Aug 13 2018

A humorous and informative account of contemporary disinformation through fake grass-roots advocacy. John Oliver delivers the goods on secretive marketing that is deliberately confusing us.

From paid protesters who are sworn to secrecy, to professional, lying witnesses, to front organizations with misleading names, the astroturf industry has become a popular way for dirty companies to advocate on their behalf through unaccountable non-profit organizations.

Recycling Issues

Jan 07 2010

Does recycling really make a difference for the environment? While most people believe so, some don’t.


The Utter Waste of Recycling By Alan Caruba.


Does Recyling Really Help?

Some responses from student readers.

[The latter] is a very interesting article on landfills (but long with small font so remember to exercise your eyes!) Whatever you do, DONT PRINT IT OUT! Paper is the #1 component of landfills, and no, it does not biodegrade! One study found a decade old hotdog in a landfill. Yum. Anyway, most landfills do not provide an environment where biodegrading can occur, however, this is mostly favorable since biodegrading releases toxic gases and materials. We make a lot of trash and yes, this is sad but remember to recycle your paper products and you’ll be doing a big help to decrease landfill space.

Pro-recycling information seems vague and limited. However, those outspoken against recycling, while more specific, seem to have an agenda of their own, mainly, bashing the “left-wing greens” (YIKES! is that us?). Let’s be civilized about it! The main concern seems to be landfill space. While Mt. Trashmore isn’t my idea of a great national monument, what about all the space recycling processing plants take up? Do they smell any better? And do they save any energy?

I’m sure ideally recycling can reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, but I’m not sure recycled materials offset the demand for cutting down tree or producing new materials. I have the feeling we are just consuming too much and companies will keep creating new materials so long as there is a demand. Aha! So maybe if we buy recycled materials we can make a difference.

What is Greenwashing?

Jan 07 2010

Because corporations operate globally, and abuses may happen far away, consumers are dependent on governments, the press, and watchdog organizations for critical information about environmental transgressions. Rather than fill that need, many politicians and news organizations have looked the other way. These are, after all, the same corporations making campaign contributions and buying advertising. In the case of the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, agribusiness giant Archer-Daniels Midland has long sponsored the News Hour, while Mobil sponsored dramatic programs. As James Ledbetter explains in Made Possible By, neither corporation has come under intense scrutiny by the News Hour. ADM, facing a serious scandal in 1995, got off easy on the News-Hour: “Not until October 1996–when ADM was hit with a $100 million criminal penalty for price-fixing, seven times the amount of the next-highest such penalty–did the News Hour devote a full segment to this scofflaw corporation.” In effect, Ledbetter says, “ADM could not bribe the News-Hour into ignoring the ADM scandal altogether, but its underwriting serves to narrow and contain the parameters of discussion on public television.”

When some of the largest media corporations are owned by industrial manufacturers, and institutions sponsored by taxes have no teeth, clearly there’s a lack of oversight. Fortunately a combination of whistle-blowing and citizen zeal has brought to light many serious problems. This has created some pressure. The very existence of greenwashing is evidence that corporations recognize their vulnerability to coordinated criticism. Yet it’s also evidence that public relations projects are viewed as cheaper than redressing the wrongs that create popular unrest. G.E. was forced to disclose that it had spent $800 million to avoid dredging the Hudson River, into which it had dumped millions of pounds of PCBs.

As sources of globally accessible information have proliferated with the emergence of the World Wide Web, the situation has gotten more complicated for corporations with bad environmental “externalities” (a term from economics which describes costs shirked by the corporations, such as costs to the environment). Marketing campaigns have in some cases become stealth activities. Exxon-Mobil has been very agressive in creating front groups that express Exxon-Mobil’s opinions but with names that imply citizen action. Telecommunications giants like Verizon have done the same. During the intense 2006 campaign to denigrate “Net Neutrality” many articles sprang up to explain who was behind the various organizations that claimed to be champions freedom.

Who would suspect groups with names like “Consumers for Cable Choice”, “Freedom Works”, and “Progress and Freedom Foundation”? As it turns out, they’re all “astroturf” (false grass-roots) organizations set up to misinform the public by the telecommunications giants. Link “Hands off the Internet” sounds like activists wanting to protect the Internet. But it’s really an industry-backed organization that spent $20,000 a day on television commercials aimed at eliminating long-standing net neutrality protections so that telephone and cable companies could maximize their profits and minimize competition.

What would motivate commercial media to attack this type of activity? These front groups are a an additional source of advertising revenue! Even when the media organs aren’t directly owned by polluters (e.g. MSNBC and NBC owned by General Electric), the entanglements of overt and covert advertising are enough to prevent the media from agressive self-regulation of this type of deception.

Many companies have indeed come around, and deserve their new badge of honor. But some paint themselves green no matter how much harm they do. From Exxon to Ford, from Mobil to Monsanto, the world’s worst polluters buy fuzzy, feel-good advertising with an environmental message. Columnists and politicians who’ve pushed catastrophic policies like utility deregulation and the war in Iraq now genuflect at the media’s green altar. Without a hint of irony, some claim authorship of a movement they’ve scorned for decades. Link

Carbon Offsets Effective?

Jan 07 2010

Voluntary Carbon Offsets

Does it really help?

Alice Kenny: Environmentalists Clash Over Carbon Offsets

A critique from The Nation

It should be the responsibilty of corporations to reduce pollution, not something they should be paid to do. Furthermore, a few small changes in individual lifestyle might be more effective than shelling out cash. Ah, but here we are back to the half-empty, half-full dilemma. I don’t know!!! I guess if a company is using my money to plant trees or build windmills it might be making a difference, but I find it hard to believe my checkbook can solve global warming. It’s like having bypass surgery instead of changing my diet to prevent a heart attack.

CarbonFree (TM)

Ecofuture, producers of a CFL light bulb dubbed “THE bulb” (, have labeled their product with a CarbonFree logo, right along side the Energy Star logo. The company claims to offset “all” CO2 emissions of their light bulbs by donating to Both “THE bulb” and “CarbonFree?” are trademarks of Link

Corporate Do-Gooders?

Jan 07 2010

The problem with greenwashing is that it’s misleading. It’s a direct attempt to deceive buyers. Furthermore, it calls attention to environmental policies within the company, which makes some people (such as ourselves) curious about what’s really going on. As more people become aware of greenwashing it could just make us all skeptical of any environmental promotions. No one will know what is real. Many will immediately assume any pro-environmental ad campaign is greenwashing. So what if a company is legitimately helping the environment?