Monbiot vs Brand, Cont'd

By Keith Kloor | November 12, 2010 10:21 am

It’s pretty one-sided, with George Monbiot continuing to land all the punches. But in going for the knockout, Monbiot swings and misses hugely.

Here’s why. At the end of his latest takedown of Stewart Brand, Monbiot selectively lists some of Brand’s corporate clients, setting up what Monbiot thinks are the following two death blows:

When I first came across your work, I took it at face value. As I read more, I began to wonder if you are not, as you claim, pioneering a new form of environmentalism, but a new form of corporate consultancy. You seem to be seeking to shape the environmental debate to suit the businesses you work for. Our correspondence does nothing to dispel this impression. Can you disabuse me of my suspicions?

You are more dangerous than the other corporate-sponsored adversaries of the green movement. You don’t deny that climate change is happening. You don’t get abusive, you remain polite and charming, you sound reasonable at all times. You are, as a result, a more effective operator than them: you have persuaded a lot of influential people that you are working for the good of the planet. I fear you are running the most insidious and subtle exercise in corporate propaganda I have yet encountered. As a result, no one, until now, has called you out on it. With this response, that changes.

Well, to my eyes, Monbiot is swinging wildly with the charge of Brand being little more than a corporate shill. It’s too bad, too, because Monbiot was clearly winning on points with all the tight jabs that did hit their mark in his latest post. I say Monbiot misses with the corporate shill roundhouse because 1) he relies on Sourcewatch, which as we’ve already learned, is not a neutral source of information and 2) that particular SourceWatch page on the Global Business Network hasn’t been updated in two years. (Look at the “history” at the top of the page).

Additionally, if Brand is undermining his own credibility with his refusal to admit error (on this score Monbiot is right), then Monbiot undermines his own takedown of Brand with his speculation of motive via guilt-by-association. Yet another case where a pundit can’t help himself from overreaching, even after he’s scored most of the points.

Moreover, Monbiot, with his guilt-by-association gambit, has forfeited the high ground and given Brand, should he choose to counter, an easy opening to turn the focus on the most fantastic (and least substantiated) charge against him.

UPDATE: In their continuing email exchange, Brand responds to Monbiot:

I’m amazed and intrigued by the fictional character you’ve attached my real name to”‚ÄĚthe sinister corporate pawn.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: George Monbiot, Stewart Brand
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  • JeffN

    The last time Monbiot “scored points” on this issue (game?) we saw he was just wrong thanks to The Lancet. Now let’s turn to the CDC
    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol3no3/roberts.htm
    Sigh.
    Once again, do you think “knock out” via dishonesty is helpful or harmful to the environmental movement?

  • http://cluebyfour.com/2010/10/tobis-on-currys-uncertainty-and-doubt-series/ PDA

    “There is no inference of causation between changing policies and malaria increases.”
    Sigh.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid Tim Lambert

    “In 1993, North, Central, and South American countries used 1,172,077 kg of DDT to spray house walls”
    And yet JeffN thinks this paper proves that DDT was banned for malaria control.

  • Huge Difference

    Someone thinks Stewart Brand (and most of his friends) are basically corporate eco-beards?
    ¬
    Call me shocked and pass me the carbon offsets.

  • Vinny Burgoo

    Monbiot can’t help himself. His banging on about corporations isn’t over-reaching. It’s who he is. When he has time to prepare his arguments he’s capable of sounding very rational and pragmatic but the real George is driven by an emotional distrust of big business and he can’t hide this when he has to think on his feet. Thus his first contribution to the Channel 4 debate, in which he claimed that the Righteous are outspent and outgunned by (unspecified because – at least in the British context – imaginary) corporate-funded organizations, ranted about ‘confronting power’ and ‘fighting corporations’ and accused the film of presenting a ‘corporate-friendly ideology’. Quite why such an ideology would necessarily be a Bad Thing, he didn’t say. Ditto why confronting power and fighting corporations should be central to efforts to combat climate change.

    Self-evidently, for Monbiot these things were self-evident – and that says all you need to know about Monbiot. Despite his suit and tie, his careful marshalling of foot-noted scientific sources (which he sometimes hasn’t read) and his air of believing himself to be a thoughtful and well-meaning chap (which he probably is), in essence he’s as confused and blindly ideological as the dreadlocked middle-class white Zapatistas who sit at his feet at his more usual ‘debates’ in tents at Heathrow and Ratcliffe and Kingsnorth.

  • JeffN

    I guess you folks missed this part of the CDC link:

    “Countries are banning or reducing the use of DDT because of continuous international and national pressures against DDT (e.g., the International Pesticide Action Network is “…working to stop the production, sale, and use…” of DDT [14]) and aggressive marketing tactics of producers of more expensive alternative insecticides. It has become easier for political pressures to succeed given the global strategy to deemphasize use of the house-spray approach to malaria control. A recent agreement of the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation for eliminating the production and use of DDT in Mexico within the next 10 years3 is the latest development in the campaign to eliminate DDT.”

    In the very next paragraph they note that “the campaign to eliminate DDT” is killing people. So now we have evidence from Africa (The Lancet) and South America (the CDC) that there was, indeed, an international “campaign to eliminate DDT,” it did impact use of DDT, it was misguided, it was driven by the environmental movement, it did kill people.

    But, by all means go for that “knockout” ad hominem wild swing. It’s all ya got and it’s persuasive too!

  • PDA

    In the very next paragraph they note that “the campaign to eliminate DDT”¬Ě is killing people.
    ¬
    What part of “There is no inference of causation between changing policies and malaria increases” do you not understand? If they could have made the case, don’t you think they would have done so? The fact that they have to include that caveat-you-can-drive-a-truck-through indicates that they could not.

    Correlation is not causation, as I am sure you well know.

  • JeffN

    PDA- did you read the very next paragraph? The one that begins with the bold, no-mealy mouth sentence:
    “There is a cost in abandoning DDT for malaria control.”

    The paragraph that ends with:

    “As shown in Figure 7, countries that discontinued their house-spray programs reported large increases in malaria rates. Countries that reported low or reduced HSRs also reported increased malaria. Only Ecuador reported increased use of DDT and greatly reduced malaria rates.”

    Once again, there was a campaign to ban DDT, it reduced use of DDT where the campaign was most effective, the campaign was  was misguided, it was driven by the environmental movement, it killed people, it was a mistake.

  • laursaurus

    Good use of the boxing metaphor.
    “Jumps the shark” is so over-done in the blogosphere lately;)

  • Dean Morrison

    Monbiot’s criticism of Brand and the Global Business network seems to be well-founded, and he’s landed another punch in his recent¬†correspondence¬†with Brand:
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/11/10/correspondence-with-stewart-brand-second-tranche/
    Where Brand says:
    “I’ve no idea who the current corporate clients of GBN are. I see that Sourcewatch item is four years out of date.”
    – to which Monbiot replies:

    “You are a co-founder and practice member of this organisation, and you don’t know who its clients are? If this is true, it suggests – at the very least – a lack of curiosity on your part. Having been challenged on this point, would it have been hard for you to find out? I look forward to seeing the list I have asked you to give me.
    Could you please tell us what your holding in GBN is?”
    – Monbiot’s claim is easily confirmed:
    http://www.gbn.com/people/practice.php
    Maybe the Sourcewatch item is out of date – but then Brand is clearly in a position to update it. How come he’s reluctant to do so?

    ¬
    ¬
    http://www.gbn.com/people/practice.php

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Keith,

    Without having looked into this at all, your takedown of Monbiot seems to rely heavily, if not solely, on your opinion of sourcewatch, which, AFAIK, is an open, wiki kind of resource: It’s as good as the individual contributions and final products are. Better would be to explain why the aruements he uses are not false or not quite leading to his stated conclusions. Just pointing at sourcewatch and say “nuff said” doesn’t cut it with me.

  • Dean Morrison

    Monbiot asked this question:
    “By the way, who does your company, the Global Business Network, now represent? The list of corporations¬†Sourcewatch gives as its clients “‚Äú including ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Cargill, Dow Chemical, Shell and BP “‚Äú makes my hair stand on end. But is it correct?¬†”
    They are companies that have rather a lot of form, and EXXON in particular is known for its practice of funding a raft of organisations to rubbish climate change science. Brand’s answer that ¬†“I’ve no idea who the current corporate clients of GBN are.” sounds very much like evasion. He certainly makes no attempt to defend working for those companies in the recent past, and doesn’t make any attempt to deny his company is wrking for those organisations now. If he was comfortable with his association with those companies you’d think that he’d take the defence that you suggested Keith – that is that Monbiot is trying to show ‘guilt by association’. For some reason he doesn’t and instead tries to pretend he doesn’t know who is funding his own company.
    I think it’s fair to draw your own conclusions from that – I’ve drawn mine…
     

  • keith kloor

    Dean,

    Sorry I beg differ and I have to agree with Brand when he writes in his latest response to Monbiot:
    “I’m amazed and intrigued by the fictional character you’ve attached my real name to”‚ÄĚthe sinister corporate pawn.”

    Bart: perhaps you read past the last part of my post, where I task Monbiot for inferring that Brand is a corporate pawn–based on what? –that a company he founded has oil & gas sponsors? The liberal-leaning PBS station in the U.S. also has a similar roster of fossil fuel heavies and other stereotypical, villainous corporate funders. Does this make PBS a corporate pawn as well?

