Only the truth can be embellished

November 24, 2008

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?


“We lost the idealists”

June 25, 2008

Why is Dion staking his leadership and the election fortune of his party on a Carbon Tax scheme? The thing is fairly complex, hard to communicate and risks spooking electors already jumpy about energy prices. So why, Stéphane, why?

In a curiously sane column, Rex Murphy says it’s as much for reasons of internal party politics than election strategy. Probably true.

Dion’s gambit reminds me of a line from the CBC’s Trudeau miniseries. After the 1979 election, Colm Feore has his Trudeau say: “We lost the idealists”. It rings true and it’s easy to argue that the Liberals never got them back. Maybe Stéphane Dion thinks he can bring the idealists back into the Liberal fold.

It won’t work, of course. Dion does not have Trudeau’s communication skills (in either language) and he can’t establish a connection with that public.

Britain – 1 Canada – 0

June 23, 2008

Reading through the reactions (last paragraphs) to the “energy revolution” Britain is just about to announce, it’s hard not to notice how pleased the enviro groups are, compared to the reactions John Baird got for Canada’s plan and international stance.

Of course, the British plan looks a lot better. That helps. But the process leading to the plan was also very different. While the Canadian gov barely consults, the British authorities are now cashing in on a long-standing approach of engagement with the green groups and alternative energy companies. It’s still the government’s plan, but the Greenies have already bought into it.