Global Spin

Leo Goldman

e-Amicus, February 1999

Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Sharon Beder, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1998.

This Australian engineer and science lecturer reveals the business world's vast array of activities to block just about every effort to protect the environment -- clean air, clean water, endangered species, the rainforests -- everything. Even as I write this, The New York Times reports how lawyers and PR experts from cigarette companies strategized the attempt to block government regulation of nicotine. And it wasn't just a matter of high-powered media advertising and lobbying: the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation considered suing Garry Trudeau for defaming cigarettes in his Doonesbury comic strip, and R.J. Reynolds threatened to sue a researcher who showed that children identify their Joe Camel figure with cigarettes. (This from the same top executives who recently stood in a row before television cameras as they swore to a Congressional committee that cigarettes were not addictive and did not cause cancer!)

The corporate world takes the position that a free market, using the most efficient materials and methods, is the best way to ensure a safe environment. Like oil spills? The industry's response to the Exxon Valdez disaster was to hire PR firms that advised them on how to rebuild their reputation, rather than how to improve their hiring and emergency-response policies. And how about this statement, attributed to a British libertarian/conservative think-tank that is supported by the business world: "The legislation of rhino horn will fail without certain institutional changes, such as greater recognition of private property rights.... Ideally, most rhinos should be privately owned, and ranched to supply their horn and other products to market." Why didn't we think of this, instead of hiring rangers to protect rhinos in their wild home? Anyhow, as Sharon Beder says, the free market is less and less free, as a decreasing number of huge corporations dominate so many industries.

In a relatively brief space, Beder cites more than seven hundred references and hundreds of specific examples of the large amounts of money spent in lobbying, even writing legislation for Congressional committees; putting heavy-duty pressure on the EPA not to raise standards; contributing large sums to election campaigns; and insidiously controlling media content by giving or withholding the advertising dollars without which commercial television, radio, newspapers, and magazines could not survive. And it doesn't stop there. Millions of dollars are spent on free "educational" packets and workshops for teachers, all boosting consumerism and picturing environmentalism as harmful to the country's prosperity.

Sharon Beder doesn't raise her voice or use scare tactics. But in a meticulously documented, scholarly tone she concludes that this is more than environmental destruction: the control of the information we receive is no less than a threat to our democratic system, which requires a truly free press and a government that is equally responsive to all its citizens.

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