Leading up to the Copenhagen conference in December, Shell ads like the one above dominated not just any newspaper, but the online version of the UK Guardian, the bastion of progressive and liberal thought in Britain. The only paper with the chutzpah to publish George Monbiot and the only paper to print a halfway decent analysis of my research in September 2008.
So I started to wonder why. What was Shell’s strategy here? Why did they not also flood other papers with the same, misleading ads claiming to be on top of the climate change problem, claiming that CO2 can presumably be caught with a butterfly net? The cogs started whirring, the juices started flowing, and I think I may have finally come up with some sort of answer. An answer that perhaps provides us with a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the largest corporations on the planet. Or maybe I’m way off base. Or maybe it’s obvious and I’m just venting sequestered CO2.
Memo (Top Secret)
From: Derrick Leavussum, Marketing Director, Shell
To: Jeroen Van der Sneer, Chief Executive, Shell
Re: Our Copenhagen Strategy
As I’ve been telling you, it’s like everything else in advertising, Jeroen. It’s about market segmentation. Take readers of the Daily Mail, the Sun, and the Times. We’ll allow them to relax in the knowledge (or at least creeping doubt) that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy to take away our second homes and 4×4’s. Boy, those hackers we hired to break into the computers at the University of East Anglia sure paid dividends, didn’t they? Not such a bad plan after all, eh Jeroen?
It’s those pesky Guardian readers that have the potential to really rock the boat. If enough of them mobilize to go to Copenhagen, they may not disrupt the conference, but there’s a strong likelihood that the brutal suppression of protest we are planning with the Danish Police will radicalise them even further. And you know what will happen then. The same thing that happened to the Kingsnorth power station. The same thing that is about to happen to Heathrow’s Third Runway we’ve been so excited about, Jeroen. The same thing that is happening to the public perception of our beloved market-based climate solutions. It seems that wherever this “Climate Camp” go, they destroy our financial interests. I’ve told you before that there’s not much we can do to re-sedate individuals once they’ve been exposed to this lot. And our research shows that the biggest pool of malcontents they’re drawing from are Guardian readers.
Jeroen, we’ve already tried telling the truth, and that just got our sponsorship deal yanked. If we could somehow convince these people that we are concerned about climate change and working on solutions, then maybe they will just stay home and watch telly. We could have ads with butterflies and a cool seventies lava lamp theme. What do you think of my idea, Jeroen? Can I go for a ride with you in your sports car?
OK maybe I went a bit overboard, but it’s just disturbing to me when an oil company puts out ads not so that people will buy their products, but because they are engaging in psychological warfare against those who would be most likely to get involved in massive grassroots action to save the biosphere from continued devastation. They should call it sedative advertising. And the Guardian, despite its platform for revolutionary thought, goes right along with it.
After that SF Bay Guardian article about the Green Festival, I got Derrick Jensen’s books out of the library and have been tearing through them. I think the following quote describes exactly what I’m getting at. He’s talking about a book that was put out by US govt. agencies to ostensibly examine the benefits of removing dams. I think he’s absolutely right. We have to stop them ourselves.
“The primary purpose of Dam Removal was to convince people that something is being done about the murder of the planet. If the interests and their experts were doing nothing, then we would know we have to stop the murder ourselves. But if they are doing something-anything- then both they and we can relax, because the experts are taking care of the problem. ‘See,’ they can say and we can hear, ‘we put out a book on dam removal. We’re working on it. Have patience. Trust us.’
I no longer have patience. I no longer have trust. I no longer have time. Nor do salmon, sturgeon, or the others. It’s a rigged game. It is now, and within this culture it always has been. So long as this culture stands it always will be. The primary basis for dam removal decision-making by the powers that be is cost-benefit analysis, and the analyses are always- always- stacked in favor of the powers that be. If you are one of them you count. If you’re not, you don’t”
-Derrick Jensen, Endgame vol. II: Resistance
(any resemblance to persons living or dead in this post is purely coincidental)