    You see my point? I clearly stated that Monbiot is engaging in guilt by association. Here’s how it looks to me, as Monbiot doubles down: he is engaging in character assassination with this tactic and his leaps of logic. And it’s strikingly similar to what Romm has practiced in the past, when he’s gone after people he dislikes, such as Roger Pielke Jr. The only difference is that Monbiot is being way more polite than Romm.

  • JohnB

    PDA and JeffN. It would appear that you are both right and the report is rather self contradictory. The report does say that “No inference of causation….” but in other parts makes the connection very plain.

    Dean Morrison I think you are oversimplifying things. Consider GBN in the context of a law firm. It’s cofounder now spends half his time elsewhere and the firm has 27 partners. Would you expect that cofounder to know who all the clients are of the other 26 partners? Of course not. Same thing.

    Past a certain point, the owner/founder of a business only keeps track of his/her pesonal clients. There simply isn’t enough time to do anything else.

    As for the whole Monbiot/Brand thing I still think it’s pure semantics. Was there a ban? Some people certainly think so.
    From the Pesticide Action Group report kindly linked to by PDA in a previous thread;
    In 2001, the international community of states drew up an agreement known as the Stockholm Convention, to ban the use of twelve persistent organic pollutants. DDT is one of these chemicals.
    http://www.pan-germany.org/download/ddt/phasing_in_alternatives_to_ddt.pdf

    From Greenpeace Canada;
    May 2001: After years of negotiations and pressure from Greenpeace, a global agreement for the elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants becomes reality in May 2001 when a UN treaty banning them is adopted.
    http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/about-us/Successes/

    Greenpeace China feels much the same way;
    2004 The Stockholm Convention comes into force following years of lobbying by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations. A key feature of the convention calls for the elimination of all Persistent Organic Pollutants.

    Or does someone want to argue that “eliminating” something is effectively different from “banning” it?

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Keith,
    ¬
    I believe the accusation is clearly formulated by Monbiot:
    ¬
    > I fear you are running the most insidious and subtle exercise in corporate propaganda I have yet encountered.
    ¬
    Monbiot is not doing that.¬† First, he shows that Brandt has been promoting claims that are untrue.¬† Second, he shows that Brandt has been promoting claims that have been made by corporations’ PR guys.¬† You agree that these series of jabs have been effective.
    ¬
    Citing corporations for which Brandt was hired as a consultant seems relevant to this discussion.¬† This citation would amount to guilt by association if the corporations’ behavior was invoked to infer something about Brandt’s.¬† But since Monbiot has directly attacked Brandt’s integrity, I don’t think he relies on association to make his case.
    ¬
    If we wish to criticize Monbiot, not double-checking Sourcewatch is the way to go.  That means double-checking Sourcewatch.  Then, either we find out that Sourcewatch makes untrue claims, or we find out more complete information elsewhere about Mr. Brandt and the other entities involved.
    ¬
    My own criticism would simply be that “insidious” is getting stereotyped.¬† It means being more than beguiling, it means being harmful.¬† Saying that someone’s work is harmful begs to be justified.
    ¬
    This can’t be an uppercut. Too much <a href=”http://climateaudit.org/2009/06/24/speaking-of-attribution/#comment-186325″>un-cheerfulness</a>: Monbiot seems upset.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Deleatur: “Monbiot is not doing that” belongs to another version of the comment.

  • Dean Morrison

    JohnB – you’re just being silly. The Stockholm treaty bans dangerous pesticides for agricultural use, but there is an exemption, which was supported by WWF and Greenpeace, for disease control – at least until something better comes along. Quote mining and deliberately leaving out the information about the exemption is unimpressive. Such tactics are best left to creationists. As for ‘no guilt by association’ – well no-one is saying that Brand is¬†responsible¬†for the crimes of Exxon and co – but on the other hand he’s acting as a hired advocate and apologist for them, then that’s a pertinent fact is it not? Using your analogy of a senior partner in a law firm not being aware of what his associates are up to – well he of all people should no that ignorance is never a great defence to apply. And although advocates are not responsible for the crimes of their clients – their role in representing them is not to present a fair and balanced picture either.
    You can choose to take Brand’s word for it that he is ignorant of ¬†who the clients of the company he founded now are, despite his very active involvement with that company. If they really have lost such clients as Exxon, Dow and all those major polluters since the last update in Sourcewatch, I’d say that Brand ought to take a little more interest, because I’m sure that will show up on the balance sheet.
    Keith, if Brand has nothing to hide, why didn’t he come right out and say who his clients are, and defend his right to be associated with them? There’s a long and sad history of supposed environmentalists selling out, and such people are especially useful frontmen to the companies involved. Patrick Moore springs to mind. If you are going to take money from such people then you need to be transparent about it and explain why. If you can, perhaps there’s no shame in it – but if you do so clandestinely and then try to present yourself as an independent voice, I’m afraid you lose credibility.
    The whole DDT Myth started with a pitch by Robert Bate to the tobacco company Phillip Morris, for money to launch a counter attack on environmentalists, and to undermine potential further international¬†legislation¬†on tobacco control, as well as POP’s and climate change.
    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2008/05/rehabilitatingcarson/
    By your reasoning there was nothing wrong with that, and Bate should suffer no loss of credibility for clandestinely seeking tobacco money to fund a dirty tricks campaign based on spreading falsehoods about DDT. Brand is now repeating that myth. If he isn’t a corporate pawn ¬†via the GBN – he’s certainly acting as one for the corporations funding the DDT smear campaign.

  • JohnB

    Dean, not at all. But from your response I don’t think I made myself properly clear. I linked to Greenpeace and others simply to show that the word “ban” was being used by them.¬† It was to point out that both sides had used the word in the past WRT DDT, which is why I think the argument is an internet mountain out of a semantics molehill.

    I do take your points about Brand and his group and I think that your argument is quite good. Yes, a senior partner should know what is going on.

    As to the groups clients, a couple of things. Firstly you are assuming the sourcewatch is a reliable source, it may be or it may not. Since they are an advocacy group it is highly likely that things get left out or coloured in some way.

    Secondly, why should any private company release their client list? I do agree with you that known corporate interests are pertinent when evaluating someones position, but it’s still a sticky point.

    Don’t forget his competitors would also dearly love to know his client list. Which may be a good reason not to come out and say who they are.

    All this however is beside the point. “Is his argument right?” is the only valid question. If his argument is right, then what does it matter who is on his client list? We call this “Playing the man and not the ball”.

    And Dean, if you are going to quote the prospect magazine article, at least include the link to Robert Bates response in the same magazine.
    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2008/05/ddtworks/

    Like many things, I think the truth will be hard to get to. Your article says that ESEF was set up with tobacco money. Bates denies this, he says that he asked but never got a reply. Lobbywatch says he got the money, sourcewatch says he didn’t. Powerbase is even more bizarre;
    “Note that this passage from The Lancet does not establish a definitive money trail from Philip Morris to ESEF. But Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber have no doubt that ESEF was acting under instructions from Big Tobacco. In their article, “How Big Tobacco Helped Create ‘the Junkman'”,”

    So even though there is no evidence, two article writers “have no doubt that ESEF was acting under instructions”.¬†Which would make it “guilt by association” without actually associating.¬† I’m starting to hear the “Twilight Zone” theme. :)

    Anyway, I think that the actual truth is set well behind a lot of “He said, she said”.

  • Dean Morrison

    John,
    Brand used to list his clients, that list has now been taken down and Brand pretends not to know who they are. The issue of confidentiality is moot since Brand was happy to parade his client list in the past. As for ‘playing the man not the ball’ – the question is which ‘man’ we are playing – Brand, or the shadowy clients he is representing.

    I quoted the Prospect article, which clearly links to Bates ‘rebutta’ – which you clearly dind’t have any trouble finding. However you may not be aware that that ‘rebuttal has itself been demolished¬†by Prof Quiggins:

    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2008/05/18/in-praise-of-rachel-carson-bate-responds/

    In his rebuttal Bate admits to working for the Tobacco industry, and making a pitch to them to stage a campaign against environmentalists based on DDT – as part of an effort to fight back against legislation against controls on tobacco. That would have remained a secret if it hadn’t been for legal rulings forcing the tobacco companies to release their¬†correspondence. ¬†Maybe you think that questioning Bate’s credibility on this basis is a matter of ‘playing the man, not the ball’ – but if the scientific arguments for DDT use are so compelling, one wonders why tobacco companies are reluctant to make them openly themselves? Whatever the source of funding for Bate’s disinformation campaign, it is crystal clear from that piece of¬†correspondence what Bate’s motives are.¬†¬†Bate has been running a political campaign precisely along the lines described in his pitch to Phillip Morris – and you might wish to note that his organisation ‘Africa Fighting Malaria’ has not undertaken a single action to actually ‘fight malaria’, and instead simply publishes articles by Bate and his fellow lobbyist Richard Tren.

    You’ve confused ESEF – which is a lobby group set up by Bate mainly to deny the scientific evidence about global warming and passive smoking; ¬†with AFM – which is Bate’s lobby group to deny the scientific evidence about malaria control.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org
    /index.php?title=European_Science_and_Environment_Forum
    ¬
     

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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