See the French translation
How is it that some environmental NGOs can continually distort facts (lie), misrepresent themselves (deceive) and relentlessly promote idealistic policies widely known to be environmentally, economically and societally disastrous without losing public support? Not only are these horrible people still welcome at the policy table in Brussels, they are often leading the meetings and directing the debates (over a cliff).
In this third part of my State of the NGOs series I’ll try to understand how this activist Teflon veneer continues to breed a socially-accepted hypocrisy. I’ll consider how the NGOs know they do not have to follow the same rules as everyone else, and how they profit from it. Like Part 1 of this series, which looked at the need to scrutinise how NGOs waste public funds with no accountability nor transparency, and Part 2, which considered how the wily social media upstarts and internet gurus are supplanting the mainstream NGOs, this third and final contribution will be hard for reasonable people to read, but unreasonable to continue to ignore.
The last four months have been busy for the Risk-Monger. In that time, he has highlighted several ethically-challenging activist campaigns:
- How groups like Friends of the Earth Europe knowingly and flagrantly underdeclared its 2013 revenue by 400% and then non-transparently distributed €1.2 million of European taxpayer money to other, undisclosed NGOs. Nobody in the European Commission cared or considered the need to scrutinise such fraudulent activities. When MEP Markus Pieper introduced a motion to allow some public scrutiny of NGOs, the Green lobby machine tried to shut him down!
- How an activist bee campaigner deceived EFSA by not declaring that he chaired a bee and pesticide group for a beekeeper NGO while at the same time serving on the EFSA working group that wrote the Bee Guidance Document leading to the precautionary ban of three essential pesticides. EFSA looked the other way and chose to take the activist at his word, even with evidence that the activist had taken down and blocked access to sites showing his conflict of interest. There was no outrage at the activist deceit that underpinned the neonic ban.
- How an activist scientist, Dave Goulson, released a study on bees and pesticides in the name of his university but completely funded by Greenpeace. Goulson did not seem to recall that he had condemned (see 31-minute mark) the research of other scientists purely on the grounds of how they were funded. A few days after a Risk-Monger exchange with him on twitter, Dave posted a blog where he seemed befuddled by the whole thing and admitted that if his findings had not supported Greenpeace’s view, he’d likely not get further funding! But he claims he takes the issue of conflict of interest “very seriously” and for the four days between these exchanges, that also included his own.
- How NGO groups used Pesticide Action Week visiting schools and scaring children about the dangers of crop protection and the evils of the chemical industry. Not only do they not think there is anything wrong with instilling a fear-based propaganda into the vulnerable minds of children between the ages of 2 and 8, they are even boasting about it (with colouring contests and organic seeds for the winning children). Why do we let activists into our schools to pollute the minds of the innocent?
- How activist campaigners, organic industry reps and European Parliament officials had a secret meeting in Berlin to plot a coordinated attack on the chemical industry and conventional agriculture. They are planning to use several mergers of chemical companies to raise public fear, exploit other issues in an undefined number of developing countries, get lawyers to block the process via anti-trust tools (even though the NGOs have no economic interests in the mergers) and use their networks in international organisations and the European Parliament to create more organic food friendly legislation. They were presented with evidence that the three mergers would not have an influence on seed or crop protection markets but they chose to ignore the facts and run their campaigns anyway.
If industry had been caught out in any one of these cases, there would be major scandals and public outrage. But as it involved NGOs and green politicians, there wasn’t a peep in the media, not a case raised by regulators and not a single challenge to any of the organisations (outside of the Risk-Monger’s modest following on social media). The double-standards here are glaring. Why do we tolerate continuous awful behaviour from such morally corrupt individuals?
This is a study in what I shall call “zealot ethics”.
The Righteous: At Home with Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy screams loud and clear in all of these cases. Friends of the Earth Europe is a main partner with ALTER-EU, an anti-industry front-group demanding that industry be more transparent, yet they themselves had chosen, in 2014, to donate €1,200,000 of public (taxpayer) money to other activist organisations and didn’t feel the compulsion to go public with the details. Since most of the work Friends of the Earth does has a direct negative impact on trade and jobs, perhaps the public has a right to a modicum of transparency.
Behind closed doors in Berlin, it is clear that the Friends of the Earth Europe activist, Adrian Bebb, was using this public money to try to undermine public perception of food safety (with commitments at that meeting coming from the organic industry) and throw some legal spikes into the running of the free market. That his meals and travel are paid by the benefits of this free market must, somewhere, deep down, keep poor Adrian awake at night.
NGOs are regularly using children to make an impact in public debates because it is very difficult to argue about the future with a child, who can easily chant simplistic dogma fed to them by malicious opportunists. We decry child labour, child pornography and child soldiers, and we demand special rights for children, but only the most hypocritical then would turn around and use children as lobbyists for their campaigns.
The worst creatures on this planet, sorry, are those activists who enlist their own children to fight their battles. But when Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki got his daughter a speaking slot at the UN Earth Summit, or Wayne Parent got poor Rachel to increase the market for his supplements business empire, or Ziauddin Yousafzai put his daughter, Malala, directly in the firing line in his personal battle against the Taliban, not only were we not outraged on how these people, however righteous, were using their children, but we even gave them celebrity status (and yes, Nobel prizes). We are all hypocrites!
The word “righteous” is apt. Fundamentalists are consumed by their cause, by the righteousness of their action and would rarely see the hypocrisy of their actions. Dogma is built on emotion and can handle contradictions that even those with the most flexible logic should recoil from. Environmentalism is today’s religion for the cosmopolitan sophisticants. We are all to a certain degree ecologically concerned – I don’t know anyone who consciously wastes resources and most of us can understand green rituals like recycling and reducing consumption. But like any religion there are a wide variety of churches and the fundamentalists (those who feel compelled to lecture others on their richly opinionated dogma – re: the activist) are given free rein to spread their righteousness beyond their eco-fundamentalist tribes and into the secular community.
Like any articles of faith, this eco-religion allows the dogmatic zealots to feel entitled, or rather, “called” to a missionary crusade to impose their beliefs on others (including, in the case of the Pesticide Action Week eco-warriors, indoctrinating children). And this righteousness allows the self-ordained to transcend the ethical standards of the secular and break bread on a higher plain. Honesty and integrity, for them, are merely virtues of a lost population of pagans and Philistines. Saving the planet puts the zealot on another path – a righteous path – that can justify an entirely different set of values (however contradictory).
A Machiavellian Malice
The ends justify the means, and saving the planet (saving humanity!) is a mighty righteous end that could justify most any morally despicable or depraved means. The fundamentalist (the environmental activist) is driven (consumed) by this end so if the means involves using (his or her own) children, lying, intentionally misrepresenting scientific facts, portraying the opponents (the infidels) as less than human, insofar as human means those sharing the same dogma, then such morally questionable activities are not only justified, but celebrated.
Activists have succeeded because they are prepared to play the lobbying card at any cost. For them, there are no rules and there are no compromises. Regulators in Brussels sometimes share with me their frustration – they work hard to listen to all parties and feel that they have built a good compromise, and within weeks, the activists are back at them fighting for more. Regulators don’t understand that for fundamentalist zealots, there is no such thing as a compromise.
The hand of Machiavelli is at work when the organic lobby tears into the reputation of conventional farmers, creates fear of benign chemicals and vilifies companies that use science and technology to develop solutions to promote global food security. Activists who build on the big organic lie know what they are doing but are acting with the conviction that others are doing in too, and as no one is innocent, the guilty one with the right motivation is just.
The will of Machiavelli is exerted when activists lie about innovative energy technologies and motives of fossil fuel companies. Researchers who juice numbers or misrepresent data see themselves as scientists with a mission. Precaution bastardised: because the fear of climate change is so terrifying, we must act now (regardless if the data does not support the premise). The human consequences from radical disruptions to a fossil-based global economy (affecting everything from food security to transportation and right to energy and health) are minimised by the perceived immensity of the task of saving the world.
The spirit of Machiavelli haunts those who bring down industries that have brought about our public health revolution. Seeing profit as the root of all evil, anti-pharma activists do not reflect on the research investment or public benefits of pharmaceuticals. So long as these naturopaths are healthy (a necessary end), they have no qualms about tearing down an industry that vaccinates children, cures diseases and improves the quality of life. When a dogmatist becomes ill, or sees his or her child suffer, Machiavellianism comes crashing down. But here is the interesting thing about these fundamentalists – their ends justify terrible means until they are overcome by another end – their own personal needs. Then either hypocrisy steps in or that spirit of Machiavelli haunts them!
