"What you get in your mailbox," Audubon Society COO Dan Beard once admitted, "is a never-ending stream of shrill material, designed to evoke emotions, so you’ll sit down and write a check." Added Sierra Club conservation director Bruce Hamilton: "I’m somewhat offended by it. But it works. It’s what builds the Sierra Club."
No doubt. But others pay a heavy price. And “shrill” hardly begins to describe the fabrications and vitriol of campaigns against companies, especially in extractive industries.
As developed countries upgrade facilities and infrastructures, China and India are leading the way in electrifying and modernizing poorer nations at an unprecedented pace. With 3 billion people struggling on $750 a year, 2 billion still without electricity or running water, and millions dying annually from malnutrition and diseases rarely seen in the West, the efforts are long overdue.
All require raw materials, and companies are scrambling to develop new energy and mineral deposits. While resource extraction is dangerous, dirty and ecologically intrusive, most Western firms emphasize modern technology, health, safety and environmental standards, land reclamation, and cooperation with local and indigenous people. Their operations are usually a major improvement over those conducted by millions of small, poorly regulated and often illegal “artisanal” mines, and even many government-run mines, smelters and oil production facilities in poor countries.
For radical social and environmental activists, however, none of this is relevant; correcting and punishing violations is insufficient. They simply don’t want globalization, foreign investment, mining or fossil fuel development.
Equally important, foreign-owned energy and mineral companies operating in developing countries are perfect focal points for well-orchestrated campaigns that stir up anger and resentment over exaggerated or imaginary environmental and human rights violations – so that people will write a check, and help build the activists’ visibility and power. The agitators clearly have the political and PR savvy, Internet skills and sympathetic media contacts to spin even the most trumped-up charges into gold.
* In 1995, Greenpeace railed that Shell Oil planned to sink a retired platform filled with oil. Its blitzkrieg embarrassed the company and garnered the Rainbow Warriors extensive news coverage. A year later, Greenpeace admitted the claims were fraudulent: there was no oil.
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