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The Futility of Hoax

December 14, 2009

A sophisticated spoof press release was issued by unknown sources early today “announcing” Canada’s new stance at COP 15. It claimed that Canada planned to dramatically revise its carbon emissions targets and even quoted Environment Minister Jim Prentice as saying Canada was making deeper emissions cuts as a response to developing nations.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice and Chief Negotiator Michael Martin at COP15

The release from “,” claimed to announce Canada’s acceptance of emissions-reduction targets, as well as a so-called “Climate Debt Mechanism,” a bilateral agreement between Canada and Africa to furnish that continent with enormous sums in “reparation” for climate damage and to “offset” adaptation.

An hour after the release went public, a second news release was issued, denouncing the first release as fake and again quoting Jim Prentice. It called the first communique “the height of cruelty, hypocrisy and immorality” and indicated many had been fooled by the hoax. As “:evidence”, the release included links to a “Wall Street Journal” story on Canada’s policy change and to a “United Nations website” that included Ugandan reaction to Canada’s Agenda 2020.

However, the 2nd press release, the WSJ story and the UN website were also fake! The group behind these crazy antics, the Yes Men, subsequently issued a third fake press release, which included a link to video of a phoney Ugandan reaction to the phoney Canadian policy change.

While news groups like the Huffington Post caught on to the fact that the first release was fake, it was utterly caught off guard on the 2nd. Their confused news post can be found here.

According to the Yes Men, the group behind today’s elaborate prank, their actions were an attempt to embarrass Canada, which has received scatching criticism recently for its purportedly obstructionist role in climate talks.

The Yes Men were also behind a very high profile scam press conference where they posed as spokespersons for the US Chamber of Commerce.

It’s definitely worthwhile to note that the group behind today’s elaborate hoax was NOT an environmental organisation with any robust expertise, agenda or solutions for climate change. To put it simply, the Yes Men merely mixes political punditry and direct action to provoke reactions. It doesn’t seem to matter what the reactions actually are, nor if they lead to any fruitful outcomes—they seem content that the parties are forced to, or rather shamed into, responding to criticism.

In some perverse manner, maybe actions like these are effective in eliciting a response from parties who may otherwise escape the glare of the media and the public. But that’s really as far as it goes! After the furore, all that is really left is confusion, mistrust and further delay of the crucial talks that must be carried out during the next 4 precarious days.

The funny thing is that I had just spoken to a team of Canadian youth last weekend about their frustration over Canada’s seemingly intransigent role in the climate change negotiations. They shared their plans to draft suggested amendments to the negotiation text and their intentions to lobby their government leaders through meetings and consultations.

I wish that the soapbox-standers and the chestbeaters would sit down and shut up before they drown out the ideas of the true climate activists and changemakers. While I won’t discount the fact that drastic measures may sometimes be warranted as a measure of last resort, I hope that the proponents of direct activism will exercise some sensibility later this week when the high-level meetings are in session.

There are already enough contentions for the talks to be derailed without unproductive interruptions for the benefit of a chuckle or two. We need to remember what we’re hear for, remain focussed and work hard to facilitate the negotiations instead of sabotaging it.

In other words: can we please cut the crap?

Live from COP 15
ECO Singapore

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