In such Machiavellian cases, the end of saving the planet (and humanity), justifies the quite often, morally deplorable actions. Such is the root of “zealot ethics”.
Zealot ethics is the ethical code of self-righteous fundamentalists who consider the consequences from advancing their dogma to take precedence over basic shared societal values (like honesty, respect, fair-play … even the right to life). An environmentalist zealot, for example, would consider saving the planet as more important than telling the truth or respecting rights of others. Those who disagree with a zealot are not considered as fully human and not deserving of basic respect and human decency. A Monsanto shill is a creature from hell that deserves physical abuse and moral indignation.
In an environmental context, zealot ethics is a mix of utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number … being applied via the concept of sustainability) and Machiavellianism (how that greatest good can be distorted to get what we want). Central to most ethical theories is a “return to source” – for environmental zealot ethics, this is achieved via the ever-present application of the precautionary principle (I will need to do a blog on this).
An environmentalist zealot finds no ethical qualms about lying, cherry-picking facts, attacking the character of people, companies and entire industries. Winning and advancing their dogma is the core value. This dogma is emotional and thus quite flexible in its rationality. Intrinsic to zealot ethics is its logical comfort with hypocrisy – it looks outward towards changing the behaviour of others and not inward to one’s own core values.
It is a field of moral philosophy that needs more study (not about the moral depravity of the self-righteous, any grounded person can see that, but rather about the continued tolerance of the main population towards their improprieties). Why is there no outrage when activists misbehave, misrepresent and misuse public money?
No Codes for Green Men
One of the points that I find completely intolerable is a group of zealots who have no problems acting outside of any codes of ethical propriety. Greenpeace celebrate when their activist campaigns break the law – they film it and when their “martyrs” are arrested or injured by police, they exploit the terrible situation they had intentionally put their volunteers in. Greenpeace justify misinformation and open lies as a means to raise awareness of issues they find intolerable.
I find liars intolerable!
All industry employees, all government officials, on their first day in a new office have to read and sign an ethical code of conduct. Most large companies publish their ethical codes of conduct on their websites and some, like Total, have codes that become 25-page reports that others benchmark from. Companies and governments take the ethically correct behaviour of their employees very seriously. There are certain basic standards for integrity, honesty and justice that are imperative to the proper operation of an organisation, and they would sooner see their industry suffer before they would ever consider breaking their codes.
I have seen several cases where colleagues of mine were dismissed because of transgressions of their ethical behaviour. The companies and institutions try not to publicise these terminations and, unless the culprit is the CEO, we often do not hear about them. Make no mistake, long before the concept of corporate social responsibility, organisations put a premium on ethically correct behaviour in the workplace.
I have argued that all organisations need to publish their ethical codes of conduct. NGOs like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth and lobby groups like the USRTK or the Organic Consumers Association do not have published ethical codes of conduct and appear to encourage their staff to mislead, create fear, misrepresent, attack the competition and break the law. In their recent defence against the charge of immorality raised by Resolute, the Greenpeace lawyers acknowledged that when the NGO spoke about forest decline, they were speaking figuratively. In other words, Greenpeace was habitually making shit up … but that was OK for their lawyers – it is what activists are expected to do!
Groups like HEAL are happy to scare 8-year-olds with lies about crop protection materials. Activist campaigners like Cary Gillam or Stephane Horel pose as journalists while working for the organic lobby with an interest in the fear and falsehoods they propagate. The entire organic food industry lobby, I fear, has no ethical codes of conduct. They would happily tear down their competition (conventional farming) by funding activists and social media gurus to scaremonger, discredit industry and deflect debate from the obvious shortcomings of organic food. And their claims via paid-off third parties like activist journalists or internet gurus, whether it involves taking down the largest of companies or the smallest of farmers, are outrageous.
Activist scientists do not follow scientific codes of conduct or worry about squandering the public trust in scientific institutions. Groups like the IUCN Taskforce on Systemic Pesticides outlined a policy strategy to ban neonicotinoids before they began to do any research. Activist scientists like Christopher Portier wormed his way into the heart of IARC (and everywhere else it seems) on behalf of his paymasters, the anti-pesticide Environmental Defense Fund, to lead the corruption of evidence necessary to get the agency to declare glyphosate as probably carcinogenic (despite the overwhelming evidence from the scientific community to the contrary). I would consider these individuals as ethically challenged (and not very good scientists).
