Tim Boston

Alternatives Journal, Fall 1999 v25 i4 p42

Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Sharon Beder, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1997.

The prevalence of terms like "environmental deregulation", "eco-freak", "special interest group" and "environmental extremist" underscore the spread of anti-environmental ideology over the past decade -- a period of outright deception, prejudice and insensitivity towards nature on the part of the powers that be.
Global Spin by Sharon Beder examines the current wave of anti-environmentalism. Specifically, Beder reveals the deceptive and unethical underpinnings of the "wise use" movement, industry front groups, contrarian think tanks, multinational public relation firms, and media establishments. She argues that anti-environmental groups often promote an elite, corporate agenda while posing as public-interest groups. She also maintains that anti-environmentalists question the existence of environmental problems, and consistently oppose rigorous environmental regulations.
Global Spin offers convincing evidence that large corporate entities (particularly multinational resource and chemical companies) are employing propaganda and censorship (by avoiding, limiting and reinterpreting facts) in order to redefine environmental problems, solutions and issues. Beder's overall thesis is that there exists, in fact, an organized establishment of interests that consciously seeks to subvert or dominate environmental debates and disengage environmental concern.
Global Spin is a very worthwhile read, and should capture the attention of environmentalists and social progressives of various stripes. Indeed, Beder's book dovetails with such topics as prejudice and racism, anti-feminism, social stratification, industry-labour conflict, and social control. It would make an excellent senior-level undergraduate text.
I have only three small criticisms. First, Beder perceives free-market environmentalism as an anti-environmental project. While it is possible to have reservations about the effectiveness of market-based approaches to environmental problems, it is inaccurate to associate a corporate assault against environmentalism with those who legitimately seek to effect change (whether in full or in part) through market mechanisms. With this said, there are so-called free-market environmentalists who do not "walk their talk." They glowingly refer to the virtues of market-based solutions to environmental problems, but fail to deliver greater socio-environmental welfare through market mechanisms. Arguably, such hypocrisy slips into the realm of anti-environmentalism.
Second, there is a gap in Beder's work. While she offers extensive detail on Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs), she fails to discuss the inner workings of anti-environmental legal foundations such as the Pacific Legal Foundation or the U.S. National Legal Center for the Public Interest. These groups are very often at the forefront of well organized campaigns to promote anti-environmental laws, policies and actions.
Third, Beder speaks in generalities, using such words as "corporate" or "industrial" loosely and pejoratively. Perhaps it is time to qualify these words, acknowledge the complexity and differences among and within companies, and ultimately recognize that some are making worthwhile attempts at reform. By using these terms without qualification, environmentalists risk alienating progressive and green business people, including those whose products line the shelves of our neighbourhood health food stores.
Global Spin is a testament to the ever improving quality of research in the field of anti-environmentalism. I have read many publications detailing the spread of anti-environmentalism and can confidently say this is the best publication on the topic to date. It is a well-researched, informative and bold critique of the counter-movement against environmentalism. It also transcends the limitations of elite, academic rhetoric: it is scholarly, yet accessible in style and tone. Overall, it is a very solid, convincing and compelling piece of work.

Timothy Boston is a PhD candidate in the Centre for Environmental Studies at the University of Tasmania, Australia.

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