Latest posts by Alan Bressler (see all)
- Unilever’s Hidden Camera Prank: Altruism or Paradox? - February 24, 2016
In his 1889 essay “The Decay of Lying”, Oscar Wilde wrote “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” In the 21st century Western energy and “climate” policy theater of the absurd, Wilde’s famous statement has been reincarnated as “Politics imitates science far more than science imitates politics.”
The latest case in point comes in the form of a new political video sponsored in part by global consumer products company Unilever. It was an attempt to drum up support for the UN climate COP-21 meeting in Paris in December 2015. It is an implicit condemnation of the scientific method and an endorsement of UN climate policies, both of which are antithetical to Unilever’s own goals as outlined in its “Sustainable Living Plan.”
The video is a professionally produced and witty hidden camera prank taking place in a first-world office setting. With young actors portraying themselves as office workers, actual new hires are brought in for what they believe is their first day. Each time, the temperature is increased and the “office workers” begin to dramatically complain about the temperature. When the temperature reaches 91 degrees, one poor “worker” pulls off his undershirt and button-down and, while standing shirtless in front of his “co-workers,” rings out the undershirt, sweat dripping on to the office floor to the “ooohs” of the other workers.
The actors talk the unsuspecting new employee into speaking to the boss. When the boss finally enters the room, the new hire politely complains about the temperature and asks for some relief. The boss – obviously representing biased, embedded fossil fuel energy interests (only the Koch brothers t-shirt is missing) – questions whether the thermometer is accurate. One of the actor “workers” then dramatically quits, but not before delivering a political missive that would make UN climate delegates cry tears of joy: “there is a problem that’s happening that effects every one of us. We have the information that it is getting hotter every day, all of us feel it getting hotter every day, and no one is doing anything about it, and that’s cuckoo.”
Unilever Seeks to Silence Climate Debate
The intent of the Unilever video is to silence debate on the complex, unsettled scientific issue of whether humanity’s CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels are dangerous as respects earth’s climate. “You can’t deny the scientific evidence before your very eyes” or you are crazy. You get the picture.
This statement is a thinly veiled poke at skeptics of the supposed “97% consensus” mainstream climate science, an explicit endorsement of same, and yet another installment in smear-rather-than-answer-your-opponent climate politics. The politics goes like this: if you “deny” (read: so much as question) the “97% consensus”, you are either crazy or evil, and, since only fools allow crazy or evil people into the debate, the debate is over. How convenient.
This political strategy is much easier than rigorously adhering to the scientific methods, which welcomes skepticism as a central tenet, and hasn’t been particularly successful lately. On important policy decisions involving complex scientific concepts dealing with the environment, rigorous adherence to the scientific method is both critical and time consuming and potentially fatal to “progress” for the Left. Fearmongering and declaring science “settled” is more convenient, and sometimes more expeditious and effective. This is nothing new. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” comes to mind as “settling” the discussion over the need to end the use of DDT despite its astounding benefits in reducing malaria where it was used. Josh Fox’s attempt to “settle” the case against fracking to produce natural gas in “Gasland” does, too.
Ayn Rand said, “We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” Doing exactly this, the Soviet government “scientist” Trofim Lysenko helped kill about a million people a century ago, bringing me to the point.
Propaganda Recalls Lysenkoism
The number of degrees of separation from Lysenkoism to science-by-consensus and the “ignore the crazy/evil people” message in the Unilever-sponsored video is less than six. Unilever is a global consumer products corporation whose entire product line depends on various degrees of advanced chemistry, biology, and other sciences. Absent rigorous science, Unilever could not reliably deliver product efficacy, much less consumer safety. Without faith in unbiased, rigorous science, global society cannot hope to make smart policy decisions about climate, energy, the environment, or anything else. Calling those who demand rigor in any field of science and have legitimate scientific questions “cuckoo” is a conscious call for the intentional abrogation of one of the most basic tenets of the scientific method – skepticism. Condemning skepticism in science is known to be dangerous to humanity in every area of policy – from energy and environmental policy to consumer product safety and everywhere in between. There. Did it in 5 degrees, with one to spare.
And therein lies the irony in Unilever’s sponsorship of this propaganda video, although one cannot be certain they are smart enough to realize it. Or, maybe they are simply counting on your continued inability to recognize it. Unilever’s corporate sustainability reporting and messaging may be helpful here.
