by Leslie Anthony
Hello outdoor students and lovers of nature! Welcome to the University of Reality’s Business Studies 101: Commerce and the Environment. In today’s class we’ll be talking about something none of us can avoid: advertising.
The first thing you need to know about advertising is that no business—particularly those industries schilling products/commodities with known harmful effects (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, asbestos, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, hydrocarbons, etc.)—spends money to promote something because it has been independently proven important or indispensible to your now or future health or well-being (which, short of breathable air, no product can be).
Rather, businesses advertise to make you believe, either through coercion or by catching you in a moment of wild hallucinatory misjudgment, that the above is true in whole or in part. This is because sales, and not your well-being, are most important to that business’s bottom line and continued existence, and have no bearing on any truths about a product’s quality or effects. Again, this is especially true when products are potentially harmful to either individuals or society; long-term detriment is not a consideration when a business is bound by its shareholders to focus on short-term fiscal cycles. Such immorality is inherent in the “profit motive” and prevails whether the business is private, publicly owned, or, as is the case of much of the natural resource sector in Canada, exists in a grey area of subsidization and tacit backroom collusion (note: this is not the same as collaboration) with government(s).
Thus, the amount a company will spend on advertising is directly proportional to the degree to which a product/commodity is inimical to the interests of those they are trying to convince, and the degree of reality obfuscation required to accomplish that goal. If the industry is a large one and the commodity valuable, hundreds of millions of dollars can be spent, often in “focused” or “targeted” bursts, to override legitimate skepticism or negative facts.
Which brings us to today’s example: Enbridge, a tar-sands oil company with an abysmal safety record, publicly excoriated by the U.S. EPA, and that currently averages a spill a week from its pipeline network. Nevertheless, the company is bent on pushing the $5 billion, 1,700-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta across British Columbia’s treacherous mountains and through its vaunted Great Bear Rainforest, crossing some 700 watercourses—including most of the province’s major and already embattled salmon watersheds—on its way to the rugged and biologically sensitive Pacific coast, where the danger of an ecological disaster will increase when the toxic slurry of diluted bitumen is loaded onto supertankers in waters that are amongst the stormiest on earth. And this is where theory meets practice.
During sham hearings held by the so-called “National” Energy Board, the majority of British Columbians rejected this project for reasons ranging from safety, to environmental risk, to the plight of First Nations, to lack of sustainability of the product it will carry, to the contribution it will make to already accelerating climate change. Empirical studies and evidence provided by third-party investigators clearly shows that there will never be enough jobs or money for British Columbians to warrant the project’s construction or operational risks, and that the probability of catastrophic leaks and spills is close to 100%. None of this reality matters to the company, however, because it needs to move and sell its oil—no matter what.
Thus, although Enbridge demonstrates daily that Canada’s wild lands and ecosystems are of no consequence, it has embarked on an advertising campaign costing hundreds of millions to convince British Columbians that this pipeline will be safer than is technically possible and that somehow it will actually improve their lives—and even the environment! Not only that, but so high is the institutionalized collusion between Canada’s federal conservative government and the oil industry (sidenote: this is the virtual definition of a dysfunctional petrostate) that the government is also spending about $120 million of Canadian taxpayers’ money to help grease the skids of Northern Gateway for Enbridge in newspapers, on radio, the internet and television. Draw what conclusions you will, but a crucible of this advertising blitzkrieg has become that bastion of the Canadian intelligensia, Hockey Night in Canada, where the bombardment by Enbridge commercials have recently reached a fever pitch, leading to the appearance of this tweet during last Saturday’s broadcast:
Wouldn’t the mega$ spent on vomit-inducing ads during @HNIC from zero-credibility @Enbridge do better elsewhere? #northerngateway #cdnpoli #cpc #tarpuppets
Why yes, it would, actually. And so we’ll end today’s lesson by noting the Top 10 things that Enbridge/Conservative party advertising money would be better spent on to truly elicit a stronger democracy, fairer society, safer environment, and long-term prosperity for all Canadians:
10) A national strategy for homelessness.
9) A national daycare program.
8) A clearing of all Canada’s student loans so graduates wouldn’t feel compelled to work at high-paying tar sands jobs they don’t believe in.
7) Cleaning up the massive environmental damage of the tar sands.
6) Re-instituting the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy and other climate-focused bodies shuttered by the conservatives.
5) Developing a future-focused, post-carbon, national energy strategy.
4) Expanding the staffing and mandate of Parks Canada.
3) Settling First Nations land claims.
2) Research into renewable and sustainable energy sources.
1) A referendum in British Columbia on the Northern Gateway pipeline.
To learn more about potential effects of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline on B.C. communities, fisheries, environment and outdoor recreation, read “A Failure of Reason” by Feet Banks in the current issue of Mountain Life Annual.