmog sleuths, oil giants like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron; trade groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce; and Ford, Chrysler and General Motors came together to stop Kyoto and undermine the language of the first UN climate reports.

GCC reportedly spent $13 million on ads highlighting Kyoto’s weak point: it needed few growing industrial giants like India and China, but much of the industrialized world. Public relations giants like Burson-Marsteller and E. Bruce Harrison added the cause. Harrison’s work dates back to 1962, when as a young public relations officer at the Chemical Manufacturers Association, he led a personal attack campaign against silent spring author Rachel Carson.

The United States has never joined Kyoto. Mission accomplished, GCC dissolved in 2002.

The Australian Galileo movement

Greenwash groups tend to be an American phenomenon, but there are exceptions. The Galileo movement originated in Australia in 2011, believed to have been founded by two retirees who coordinated a national tour by the incomparable Lord Monckton. Australian coal baroness Gina Rinehart has offered $500,000 for the tour.

After a first flash in the pan, the Galileo movement did not move much. Their last social media entries or page updates were in 2018, but they should get props for impersonating the image of the much-hyped Galileo for their cause.

Promote the benefits of CO2

Greening Earth Society was founded and funded by the Western Fuels Association, a trade group for Rocky Mountain coal mining companies. The Society released a video featuring debunked claims that the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere won’t be a problem. The Society is gone, but “The Greening of Planet Earth” can still be seen on YouTube.

Next week, I’ll highlight five current greenwashers. Enjoy!!

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His opinions do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or the publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

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