Stipulation: There is nothing inherently wrong with corporations advocating for policies benefitting them and their shareholders, per se. However, there is definitely something wrong with any corporation advocating stifling scientific debate on complex, important issues in an advanced society which depends on scientific integrity.
Doing so in a flippant, oblique fashion in a hidden-camera prank does not lessen or distract from the offense. This also comes at a time in history when “consensus” scientists and their politician friends are demanding RICO investigations of opposing scientists and corporations with whom they scientifically and politically disagree, the Salem witch hunt-like silencing of opposing scientific and political views, and the NY State Attorney General launching an investigation into Exxon’s activities with regard to misrepresenting “climate science.”
It would be fair to ask, “From where does such a corporate mindset emanate? Why would a corporation like Unilever advocate for shutting down scientific debate on a matter of such importance”?
Unilever is a company with UK roots and EU-centric leadership. The Euros understand the climate, energy and environmental politics game better than anyone. They have effectively bet their economic and energy futures on UN-favored climate policies and are the ones who fell in behind (and as result have been most impacted by) the UN FCCC’s Kyoto Protocol.
Unilever CEO Paul Polman is also Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). WBCSD’s website states “Through our work to change the rules of the game and drive measurable impact, WBCSD is emerging as the leading and most compelling sustainable development business voice with multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, World Bank, UNFCCC, as well as with global platforms like the UN Climate Summit and COP negotiations.” Polman’s bio on Unilever’s website touts involvement in numerous UN economic, climate, and sustainability areas and projects. Louise Fresco, non-executive Chair of Unilever’s Corporate Responsibility Committee, is a former UN Food and Agricultural Network official.
Here is a quote from Unilever’s beautifully produced “Sustainable Living Plan” video (emphasis mine). It follows an intro reading like a list of the Left’s environmental talking points – temperatures rising fast, water shortages more frequent, food supplies increasingly scarce, populations’ growing fast: “And the changes will pose new challenges for us too, as commodity costs fluctuate, markets become unstable and raw materials harder to source.”
“There is no ‘business as usual’ anymore. The old economic systems are no longer fit for purpose.”
To be fair, there are some admirable, material environmental improvements in Unilever’s “Sustainable Living Plan”. But, is it appropriate for a global Fortune 100 consumer-products company to parrot anti-capitalist darling Naomi Klein saying “The old economic systems are no longer fit for purpose.” Should its stockholder’s be concerned? Is Unilever channeling the UN, Bernie Sanders, or both? It begs the question: exactly what kind of economic system is Unilever advocating?
Set aside for the moment the question of whether a corporation should advocate for silencing scientific debate. When one digs just a bit deeper into the broader issue of Unilever’s support for UN climate policies, there is so much hypocrisy and paradox – with respect to both Unilever’s own products, supply chain, and sustainability reporting and the UN climate policies it is advocating – you could cut the irony with a recycled knife.
For instance, Unilever’s sustainable living plan boasts the company is “among the largest purchasers of tea, palm oil, and vegetables.” And from the slide show video version of the same Plan: “With products used by millions of people, we have an enormous opportunity to create change and are developing a new sustainable business model. A model in which……people’s health and well-being are a priority, all agricultural raw materials come from sustainable sources, the environment is safeguarded for future generations.” One of Unilever’s 3 main goals by 2020 under the Plan is to “improve the health and well-being of more than a billion people.”
Fighting the deforestation of environmentally important tropical forests in Malaysia and Indonesia – among those environmentalists refer to as the “lungs of the earth,” acting as a substantial CO2 sink – is a rallying cry for the Eco-Left. Ironically, the very UN climate and energy policy Unilever is advocating in their video causes precisely that.
Palm oil is part of the EU’s version of the US “alternative fuels” energy policy, a policy which destroys vast amounts of important habitat for wildlife, only worse. There are numerous reports villagers have – literally – been burned out of their villages by some corporation’s or government’s mercenaries for palm oil plantations in the developing world. Last we checked, no Grandma has ever been chased off her Iowa farm at gun point with flaming torches to plant corn for ethanol.
People who understood this would never be brazen enough to comment “we are among the largest purchasers of palm oil” in a Sustainability report, where they also brag about “improving the health and well-being of more than a billion people,” would they? Put another way, if you find it difficult to reconcile being part of a supply chain responsible for large-scale sensitive habitat destruction and running indigenous people off of their land with “a model in which……people’s health and well-being are a priority, all agricultural raw materials come from sustainable sources, the environment is safeguarded for future generations” and improving “the health and well-being of more than a billion people,” you can be forgiven for being confused.