Government of Canada wins award at important environment conference

December 8, 2008

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.


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?

Climate Change: out with the trash

July 24, 2008

Back when acting against climate change was not among the priorities for this government, nobody was surprised to learn that government reports about global warming were just “put out with the trash”, released at 5 p.m. on a Friday on an obscure corner of a web site.

Now the issue is one of the government’s top priorities, right? Still I bet nobody was surprised to see this in the Globe and Mail.

UPDATE: Gwen Harris posted the link to the previous buried report the Globe is referring to.

AUGUST 6 UPDATE: Yep, they buried it.

America’s energy mantra

July 18, 2008

“We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change.”

I heard this nicely turned phrase used twice by Al Gore on American network news this morning as part of this event. Seems to me it’s likely to become the new American energy mantra for the next few years.

  • It links together what Obama, McCain and many others have been saying for a while now, wrapping it all in a nice catchphrase.
  • Targets two regions of the world Americans are not comfortable with (and who can blame them?) – China and the Middle East. Gore diplomatically kept Canada out of the equation.
  • It actually works fine for both the alternative-energy crowd and the “clean coal” industry movement. NBC actually got an oilman saying he agrees with 95% with Mr. Gore has been saying. I guess it shows Gore is trying to maintain a balancing act between advancing a progressive environmental agenda and bringing everybody on board.

Political Mpressions watched most of the speech live, see her notes!

Actually, Rex, you got it backwards

June 28, 2008

In today’s Globe and Mail, Rex Murphy longs for “the dawn of the Enlightenment”, when scientists were hauled before the Inquisition for their ideas, lamenting the emergence of the “scientist-activist” of today.

Rex, you have it backwards again. The whole point of the Enlightenment was artists and scientists getting involved in society, destabilizing the old powers of Church and Monarchy, insisting that things change for the common good. The scientist and artist as activist, and later as revolutionary.

As for NASA’s James Hansen pushing for prosecution of oil executives who invest heavily in deceiving public opinion about the lethality of their product, the model is not Nuremberg. They are the great trials against Big Tobacco, asbestos companies, chemical companies that hid information critical to public health. In all those trials, scientists presented damning evidence.

With massive PR machines, industries can (and do) hold the scientists-activists at bay in the court of public opinion. But in the courts of law, with spin stripped away and the fact laid bare, they lose some of their advantage.