Draw curtain, fade in stage lighting. In the foreground is a thriving community in Angola. The background is a petroleum field. Big oil is improving life in far-away Africa.
I feel better already.
This is not the first scene in a play, but the first page of a special issue of The Economist magazine, titled “The World in 2011.” The Economist, one of the world’s most respected newsmagazines, is painting a world where buying a luxury car is good for the environment, using pesticides and genetically modified seeds promotes biodiversity, fueling your car is akin to feeding your children, mining promotes resource conservation, and Goldman Sachs is in the business of renewable energy because they care about the planet…..all in the first 47 pages of a 167 page issue.
In all, I count five ads in the first pages that show that megacorporations are making the world a better place. If only it were true.
Welcome to the Economist’s special “greenwashing” edition. There will be another next week. And the week after that.
It got me thinking: how do such advertisements measure up to the facts? How does the content of The Economist square with the PR within? We already know the answer.
The Economist describes itself as, “first published in September 1843 to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which pushes forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” Yet, they fund the publication with advertisements that attempt to corrupt our minds with the same timid ignorance that they seek to confront.
The Economist is employing a “suspension of disbelief” technique borrowed from theater and literature whereby plausible threads of truth are infused into a false narrative in a way that makes the story believable.
Yes, petroleum companies do, on occasion, get involved with local communities in a positive way. However, on balance, can anybody who is familiar with the facts say, with a straight face, that petroleum companies have had a positive influence on third world communities? Or that genetically modified crops promote biodiversity?
Advertisements manipulate beliefs in subtle ways; they take serious issues and turn them into theater where the real, critical thinking that we are all capable of is replaced by luxury cars with LCD plants that literally grow as you drive.
Belief is being suspended like a dead sheep on a meathook; nobody wants to look at it, but everybody is hungry.
This manipulation is not restrained to the ads, unfortunately. Consider the context of the “news” articles. The Economist has published an article suggesting new approaches to combating climate change on page 26, right in the middle of the theatrical and misleading copy described above. In fact, the article, which encourages people to focus on ideas that “could cool, rather than warm, the planet” is facing an ad from “business friendly Bahrain” that reads “fact: the best way to unlock the trillion-dollar gulf market is from Bahrain.” No wonder people are confused by the issues. What are we supposed to think?
At best we are getting mixed messages. The reality of the situation is that just as people are dependent on burning petroleum and coal for their energy needs, they are destroying the planet in the process. The Economist, which is dependent on advertising revenue from the sales of coal and oil to pay for its publication, is facilitating that destruction.
Everybody, it seems, needs to eat. Few are aware that they are the ones who are being prepared for the slaughter.
Satirical art taken from Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, and The Yes Men.