This post below received quite a few visits since it got posted a few hours ago. This looks like a good opportunity for a little poll. So read the post and vote if you are so inclined.
While the Canadian Parliament lockout continues, Environment Minister Jim Prentice is in Poznan (Poland), spinning his way through the latest round of negotiations on climate change. Canada was awarded a Fossil of the Day Award (2nd place) on Friday, for aggressive back-pedalling on its commitments. Unfortunately, Mr. Prentice couldn’t make it to the awards ceremony…
Way to go, Minister Prentice. Let’s assume this is only the first of a long list of awards you plan to earn as Canada’s new Environment Minister.
The above is what one of my PR teachers used to say back in university, when he felt the need to explain to us PR professionals do not lie. For some reason, he felt he had to repeat his mantra almost every class.
I was reminded of that teacher and his desperate attempts at finding some moral ground for our profession to stand on when I read this CBC report on tar sands carbon sequestration.
So yes, there are ways to capture carbon from tar sands extraction so that it doesn’t get released into the atmosphere. The technology exists and can be improved. It’s the truth.
Except the truth has been embellished in a monstrous way. It turns out that according to the government scientists working on carbon capture, the method is very inefficient, at least when applied to the tar sands. It’s only possible to treat a small proportion of the carbon. That will continue to be the case even after governments spend $2.5 billion to improve the technology.
It’s simple arithmetic: when you treat only a small fraction of the emissions, it doesn’t matter much if your treatment is 20% or 100% effective. It’s like trying to cure a bad case of cancer by using a really good treatment, but only on the patient’s feet.
No matter. Somebody decided the government would focus on carbon capture as the way to go to reduce carbon emissions causing climate change. So government communicators have been pushing carbon sequestration as a way to address our little flatulence problem while we keep drilling and pumping. Or in the case of the tar sands: digging, trucking, rinsing, heating, pressurizing, emitting, spilling … and spinning.
The whole thing raises interesting policy questions, which I will leave to other blogs to address. This here blog is only concerned about public relations. So here’s the question I should have asked my teacher back then:
How much can truth be embellished before it becomes a lie?
Readers of this blog might remember how disgusted I was when the government buried its how report on the vulnerability of Canadians to climate change. Even worse, the document is only available on request, one chapter at a time if you want it by email.
On its front page this morning, the Ottawa Citizen points out that one blogger went further than just getting pissed: “Miguel Tremblay” at ptaff.ca got all the chapters sent to him, assembled them all nice and tight (even in conformity with the federal government’s electronic document naming conventions, s’il-vous-plaît) and posted the whole thing on his blog, in both languages.
Health Canada’s chief flack’s excuse that the document is too large to put on the web doesn’t fly. There’s plenty of large reports on government sites, including one just as large right here (see “The power of volunteers” report). Breaking it down in more manageable chunks was also an option.
“At the last strategy meeting a couple of months ago, one insider said Mr. Dion spent more than an hour trying to explain his environmental plan, which was so complicated even his top aides had trouble understanding it. Some Liberals feel that if it’s too difficult to sell in 30 seconds at the door, voters will tune out.”
What is it with Liberal “strategists”, can’t they keep their mouth shut? Have they all been infected with the “ahah, I know something you don’t” virus? No blabber control.
UPDATE: Okay, I’ve got 22 hits on this post in the last 7 hours, which is way more than my little PR blog usually gets (except for this post of course). Who’s telling their friends to come and see, angry Liberals or giggling Tories? Don’t be shy to post comments, I approve anything that isn’t offensive (and some that is slightly offensive) and I don’t check your IP addresses.
I like to watch a well-executed astroturf campaign just as much as the average flack (okay – even more than the average flack) but this is grotesque. American politicians who are working to reduce the effect of climate change are out to hurt the poor? What?
It’s no coincidence that Stop the War on the Poor is getting active just as the American Presidential contest is heating up (pardon the pun). It’s no coincidence either that the group is managed by a Republican PR firm that received a huge contract to push for oil drilling in Alaska.
Judging from this front-page text, the National Post desk decided that since there’s a war on, journalism must be set aside in the name of the defence of national interests. Which of course, means oil sands development.
It’s ugly PR, ugly journalism.