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climate change

Reed College

Divestment News Celebrated at Commencement Ceremony

Portland, OR (May 19, 2014) - Reed College's Board of Trustees approved with a majority vote a plan to divest its endowment of direct coal and oil industry investments and redirect funds to environmentally conscious investment managers and community owned renewable energy projects during a special meeting convened near the end of the academic term.

"This is the right time to divest," said Roger Perlmutter, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, "and even more importantly, to reinvest in the rapidly growing sustainable energy sector."

The announcement was made during the commencement ceremony the morning of May 19. Reed College is the first college in the Pacific Northwest to initiate a divestiture from fossil fuels, joining the ranks of other universities with large endowments that have recognized the compelling and urgent moral character of maintaining investments in companies characterized by fossil fuel extraction, refining, and transportation.

The Board's decision was made on the recommendation of a special committee composed of trustees, faculty, administrators, and students convened in February to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of divestment. The committee found that fossil fuel divestment was warranted under Article III of the College's Investment Responsibility Policy, particularly as a "widely-held, perhaps even universally-held social or moral position." Furthermore, increasing numbers of donors express reservation about donating to an endowment rich in fossil fuels.

"It is crucial at this moment in history for institutions like Reed to follow through on their commitments to serve the public good," says President John R. Kroger. "Climate change is likely to seriously affect the lives of our students, and financially supporting the industries responsible for it undermines Reed's Mission."

This action follows several by the college over the past few years to improve its environmental record following the adoption of the Environmental Policy Statement in February 2007, including:

  • Restoration of the 28-acre Reed Canyon watershed in the heart of campus
  • LEED certification of dorms built in 2009
  • Development of an interdisciplinary Environmental Studies program in 2010
  • Establishment of a Sustainability Fund for student and faculty projects in 2011
  • Sustainable architecture of the Performing Arts Building in 2013
  • Implementation of a 3-year $5.4 million energy efficiency upgrade contract with Amersco Quantum in 2013

More information about sustainable investments at Reed can be found on the website.

Contact: Kevin Myers
Phone: (541) 357-8604

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Environmentally Conscious Future Not Actually Planned for Reed College

May 20, 2014 - Portland, Oregon. Graduating Reed College students and their parents gave a standing ovation yesterday to an announcement by their commencement speaker that the college had decided to divest from fossil fuels.

But the President and Chair of the Board of Trustees, who were sitting onstage with the speaker, quietly wrung their hands—because the announcement was a hoax, and the board had recently decided exactly the opposite.

The college probably should have seen it coming. The commencement speaker was Igor Vamos, also known as Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men, an activist organization known for impersonating corporation officials and making fake announcements about socially responsible action. During Bonanno’s congratulatory speech to the class of 2014, he highlighted climate change as the defining issue of our time, encouraging graduates to de-normalize the status quo.

“The planet is in your hands, and if we’re going to save it we need everyone to do everything that they can. This is a revolution,” said Bonanno.

Bonanno then went on to leak the false news: “Over a delicious scone and cup of coffee with President Kroger, I was very, very pleased to learn that the board of trustees of Reed College has just now decided to divest the school’s $500 million endowment from fossil fuels.” The crowd of students, faculty, and parents cheered wildly. (Video)

“I was amused that they didn’t immediately correct the announcement. It must have seemed daunting to tell the truth after all those parents and graduates cheered for divestment,” said Bonanno.

Immediately following the announcement, Reed students and family in attendance at the commencement tweeted and spread the news through the hashtag #divestreed. The news was published on a mock Reed website. Local and national news sources, including the Portland Tribune, published the news as real.

Reed’s public relations quickly responded to the false release with their own version of the events, but not before the Yes Men sent yet another press release, also feigning to be from the Reed administration, and explaining why divestment is still not a reality: “Reed College maintains the same position on investing it has held since it refused to divest from apartheid South Africa. Then, as now, the mission of the College requires that providing a high quality education should be prioritized above questions of a social or moral nature,” read a quote falsely attributed to Reed President John Kroger.

The Yes Men launched this action following a long student-run campaign that has demanded divestment from the 200 dirtiest fossil fuel companies. Reed has a $500 million endowment, tens of millions of which are invested in fossil fuels corporations. The Reed Board of Trustees and President Kroger listened ceremonially to students’ demands at several meetings, but have not made a single commitment to change the school’s investment strategies. The administration has relied on arguments about political neutrality and academic freedom to dismiss divestment.

“It’s important to remember that there’s nothing sustainable about investing millions of dollars in fossil fuel extraction," said Austin Weisgrau, a current Reed student and member of Fossil Free Reed. "It’s profit over ethics. Colleges like Reed issue a constant stream of greenwashed branding, and it’s the civic responsibility of the student to set the record straight.”

On a national scale, divestment from fossil fuels is a growing movement with both Stanford University and Pitzer College recently announcing their own divestment from fossil fuels.


Austin Weisgrau
(858) 692-1514

Igor Vamos // Mike Bonanno

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This speech was presented on May 19, 2014 at Reed College in Portland, OR by Igor Vamos aka Mike Bonanno.
Congratulations Reed College class of 2014!
Such a sad day. Bye. 
College was fun right? 
The last graduation I went to at Reed was in 1990. In those days it was common still for someone to graduate naked, and that year one of my friends did. His name was Michael. Today he’s a Rabbi.
They do say we’re all naked in the eyes of God. Or at the very least, some of us are naked in the eyes of each other. I’m not wearing anything under this gown. That way I can find my way into a respectable profession like Michael did. If graduating naked can lead to a career as a Rabbi, then surely delivering a commencement address naked can make me a bishop in the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s always an aspiration of mine.
But I’m keeping the gown on for the next 15 minutes because I don’t want it to distract from the seriousness of what I have to say. 
I am very excited right now, very optimistic about your futures. 
But before I talk about that, I want to give a shout out to the parents and grandparents here today. Well done. It’s not easy raising humans. Your kids or grandkids may be graduating today, but they started out as small, useless, rude little creatures who didn’t care a whit for the ways of civilized men and women. Thank you, parents, for keeping these college graduates alive through those first very tough years.
Today’s graduates: At an extremely young age each and every one of you was seriously infantile. You were impossible, but look at you all now!
So please, join me in giving the clap to your parents.
(pause for applause)
Now, why did they bother to keep you alive? Because you are the future. And you have a special responsibility. Never in history has it been so important to be the future as it is now. I’ll tell you why. Because you, the college graduates of today are entering into a very different world than the one that I graduated into in 1991. I’m not just talking about how mullets have fallen out of favor.
Your world is literally very different. Upon graduation, your world includes the definitive knowledge that our climate is spiralling out of control.  
A little over 20 years ago, I graduated from Reed. I loved it here. At what other school could an Art major get a nuclear reactor operator’s license? It was a rigorous education, both in class and out. That makes sense – because in some ways it can be seen as an education 10,000 years in the making. The rigor that can be found in this liberal arts education represents the culmination of a series of educational philosophies that grew and mutated since the dawn of civilization.
Civilization! That precious, highly complex, system that emerged in the 10,000 years since the last ice age, the geologic period that we call the Holocene. The word Holocene is derived from the Greek words holos (ὅλος), meaning entire, and kainos (καινός) meaning “recent.”  For the last 400 generations we’ve been taking great advantage of the stable climate and great weather that has characterized this entirely recent period to build our civilization. In fact, many scientists say the ONLY reason we’ve got the thing we call civilization is that we’ve had a climate predictable enough for agriculture – and eventually literature, science, and underwater basket weaving.  
When I graduated from here in the early ‘90s (and I did take the underwater basket weaving class as a Phys. Ed. requirement–it was a real class at Reed), I was the ultimate beneficiary of 10,000 years of a stable climate.
Unfortunately, I think of myself today as being among the last graduates of the Holocene era. Or at least, the last clueless graduates who were blissfully unaware of what lay just around the corner, and could imagine rebellion as a kind of hobby rather than a way of life.
Fast forward one short generation. There is a new word for the era that we’re in. Anthropocene is a combination of Greek roots: anthropo- meaning "human" and -cene meaning "new." This new HUMAN induced geologic era has several disturbing characteristics, the most frightening of which is how our species is affecting Earth’s climate. You are, I think, truly graduates of the Anthropocene, and that, I would argue, makes the whole project of your education an entirely different animal than that of mine only a little more than 20 years ago.
So I ask you, what is the goal of a great college education in a world that is going to hell in a hand-basket?
In the last 40 years, the ocean has become 20 percent more acidic due to climate change. A majority of scientists who study the subject believe that the Ocean’s coral reefs will be dead by 2050–just about the time that your kids will be in college, should you choose to reproduce soon. 
I did reproduce, and I love my kids, but I’m scared for their future. A few years ago I went on vacation to a beautiful beach in Mexico. My oldest daughter was five at the time. She could swim, and she had a little mask, and she saw all kinds of wildlife, including turtles, her favorite animal. She was blown away.
I found myself loving the trip, but hating the reality. Sorry, kid, these fish, these turtles: they’re the last ones. If the scientific consensus is right, and it usually is, they will be dead when you are an adult. Some scientists are now saying that by the time you are as old as your grandparents there will be NO more saltwater fish to speak of left in the ocean. Sushi is not the cause–its ocean acidification brought on by climate change.
But despite all this incredibly scary news, a study of media coverage done by Media Matters showed that one family of tabloid celebrities–the Kardashians–got forty times more news coverage.
The ocean is dying and we’re not getting the story. The land is not doing so well either. Since I was born, global warming has added 4 percent more moisture to the atmosphere, causing a dramatic increase in extreme storms, like Hurricane Irene, which flooded the Northeast, and Sandy, which constituted the largest wind field ever measured. The southwest drought of 2012 represented the driest conditions in 800 years. We’ve recently had the largest wildfires in history. 
Climate change has already affected the global food supply; crop yields for wheat, for example, are beginning to decline even as the human population continues to grow. And the violence, starvation, and disease that come from these upheavals are here. By 2100, several studies have indicated that there are expected to be one billion climate refugees. 
To say this is very bad only diminishes the gravity of the situation. 
Graduates of 2014: you truly have to live with the blowback of the Anthropocene era–the era in which humans leave 10,000 years of climatic stability.
With changes like this afoot, what is a graduate to do? What is the next step in life? When I was graduating, a mantra that often was repeated in contexts like this was “do what you love.”
Reed’s most famous dropout, Steve Jobs, promoted that idea religiously. In 2005, he gave a commencement speech at Stanford where he said that THE most important thing graduates must do is to do what you love.
Sorry, Steve, but that idea belongs to the late Holocene. Doing what we love may never have been politically okay in the first place, but it’s definitely not right for right now, when the Anthropocene is beginning to destroy everything that makes love possible.
What’s wrong with “do what you love?” First off, “Do what you love” reads as an insult to the vast majority of people globally who have to work shit jobs to get by. It implies great privilege. But on a deeper level the idea that we should all do what we love ultimately implies that self is at the center of the universe. This is a view that conforms very well to our current culture. But it’s over. The era of ME must transform into an era of “WE.” Community must now be the outcome of innovation. Because we will need community to survive.
Do what you love is no longer appropriate. When you graduate into this new era, I say find your best skills and do what you must. I say do what you must because the planet is in your hands, and if we’re going to save it we need everyone to do everything that they can. We need to very quickly change our culture, and to rewire our economy.
This is a revolution.
No sane person “loves” revolution if they already live in relative comfort. We may love the idea of it, the principle of it, but the process is usually much more tedious and much less glamorous.
But today I am saying screw the comfort. Its over. The house is on fire. We need to act. Do what you must. If we’re going to have any love left we MUST take back the future of this planet from those that conspire to ruin it. We need a revolution.
There are countless ways to act.  A simple step, if you have some money, is to get it out of fossil fuels. Divest. Have you read Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math”? In that piece, he observed that right now, the known reserves of the fossil fuel companies constitute more than five times the amount that is safe for the planet to burn. If they are allowed to dig it up and we burn it, it is game over for a livable world.
But the market–the pyramid scheme that is our civilization’s primary engine–is pegged to the value of those reserves. If we stop digging it up and burning it, we face an economic wall. With hard math like that, the oil companies and their lobbyists are compelled to convince everyone to keep on going like so many lemmings over the cliff.
And thus an industry of naysayers is generated. People whose job it is to make us think we cannot change the system, or that it is not worth it, or that it is futile, or that it will be too expensive.
The same kinds of arguments were used to validate slavery in the United States centuries ago. The economy would collapse without it, they said! But I’m pretty sure that outlawing slavery was the right choice.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that outlawing slavery in the USA did not end the practice. In fact, there are more slaves in the world today than ever in history. And strangely, despite the great value this market machine extracts for us, and despite the dirt cheap, dirty energy from fossil fuels we’ve had for the last 100 years, we now live with more disparity than ever in history. We can clearly see failure everywhere in this oil economy. Cheap energy from fossil fuels has not brought us an era of equity and justice. So why lament its passing? Why not embrace a new reality.
The good news for you, Class of 2014, is that you have the opportunity to make that new reality. The story is not over. We can change this.
This morning I had breakfast with President Kroger. Over a delicious bowl of local yogurt and granola, I was very, very pleased to learn that the board of trustees of Reed College has just now decided to divest the school’s $500 million endowment from fossil fuels.
This is indeed fantastic news. Reed joins 11 other universities who have made this commitment to the planet and the future. 
I am very excited to break the news to the graduating class of 2014, and if you want to break the news to the world, use #divestreed
I’m also excited for the tuition-paying parents who will no doubt be very pleased that your investment in your child’s education is not in fact ruining the chance that their grandchildren will have a livable future on planet earth.
So lets hear it for Reed’s divestment from fossil fuels! 
I am really pleased about the divestment. But I’m even more excited about Reed’s visionary plan for re-investment. The money that is pulled from fossil fuels, the President tells me, has been earmarked for community owned renewable energy projects. This means Reed is putting its money to work for a complete enviro-social justice program: pulling support from big oil while literally and figuratively putting power back in the hands of the people.
So this is incredibly inspiring.
And this is a message about opportunity for you, Graduates of 2014. As we rewire civilization to run on other kinds of fuel, there is the revolutionary chance to redistribute power–literally.  When we pay for our energy that we use every day, we need to stop handing the money over to the Koch brothers for their tar sands and coal mines, and start giving it to decentralized, community-owned renewable energy initiatives–preferably ones in your own community. Wouldn’t you rather pay yourself for your energy than pay a multinational corporation that can then use that money to corrupt your democracy?  
Class of 2014, look at the massive opportunity to build a better world. Do what you must. You are going to be responsible for nothing short of rewiring our civilization–turning away from fossil fuels, re-localizing, rebuilding. In your hands is revolution–a revolution to de-normalize the status quo, to turn the swords of fossil fuel into the plowshares of renewable energy.
Martin Luther King repeatedly said that human salvation was in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. As I look around this crowd, I’m pretty sure it was you who he was talking about. But what did he mean? Here is a bit more context. He said:  
"I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination... I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, and leave millions of people perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of prosperity. And I call upon you to be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized..."
Today, I’m sure Dr. King would call upon you to be maladjusted to the idea that we cannot address climate change. To be maladjusted to the idea that we cannot make a more equitable world. To be maladjusted to the status quo.
There is no shortage of opportunity in the great transition ahead. If you are thinking about how to get a job after college, don’t worry: the revolution is hiring. When I graduated, we were not thinking big enough about the possibility. But you must. 
In the great change ahead there is unlimited potential for creativity, invention, innovation. There is an unlimited amount of organizing to do. And there is plenty of heavy lifting.
As we create a new energy infrastructure, as we create new local economies, new ways to govern ourselves, there is opportunity. Innovation is not just about making shiny new stuff, it’s about figuring out new political architecture. You are the ones who can design systems that liberate rather than enslave, that privilege freedom over oppression.
When I graduated, my class had to make our way in the world. But you are poised to re-make the world itself. Don’t let the future happen to you–make it.
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Press Release Authors Come Clean:
A Call for Middlebury College to Do the Same

On Friday, October 12, 2012, Middlebury College welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama to campus. An announcement was made that in honor of the visit from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, the College had chosen to demonstrate ethical leadership in divesting its endowment from war and environmental destruction. In reality, the satirical notice about Middlebury’s divestment was written by the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee, a group of students concerned that the College embraces practices inconsistent with its own proclaimed values.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama told the College, “Education is supposed to reduce the gap between appearance and reality.” The intent of the press release was to bring attention to the unsettling reality that Middlebury has millions of dollars invested in industries of violence, while it appears to stand for universal compassion and peace.

Middlebury College has not received better than a “C” on endowment transparency from the College Sustainability Report Card. While the specific companies in which the endowment is invested have never been disclosed to the student body, Investure—the firm that manages Middlebury’s endowment—confirmed last spring that they do not screen for arms manufacturing, military contractors, or fossil fuel companies. Given that these are among the most profitable industries in existence, it is safe to say that they are included in the College’s portfolio. Complicity has on-the-ground implications: US-made weapons fueling the drug wars in Mexico, drone attacks killing civilians in Pakistan, and the Keystone XL pipeline threatening communities from Canada to the Gulf. The choice to value monetary gain over human life epitomizes the declaration of His Holiness that “we have become slaves of money.”

There is a long history of academic institutions divesting to demonstrate their values. In the 1980s, for instance, over one hundred and fifty colleges, including Middlebury, divested from South African companies to oppose apartheid. Today, a new call to divest is being heard around the nation: Bill McKibben—founder of 350.org and Middlebury College Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Residence—recently kicked off the national "Do the Math” campaign. It is focused on urging universities to divest from fossil fuels because “It just doesn’t make sense for universities to invest in a system that will leave their students no livable planet to use their degrees on.”

The Dalai Lama stated in his final lecture at the College that “peace will come through our active action.” With this action, the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee instilled a sense of urgency in the community. The administration attempted to expel the students; however, their effort ultimately backfired. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education quickly voiced their concern regarding the school choosing to clamp down on students’ rights to free speech. The students were granted an open hearing. In front of an audience of 272 people, filling the largest auditorium on campus, they articulated the tradition upon which they drew and morals that compelled them to act. Not only did the judicial board give the students no official College discipline, they expressed their true desire to see Middlebury divest from violence and environmental destruction.

Discourse has shifted on campus and across the state of Vermont. Divestment to align Middlebury’s practices with its values has transformed from an illusory pontification to an absolute imperative. There is a growing contingent of prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are coming together to leverage their power to affect their community. In so doing, they collectively assert that while Middlebury indeed exerts a global influence, it must not do so carelessly. By taking responsibility, Middlebury can contribute towards making the 21st century, as the Dalai Lama insisted, “the century of peace.”

Tim Schornak, Director of the College Office of Communications of the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee,
AKA: Molly Stuart 15.5, Jay Saper ‘13, Jenny Marks ‘14.5, Sam Koplinka-Loehr ‘13, Amitai Ben-Abba ‘15.5, and a growing contingent

Note: Tim Schornak is not affiliated with any formal student organization.

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Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) Announces "Coal Cares™" Initiative, New Nationwide Campaign Against Stigma of Childhood Asthma

ST. LOUIS, May 10, 2011 / PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Peabody Energy today announced the creation of an innovative new public health initiative designed to combat the stigma of asthma among American children ages 0-18. With Coal Cares™ (www.coalcares.org), Peabody will offer free, custom-branded inhaler actuators to children living within 200 miles of a coal plant, along with coupons worth $10 towards the purchase of the asthma medication itself.

"Too many young Americans face daily schoolyard taunting and bullying because of a condition over which they have no control," said Gregory H. Boyce, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Peabody Energy. "By re-branding the inhaler as a cool, individualized, must-have accessory, Coal Cares™ will empower children to tell bullies: ‘suck it up.’" Children can choose from a variety of youth-themed inhaler cases, from tween faves like "the Bieber" and "My Little Pony," to the "Emo" and "Diamond" inhalers for older, style-conscious youth. There’s even "My First Inhaler," for tots.

Coal Cares™ launches today in commemoration of Asthma Awareness Month, the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to call attention to rising asthma rates, especially among children. Coal Cares™ and its Puff-Puff™ line of inhalers is the first, and most ambitious, market-friendly public health initiative of this scope of any privately-owned American company, and testifies to the energy industry’s commitment to the well-being of all citizens, including the youngest.

"Our actions are guided by a singular mission: to be a leading worldwide producer and supplier of balanced energy solutions, which power economic prosperity and well-being," said Boyce. "Coal Cares™ brings this mission to life, empowering children everywhere to take control of their destinies, beginning with their own lungs."

"Coal Cares™ is emblematic of the return to self-reliance that healthy entrepreneurship demands," said James Miasmus, Vice President of Government Affairs at Peabody USA. "Costly ‘scrubbing’ technology, on the other hand, is an untested and heavy-handed intrusion into our still-vulnerable economy. At Peabody, we're thinking globally but acting locally, and locating preventive action at the point of consumption, where it belongs."

"Coal Cares™ isn’t just the name of a campaign," said Kevin Briesslau, Vice President of Communications at Peabody Coal. "It’s a philosophy, a way of doing business in harmony with the community we are a part of. After all, coal is the fastest-growing fuel in the world. We're part of America’s heritage, and we’re here to stay."

To learn more about Peabody's Coal Cares™ initiative, visit: www.coalcares.org.

Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) is the world's largest private-sector coal company and a global leader in clean coal solutions. With 2010 sales of 246 million tons and nearly $7 billion in revenues, Peabody fuels 10 percent of U.S. power and 2 percent of worldwide electricity.

Vic Ganey

Phone (314) 472-5539

SOURCE Peabody Energy


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After Chevron's PR disaster, RAN, AmazonWatch and the Yes Lab decided to push it further, and enlist the public's help in making sure Chevron couldn't sweep Ecuador under their greenwashed rug. The result? ChevronThinksWereStupid.org.

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December 29, 2009

Canada Successfully Destroys Parody Websites
Climate policy remains deplorable

The government of Canada has used strong-arm tactics to shut down two parody websites criticizing Canada's poor environmental policy, taking down 4500 other websites in the process.

The two websites, "enviro-canada.ca" and "ec-gc.ca", are "directly connected to a hoax which misleads people into believing that the Government of Canada will take certain actions in relation to environmental matters," wrote Mike Landreville from Environment Canada in an email to the German Internet Service Provider (ISP) Serverloft.  "We trust you appreciate the importance of avoiding confusion among the public concerning Canadian governmental affairs and that you will assist us in preventing this hoax from spreading further."

In a remarkable overstepping of bounds, Landreville also asked the ISP to "make every effort to prevent any further attempts concerning other environment-related domains (enviro, ec-gc, etc.) originating from your servers."

