|Rex Murphy: Thou must not question Big Environment Rex Murphy Jan 14, 2012 – 9:02 AM ET | Last Updated: Jan 13, 2012 5:06 PM ET |
Like the Pope speaking ex cathedra, Greenpeace can never be wrong
The environmental movement has enjoyed smooth, mostly untroubled progress since its beginnings in the 1960s, when its activists romped around the northern sea floes off the coast of Labrador. The enviros migrated with almost the same punctuality as the seals: Every spring, you could treat yourself to the sight of them bobbing up and down on the ice-pans, high-bosomed starlets stroking the pelts of large-eyed newsmen and seals alike, whole platoons of photographers aiming for the perfect cute shot, and a kite tail of various enthusiasts and camp followers to give a sense of noise and drama. Labrador is more or less quiet these days: Those Who Care have decamped to the oil sands and other pastures.
Robert Redford, when he can tear himself away from the general dorkiness of the Sundance Festival, is big on saving the planet these days. James Cameron can generally be found rustling the vines somewhere in the Amazon rain forest. Leonardo DiCaprio is always good for a Vanity Fair cover as long as its backlit and there’s a polar bear somewhere. Mixing it up with the environmental crusaders is good PR for Hollywood one-percenters — takes the heat off their monstrous paydays, their jets and, for that matter, most of their silly movies.
Some enviro groups have grown corporate in size, techniques and attitude. Greenpeace is now to the environmental world what GM used to be to the automobile world. The various Sierra Clubs dot the world like McDonald’s. As the example of Canada’s own Northern Gateway pipeline shows, modern environmental protestors have refined a basic set of skills to near perfection: deploying legal challenges to stall a project, taking advantage of hearings to protract and delay, signing on huge numbers of groups and individuals to take part in such hearings. They are expert at singling out one activity and applying all their focus and energy toward stopping it.
The big-name environmental groups are routinely excellent communicators — faster, clearer and quicker with the message than governments or industry. I credit them for this, incidentally. Good for them that they have tuned themselves so finely, learned the game. Businesses and politicians have always been way behind in the new world of publicity and protest, and it is their own fault — half-laziness and half arrogance — that they are.
The greatest advantage the greens have had is the relative absence of scrutiny from the press. Generally speaking, it’s thought to be bad manners to question self-appointed environmentalists. Their good cause, at least in the early days, was enough of a warrant in itself. And when it was your aunt protesting the incinerator just outside town, well that was enough. But when it’s some vast congregation of 20,000 at an international conference, or thousands lining up to present briefs protesting a pipeline, well, let’s just say this is not your aunt’s protest movement anymore.
There is no such thing as investigative environmental reporting — or rather very precious little of it in the established media. Environmental reporters rarely question the big environmental outfits with anything like the fury they will bring to questioning politicians or businesspeople. Advocacy and reportage are sometimes close as twins.
And so the great thing I see about Resource Minister Joe Oliver’s little rant against Northern Gateway pipeline opponents a few days ago — asking whether some groups are receiving “outside money” or if they are proxies for other interests — is not so much the rant itself, but rather the fact that at last some scrutiny, some questions are being asked of these major players. Big environment, however feebly, is being asked to present its bona fides. And that’s a good thing: The same rigor we bring to industry and government, in looking to their motives, their swift dealing, must also apply to crusading greens.
Where does their money come from? What are their interests in such and such a hearing? What other associations do they have? Are they a cat’s paw for other interests? Do they have political affiliations that would impugn their testimony? In hearings as important as the ones over the Northern Gateway pipeline, with the jobs and industry that are potentially at stake, the call to monitor who is participating in those hearings is a sound and rational one.
No one should be excluded from those hearings — at least, no one who has a solid and honest objection to the project. But some amount of transparency from all those environmental groups that demand “transparency” from everyone else is a reasonable ambition as well. Let us have some vetting of the vetters. To that degree, I applaud the Minister.
Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV’s The National and is host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup.