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Archive for the ‘Misinformation’ Category

Book Review “Blowout” by Rachel Maddow

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Published by Crown 2019

ISBN 978-0-525-57547-4

Ebook ISBN 978-0-525-57549-8

I am very fortunate to have a neighbour who likes to buy hardback books and then rather than keep them looks for someone who might like to read them. Even though $40 Canadian is, I suppose, not out of reach, it is still a delight to get my hands on an almost new book, for free. In this case, covering the history of the oil and gas industry is mostly familiar territory, although there is quite a lot here that I seem to have managed to miss at the time, or had perhaps just forgotten. And just because it is three years old does not mean it is out of date since nothing much has changed since it was published.

For any kind of life to continue on earth, the oil and gas industry must, as a matter of urgency, be brought under control. Its trajectory is still to expand the production of the fossil fuels that have now produced the unprecedented threat of the climate crisis.

“The oil and gas industry, as ever, is wholly incapable of any real self-examination, or of policing or reforming itself. Might as well ask the lions to take up a plant based diet. If we want the most powerful and consequential industry on our planet to operate safely, and rationally, and with actual accountability, well make it. It’s not mission-to-Mars complicated either, but it works”.

Maddow’s book is mainly concerned with the United States, of course. Not that matters in Canada are any different. We too pour subsidies at both federal and provincial level into oil companies whose profits have been growing exponentially. We used to get considerable revenues from the royalties levied on these companies. Now that is next to nothing and, at the same time, the favorable tax treatments and supports are in the billions on dollars. Yes billions with a B. Maddow does not mention how Norway has been treating the oil and gas industry – it is not even listed in the index – but that might have been a welcome sign that reform is possible. But probably not very likely as long as Republicans still dominate Congress. Though there was one shining moment that she does mention when both parties and both houses got together to ensure that Trump could not unilaterally cancel sanctions on Russia. Which was a very definite objective of Putin’s campaign to get him elected.

There is much detail of the recent activities of the industry, including of course the Deepwater Horizon – which got so much coverage at the time – as well as a second Gulf drilling rig leak which went on for much longer and was even worse but got hardly any attention. The Taylor oil spill started in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan struck. It remained a secret until 2010, and by 2018 was still leaking seven hundred barrels of oil into the Gulf every single day. The industry still has little more than paper towels and dish liquid to clean up spills and very little oversight to ensure that spills don’t happen. “For every 1,000 wells in state and federal waters, there’s an average of 20 uncontrolled releases – or blowouts – every year.” (US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement)

Then there is the tale of fracking and the damage to water resources, homes, farms and businesses from a vast earthquake “swarm”. Again Maddow has plenty on this but misses the way that the industry has been very much aware that it loses vast amounts of methane (a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2) but simply regards that as a cost of doing business – and not something that it highlights as in many cases the methane gas they do manage to capture is simply flared, as liquid fuel for motor vehicles is by far the greatest source of demand for the industry’s output. Outright lying, and obfuscation, is naturally the industry’s preferred method of dealing with this issue. Though they do have a commitment to increase the use of methane – “natural gas” – which is claimed to be the cleanest fuel when in reality it is anything but. It is only recently that I have seen mainstream media picking up the story that gas appliances in the home – mostly stoves – are responsible for indoor air quality to be worse than anything that would be permitted industrially. And in this region Terasen (which used to be BC Gas) is proposing a large LNG export terminal in the Fraser estuary at Tilbury. There is already a smaller terminal there and it is also the case that in the US, where ports get more oversight from local authorities than in Canada, would be very unlikely to be permitted due to the proximity of many other businesses and even residential development. LNG production and transportation in general is also bedevilled by methane leaks that are underreported and difficult to control.

Maddow has a very engaging style and the book reads very easily. There is a substantial (nearly 20 pages) of Notes on Sources. With, of course, copious links to information available online. And there is also a very careful analysis of the mind set and ambitions of Russian dictator Putin, including exactly why he has such a vast and successful social media presence and which has done so much damage to democracy and public discourse. It well worth the read. Both the book and the audiobook are currently available at the Vancouver Public Library but there is a short wait list for the ebook.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 2, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Rigged

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I do get a lot of press releases. It had not occurred to me that at one time such things were rare, and that someone had to invent them. It turns out that was Ivy Ledbetter Lee – someone I had never heard of – early in the twentieth century.

“Before Lee, companies had a pretty adversarial relationship with the press and vice versa. Lee thought businesses would do better to tell journalists more of their story themselves. It was so unusual that when he first began sending press releases to The New York Times, the paper printed them verbatim.”

So I had better not do that then. Except that I really do not know much more about this new web site other than what I read in the Press Release and what I found when I went to that link to find out that was there.

I do think that misinformation is a problem. It is not confined to one country, although this one commits itself to “the history of disinformation in America” by which I take it to be the United States. Having just read “Cuba“, I am more than usually alert to this misleading name given to just one part of a very large continent. Or Two. America includes Canada, Mexico and everywhere else all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Misinformation bedevils all of that and most other places too. We call it Public Relations but its true name is propaganda. There really is not much of a distinction anymore between “spin” and flat out lies. Anyway, it seems to me that this web site will be a useful resource, and it is also unlikely to get a great deal of coverage from the sort of media outlets that rely on PR for so much of their content because they have gotten rid of most their real journalists.

So everything from this point onwards is indeed from the Press Release, but I do urge my readers to go check out rigged.media

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Today, just ahead of Congress’s Big Oil disinformation hearings this Thursday, independent investigative climate journalist Amy Westervelt launches Rigged, a new web project and companion podcast focused on the history and functionality of disinformation. It’s a rich archive of rare or never-seen disinformation material that Amy has dug up over years of research. 

“I started Rigged because I realized I had hundreds of documents on my desk that weren’t doing any good there, and that could be useful to other reporters working on stories about disinformation, ranging from climate denial and Covid hoaxers to the Big Lie around the election,” Westervelt explains. “There’s a general sense out there that disinformation is a relatively new thing, and I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s more than a century old, that American corporations invented many of the techniques we’re still seeing today, and that it was created largely to help American industry circumvent democracy when it needed to.” 

The website offers a rich archive of documents, many rarely or never-before seen, which Westervelt organizes and puts into context. Through her original reporting and writing, she demonstrates that disinformation is not only not a new phenomenon from Russia or Facebook, but it even predates Big Oil and Big Tobacco’s adoption of science denial. Westervelt also introduces readers to some of the key figures in the rise of disinformation, like Standard Oil publicist Ivy Lee, the self-proclaimed “father of public relations” Edward Bernays, corporate exec-whisperer Earl Newsom, tobacco spinmaster Daniel Edelman, and many more. A companion podcast, also called Rigged, will tell some of their stories in vivid detail. The first episode, “Fake Experts and Real Bacon,” explores how Beech-Nut food company publicist Edward Bernays convinced doctors to tell Americans that a heavier breakfast was healthier, thus giving birth to the “classic American breakfast” and sending bacon sales soaring. Rigged is available now on all podcast platforms.

Amy Westervelt is the founder of the Critical Frequency podcast network, and an award-winning print and audio journalist. She contributes to The Guardian, The Nation, and Rolling Stone, and has previously contributed to The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, KQED, The California Report, Capital Public Radio, and many other outlets. In 2007, she won a Folio for her feature on the potential of algae as a feedstock for biofuel. In 2015 she was awarded a Rachel Carson award for “women greening journalism”, in 2016 she won an Edward R. Murrow award for her series on the impacts of the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, in 2019 she won the Online News Association award for “Excellence in Audio Storytelling,” and in 2021 she won Covering Climate Now’s audio award. As the head of Critical Frequency, she has executive produced more than a dozen podcasts, including projects with Stitcher’s Witness Docs and Crooked Media. Her book “Forget Having It All: How America Messed Up Motherhood, and How to Fix It” was published in November 2018 by Seal Press.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 26, 2021 at 11:31 am

Posted in Misinformation

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