FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Greenpeace. Lord Melchett and the Business of Betrayal

by George Monbiot The Guardian

Environmentalism as an argument has been comprehensively won. As a practice it is all but extinct. Just as people in Britain have united around the demand for effective public transport, car sales have broken all records. Yesterday the superstore chain Sainsbury’s announced a 6% increase in sales: the number of its customers is now matched only by the number of people professing to deplore its impact on national life. The Guardian’s environmental reporting is fuller than that of any other British newspaper, but on Saturday it was offering readers two transatlantic tickets for the price of one.

The planet, in other words, will not be saved by wishful thinking. Without the effective regulation of both citizens and corporations, we will, between us, destroy the conditions which make life worth living. This is why some of us still bother to go to the polling booths: in the hope that governments will prevent the rich from hoarding all their wealth, stop our neighbors from murdering us and prevent us, collectively, from wrecking our surroundings.

Because regulation works, companies will do whatever they can to prevent it. They will threaten governments with disinvestment, and the loss of thousands of jobs. They will use media campaigns to recruit public opinion to their cause. But one of their simplest and most successful strategies is to buy their critics. By this means, they not only divide their opponents and acquire inside information about how they operate; but they also benefit from what public relations companies call “image transfer”: absorbing other people’s credibility.

Over the past 20 years, the majority of Britain’s most prominent greens have been hired by companies whose practices they once contested. Jonathon Porritt, David Bellamy, Sara Parkin, Tom Burke, Des Wilson and scores of others are taking money from some of the world’s most destructive corporations, while boosting the companies’ green credentials. Now they have been joined by a man who was, until last week, rightly admired for his courage and integrity: the former director of Greenpeace UK, Lord Melchett. Yesterday he started work at the PR firm Burson Marsteller. Burson Marsteller’s core business is defending companies which destroy the environment and threaten human rights from public opinion and pressure groups like Greenpeace.

So what are we to make of these defections? Do they demonstrate only the moral frailty of the defectors, or are they indicative of a much deeper problem, afflicting the movement as a whole? I believe environmentalism is in serious trouble, and that the prominent people who have crossed the line are not the only ones who have lost their sense of direction.

There are plenty of personal reasons for apostasy. Rich and powerful greens must perpetually contest their class interest. Environmentalism, just as much as socialism, involves the restraint of wealth and power. Peter Melchett, like Tolstoy, Kropotkin, Engels, Orwell and Tony Benn, was engaged in counter-identity politics, which require a great deal of purpose and self-confidence to sustain. In Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection, Prince Nekhlyudov recalls that when he blew his money on hunting and gambling and seduced another man’s mistress, his friends and even his mother congratulated him, but when he talked about the redistribution of wealth and gave some of his land to his peasants they were dismayed. “At last Nekhlyudov gave in: that is, he left off believing in his ideals and began to believe in those of other people.”

Lord Melchett was also poorly rewarded. There is an inverse relationship between the public utility of your work and the amount you get paid. He won’t disclose how much Burson Marsteller will be giving him, but I suspect the world’s biggest PR company has rather more to spend on its prize catch than Greenpeace.

But, while all popular movements have lost people to the opposition, green politics has fewer inbuilt restraints than most. Environmentalism is perhaps the most ideologically diverse political movement in world history, which is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. There is a long-standing split, growing wider by the day, between people who believe that the principal solutions lie in enhanced democracy and those who believe they lie in enhanced technology (leaving existing social structures intact while improving production processes and conserving resources). And, while the movement still attracts radicals, some are beginning to complain that it is being captured by professional campaigners whose organizations are increasingly corporate and remote. They exhort their members to send money and sign petitions, but discourage active participation in their campaigns. Members of Greenpeace, in particular, are beginning to feel fed up with funding other people’s heroics.

As the movement becomes professionalized and bureaucratized (and there are serviceable reasons why some parts of it should), it has also fallen prey to ruthless careerism. The big money today is in something called “corporate social responsibility”, or CSR. At the heart of CSR is the notion that companies can regulate their own behavior. By hiring green specialists to advise them on better management practices, they hope to persuade governments and the public that there is no need for compulsory measures. The great thing about voluntary restraint is that you can opt into or out of it as you please. There are no mandatory inspections, there is no sustained pressure for implementation. As soon as it becomes burdensome, the commitment can be dropped.

In 2000, for example, Tony Blair, prompted by corporate lobbyists, publicly asked Britain’s major companies to publish environmental reports by the end of 2001. The request, which remained voluntary, managed to defuse some of the mounting public pressure for government action. But by January 1 2002, only 54 of the biggest 200 companies had done so. Because the voluntary measure was a substitute for regulation, the public now has no means of assessing the performance of the firms which have failed to report.

So the environmentalists taking the corporate buck in the name of cleaning up companies’ performance are, in truth, helping them to stay dirty by bypassing democratic constraints. But because corporations have invested so heavily in avoiding democracy, CSR has become big business for greens.

In this social climate, it’s not hard to see why Peter Melchett imagined that he could move to Burson Marsteller without betraying his ideals. It was a staggeringly naive and stupid decision, which has destroyed his credibility and seriously damaged Greenpeace’s (as well, paradoxically, as reducing his market value for Burson Marsteller), but it is consistent with the thinking prevalent in some of the bigger organizations

Environmentalism, like almost everything else, is in danger of being swallowed by the corporate leviathan. If this happens, it will disappear without trace. No one threatens its survival as much as the greens who have taken the company shilling.

George Monbiot writes about environmentalism and politics for The Guardian of London.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail