Feb 22, 2010

Independent Bloggers vs Corporate Environmentalists

[desktop wallpaper version available here]

Another day, another smarmy accusation that people who are skeptical of climate change are being funded by a shadowy conspiracy connected in one manner or another to big oil, big coal, big tobacco or - horror of horrors - right-wing think tanks.

These accusations are tiresome. They're ugly. They're almost entirely unsubstantiated. Most of all, they're a waste of time. They amount to shooting the messenger rather than addressing the bleeping message.

So why do they keep getting repeated? I think I've sorted out two reasons. First: the lavishly-funded corporate nature of the environmental movement circa 2010. Second: modern technological wonders such as personal computers and the Internet.

Environmental organizations today bear little resemblance to the shoestring operations of yesteryear. As a book published 14 years ago observed:
While Greenpeace used to be a pair of bell-bottomed blue jeans, today it is more like a three-piece pinstripe suit.
Indeed. In 1971, Greenpeace was an "upstart peace group from Vancouver" that held meetings in a Unitarian church. After it chartered a 30-year-old "creaking fish boat" to protest a US nuclear arms test, it could barely afford to pay for the boat's fuel.

Last month, however, when The Guardian reported that Greenpeace had commissioned a brand new £14 million ($22 million US) mega-yacht, it observed that "cost should not be a problem for the group, which, with nearly three million supporters, is extremely wealthy."

How wealthy? According to publicly-available figures compiled by Climate-Resistance.org, over a 12-year period Greenpeace raised $2.4 billion. That works out to $200 million a year in resources.

If you think that's impressive, take a moment to ponder the fact that the World Wildlife Fund raised $3.1 billion in just six years (2003-2008). Which means that that organization has ready access to half a billion dollars annually.

When you're that big – and that loaded – suddenly everything costs a small fortune. Want to start a new blog? That'll require a series of meetings. You'll need to invite web design folks, IT folks, a contingent of in-house PR people, an ad agency person or two, a corporate strategy person, and probably someone from legal. You'll meet in shiny offices in a fashionable part of town and order-in sandwiches from the pricey, organic, fair-trade café at the end of the street.

Compare and contrast to how independent individuals of utterly modest means from all over the world currently behave. They sign up to a service like Blogger.com (which is owned by Google) and, within a few hours at most, for no cost whatsoever, have launched themselves as a blogger. Alternatively, for well under $10 in hosting fees a month, they can publish their own website.

For no money, therefore, climate skeptics in the early 21st century are in a position to theoretically communicate online with as many people as is Greenpeace. From their basements and their attics, in often non-trendy geographical locations, it isn't their funding that matters - it's their skill sets.

Many skeptical-leaning bloggers have scientific, mathematical, and statistical training - not to mention decades of real-world experience under their belts. Others have been professional communicators (I, myself, am a former print journalist). Some are speed-readers, others have photographic memories. Many, like the folks who rendered the Climategate e-mails fully searchable within a matter of hours, have impressive information technology skills. Some are retired, with plenty of time on their hands. Others devote as many hours to reading and writing about climate issues in a week as they'd otherwise spend on knitting or golf.

From the perspective of environmental organization staffers, research agency employees, and tenured university professors it must appear as though skeptics have access to deep pockets. In the universe those people inhabit, even the simplest tasks can end up as budget line items. There are layers of bureaucracy, paperwork, office politics, and regulations to consider.

For the small and growing army of skeptical climate bloggers, however, none of that applies. The equivalent of a battered fishing boat will do nicely, thank you.

Those vessels are now everywhere. They're being sailed by real people and fueled by grassroots concern, outrage, and passion. And they're not going away.


>> Slurs, smears & money

>> Al Gore's tobacco hypocrisy
>> Greenpeace and the Nobel-winning climate report
>> Climate skepticism is free speech
>> Green time capsule: 1970 eco ideas not pretty