The hypocrisy of it all is that these zealots condemn those from industry who have and follow moral codes of conduct.
Hypocrisy and Immorality Thrive on Tolerance and Ignorance
During one of my talks with English farmers last month, I was subjected to a long testimonial from an organic farmer who wanted the room to know about how good his “biodiversity” was. The other farmers in the room, although uncomfortable, quietly tolerated his generalisations and chose not to challenge him. The organiser intervened and tried to deflect the conversation to another subject. I went back to the farmer’s statements and went for an open, honest exchange. Later I told the other farmers in the room that while I respect their polite, non-confrontational comportment, they would need to call out nonsense at its roots, because like blackgrass, misinformation spreads rapidly and vociferously. The more organic farmers spread their stories unchallenged, the more they believe that they are the only keepers of the environment.
I started this blog character in part as a means to stand up to bullshit artists who fabricate fear which they use to exploit the vulnerable. Some blogs get me in trouble, but I hope it contributes in the effort to keep people honest. Tolerance of bad or malicious ideas is like fertiliser – it allows dogma to spread among the ignorant. It is not that the ignorant are stupid or apathetic – they just lack information to the contrary and given the subjectification of knowledge on social media (personal facts are one more brand of “alternative facts”), it is a growing concern.
In January we heard of so many of our friends starting new, earth-shattering diets, detox programmes or noble dietary commitments. They all sounded attractive and promising and the enthusiasm of the practitioners was palpable. Now, in April, how many of these diet pioneers are successful? How many “before” photos are coupled with their “afters”? How many annual gym passes have found their way to the bottom of the drawer? We are not privy to that data since our society does not celebrate failure. We only hear the good things about the bad ideas.
Some examples where we don’t hear of zealot failures:
- We don’t have reliable statistics on negative findings or inconclusive data (what scientist would want to publish grey literature when funding is driven towards impact?).
- We don’t hear about the number of organic farmers who decertify their land and return to conventional agricultural practices (or give up, leave fields to fallow and take day jobs). I assume there must be many since, anecdotally, they frequently share their experiences with me.
- How much loss of education, productivity and opportunity can be attributed to malnutrition? Choosing not to focus on it doesn’t make the injustice go away.
- How many people silently die from snake-oil cancer pushers using treatments based on expensive supplements, lemon juice, sodium bicarbonate and marijuana? The “Truth about Cancer” video series has confused millions of vulnerable people.
We have to be less tolerant of the malicious, stupid and opportunistic dogmatists who are spreading ignorance to dangerous levels. From DDT to whooping cough, from Golden Rice to Maria Heubuch, our continued tolerance of these fundamentalist zealots has led to considerable loss of life. Death from cancers and preventable illnesses where vaccines and treatments have long been available may be difficult to quantify, but deaths from famines due to unnecessary stresses on the food chain are measurable. We have been lucky that in the last decade there have been few serious crop failures and the food distribution network has developed some valuable surplus. But we are on a thin line. 500 million smallholders in the developing world are one crop failure away from missing the rent and leaving the land.
Activists in their comfortable cosmopolitan offices who promote anti-technology biases within their zealot tribes are effectively getting away with murder. Do they realise, when they lobby in Washington or Brussels for policy changes on medicines for humans and plants, that they will be responsible for clear, preventable consequences on the livelihoods of billions of people far less fortunate than their smug self-interest? No matter what their intentions, crusaders, zealots and the righteous need to be reminded that their ideology hurts innocent people. In the Middle Ages the local populations, driven by the fundamentalist dogma of their leaders, applauded the Crusaders as they marched off to slaughter the infidel. So many lives were lost due to a zealot ethics that, from any moral perspective, should have been condemned.
They got away with murder. Populations then, as they are now, were tolerant of such a righteous ethics code. A code that ignored fairness, honesty and humanity and found a means to justify hypocrisy, malice and injustice in the name of a higher order and worldview. The zealot ethics code that drives activists today must not be tolerated.
I don’t share their sentiments or dangerous ideology and as a common person, I choose to speak up … and I strongly encourage others to do the same.
This concludes my three-part series on the state of NGOs.