In response to Environment Canada's request, Serverloft immediately turned off a whole block of IP addresses, knocking out more than 4500 websites that had nothing to do with the parody sites or the activists who created them. Serverloft was shown no warrant, and never called the web hosting company about the shutdown.

"We are sorry to see that the Canadian government will not 'take certain actions' that could help stave off catastrophic climate change," said Mike Bonanno of The Yes Men, one of the groups that performed the "sophisticated hoax" two weeks ago that involved the fake sites. "And we are also sorry to see that they don't care so much for free speech."

"Surely the Canadian government has better things to do than shut down thousands of websites, beg the US for photo opps, and berate NGOs for things they haven't done," said Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men. "They could instead figure out reasonable ways of responding to their growing legion of critics."

The websites that Canada shut down were part of an elaborate "identity correction" carried out by anonymous Canadian activists, the Climate Debt Agents of Action Aid, and The Yes Men. They used press releases and fake websites to announce that Canada would adopt science-based emission targets - reducing emissions by 40% over 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050 - and would pay the countries most impacted by climate change a proportional amount of the $600 billion total recommended by the United Nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They even used a replica of the UN conference center podium to show "Uganda" reacting with glee to the plan, before seeing their "tragic hopes" dashed.

Canada had prepared for just such an eventuality by creating a so-called "Climate Change War Room," a special office tasked with delivering rapid-response messaging to any negative media coverage around Canada's role at the Copenhagen climate change negotiations. Despite these efforts, last week's flurry of parody announcements, which the prime minister's office called a "childish prank," received enormous media attention across Canada and caused at least two embarrassing media moments for Canadian high officials.

Canada has been heavily criticized for its increasingly deplorable climate policy, and this year in Copenhagen was awarded the "Colossal Fossil" prize for worst behavior in the COP-15 negotiations. The group giving the award, the Climate Action Network, is a global coalition of more than 500 organizations working on climate change.

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Video at the bottom.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copenhagen Spoof Shames Canada; Climate Debt No Joke
African, Danish and Canadian youth join the Yes Men to demand climate justice and skewer Canadian climate policy

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - "Canada is 'red-faced'!" (Globe and Mail) "Copenhagen spoof shames Canada!" (Guardian) "Hoax slices through Canadian spin on warming!" (The Toronto Star) "A childish prank!" (Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada)

What at first looked like the flip-flop of the century has been revealed as a sophisticated ruse by a coalition of African, North American, and European activists. The purpose: to highlight the most powerful nations' obstruction of meaningful progress in Copenhagen, to push for just climate debt reparations, and to call out Canada in particular for its terrible climate policy.

The elaborate intercontinental operation was spearheaded by a group of concerned Canadian citizens, the "Climate Debt Agents" from ActionAid, and The Yes Men. It involved the creation of a best-case scenario in which Canadian government representatives unleashed a bold new initiative to curb emissions and spearhead a "Climate Debt Mechanism" for the developing world.

The ruse started at 2:00 PM Monday, when journalists around the world were surprised to receive a press release from "Environment Canada" (enviro-canada.ca, a copy of ec.gc.ca) that claimed Canada was reversing its position on climate change.

In the release, Canada's Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, waxed lyrical. "Canada is taking the long view on the world economy," said Prentice. "Nobody benefits from a world in peril. Contributing to the development of other nations and taking full responsibilities for our emissions is simple Canadian good sense."

Thirty minutes later, the same "Environment Canada" sent out another press release, congratulating itself on Uganda's excited response to the earlier fake announcement. A video featuring an impassioned response by "Margaret Matembe," supposedly a COP15 delegate from Uganda, was embedded in a fake COP15 website. "Canada, until now you have blocked climate negotiations and refused to reduce emissions," said "Matembe." "Of course, you do sit on the world's second-largest oil reserve. But for us it isn't a mere economic issue - it's about drought, famine, and disease."

(The video was shot in a replica of the Bella Center's briefing room, at Frederiksholms Kanal 4, in the center of Copenhagen. Matembe was actually Kodili Chandia, a "Climate Debt Agent" from ActionAid, a collective of activists that push for rich countries to help those most affected by climate change for adaptation and mitigation projects. The "Climate Debt Agents," with their signature bright red suits, have been a ubiquitous presence in Copenhagen during the climate summit.)

Then it was time for Canada to react. One hour later, another "Environment Canada" (this one at ec-gc.ca) released a bombastic response to the original release. This one quoted Jim Prentice, Canada's Minister for the Environment, decrying the original announcement: "It is the height of cruelty, hypocrisy, and immorality to infuse with false hopes the spirit of people who are already, and will additionally, bear the brunt of climate change's terrible human effects. Canada deplores this moral misfire."

Because almost none of the resulting news coverage even mentioned Uganda or "Matembe's" response, a fourth release was sent from the second website (ec-gc.ca).

Meanwhile, in the real world

The real Canadian government's reactions were almost as strange as the fake ones in the release. Dimitri Soudas, a spokesperson for the Canadian Prime Minister, emailed reporters and blamed Steven Guilbeault, cofounder of Quebec-based Equiterre. "More time should be dedicated to playing a constructive role instead of childish pranks," said Soudas in a first email, while misspelling Guilbeault's name.

Guilbeault demanded an apology. "A better way to use his time would probably be to advise the Canadian government to change its deeply flawed position on climate," said Guilbeault. Soudas and Guilbeault were seen exchanging angry words in the hallway outside of Canada's 3:30pm press conference, which did not start until 4:30pm, and at which the Canadians refused to answer any questions about the flurry of false releases.

(Update: Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff has called for Soudas's dismissal over the incident.)

More raised voices were heard when Stephen Chu, the US Secretary of Energy, refused to pose for a photo with his Canadian counterpart, Jim Prentice. After Steve Kelly, Prentice's chief of staff, begged for 10 minutes, the US guy finally asked why a photo was so important. Kelly replied that "we were carpetbagged this morning by [environmental non-governmental organizations] with a false press release. I gotta change the story."

Why Blame Canada?

The only country in the world to have abandoned the Kyoto Protocol's emissions and climate debt targets, Canada also has the most energy-intensive, destructive and polluting oil reserves in the world. The Alberta tar sands, according to The Economist, are in fact the world's biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions.

"By not agreeing to emissions reductions, Canada is holding a loaded gun to our heads, and seems ready to pull the trigger on millions of us around the globe, " said Margaret Matembe aka Kodili Chandia of the "Climate Debt Agents." "They leave us no choice but to see them as criminal."

At last year's climate summit in Poznan, Poland, over 400 civil society organizations voted Canada worst of all nations in blocking progress towards a binding climate treaty. Will Canada take the dubious prize again this year in Copenhagen?

"The Canadian government is not listening to its citizens," says Sarah Ramsey, a resident of Alberta who has seen the destruction of the tar sands firsthand. Ramsey traveled to Copenhagen to give voice to a generation of young Canadians. "We are discouraged and demoralized by our government's position on climate change. We decided to lend our government a hand, and show them what good leadership looks like."

In solidarity with the delegates from the G77 Bloc of nations, today's intervention was also meant to highlight an issue at the heart of the ongoing talks—the issue of climate justice, and the climate debt that the developed world owes the developing world. Seventy-five percent of the historical emissions that created the climate crisis came from 20% of the world's population in developed countries, according to the UN, yet up to 80% of the impacts of the climate crisis are experienced in the developing world, according to the World Bank.

"I meant every word I said," says Kodili Chandia, a spokesperson for the Climate Debt Agents, who spoke out as a member of the Ugandan delegation. "This debate isn't just about facts and figures and abstract concepts of fairness—the drought we are seeing right now in East Africa is directly threatening the lives of millions of people, including farmers in my own family. We have not created this problem but we are living with the consequences. That's why I still say: It's time for rich countries to pay their climate debt."

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