Tar vs. Blood – Fools, PR and the shifting sands of corporate social responsibility

The trendy thing to do these days for trendy companies that sell trendy products is to show their trendy customers that these companies care about more than just their bottom line, they also care about how showing that they care can affect the same.

Take climate change. An issue that is all the rage (at least is was before the global economic downturn) among consumers who have been inundated with a large and wasteful awareness campaign about it. Yes, we’ve all learned about the perils of out-of-control consumption, have been directed to consume more, but to consume products that are allegedly less harmful to humanity. So how are multinational corporations serving humanity these days?

Take the Gap, Timberland and Levi’s.

These three companies are the latest to boycott the Alberta “tarsands” because of the CO2 emissions that come from the extraction process. Here’s CP’s writeup:

Another four major U.S. companies are joining the move to either avoid or completely boycott fuel produced from Alberta’s oilsands.

The Gap, Timberland and Levi Strauss have all told their transportation contractors that they will either give preference to those who avoid the oilsands or have asked them what they’re doing to eliminate those fuels.

The move adds to growing international economic pressure on the oilsands industry and the Alberta government to reduce its environmental impact.

Indeed, the Gap, Timberland and Levi Strauss are shifting away from the Alberta oilsands. But is it a focus on the elimination of oil? No, we can see that the order put out has been to only avoid oil from Alberta’s oilsands projects.

In a market system, when you pull one source you must supplant with another. And indeed, that’s what’s happened here. If these companies don’t get their oil from Alberta, the supply will be increased from other sources, namely countries that breed terror and radicalized citizens that wish to see people in Western countries suffer.

It is unclear whether the Gap, Timberland and Levis have told their stores in Riyadh Saudi Arabia to boycott Alberta’s oilsands oil, but this poses an important question: does the socially conscious Saudi shopper care enough about how those Albertan oil tycoons are murdering the Earth? And if so, when will we see a boycott?

Thoughts about Live Earth

Yesterday, on seven stages around the world over 1 million people attended a mega-concert event geared to raise awareness on the issue of climate change or the “climate crisis” as billed by event organizers.

News reports claim that the event had a reach to about 2 billion television watchers around the world.

Despite the disputed logic of the cause by some, it was heartening to see so many people interested in attending a rally for what they truly believe to be a good cause. It is good to know that there is a lot of positive energy out there ready to be channeled to fight for good causes whatever they may be.

However, it is unfortunate that these concerts do not do much to raise “awareness”; often participants of such mega-concerts are the most aware of these issues. I’m not sure how many people tuned in and said “Global… warming? Really? Thank goodness for John Mayer or else I would have never known”. On a more useful note, Billy Corgan made me aware that his new Smashing Pumpkins CD is about to be released. Thanks Billy.

Despite the good intentions of these mega-concerts, the problems that they purport to address still exist and for the most part, have not really advanced along a good track. Live Aid, and most recently, Live 8 meant to raise “awareness” of poverty in Africa. Despite the collective efforts of our mothers (“eat your vegetables, there are children starving in Africa”) and the calling upon the power of rock to solve the world’s ills, poverty still exists in Africa.

Often, the logic behind such efforts is paradoxical. Dumping money and aid on Africa, according to some economists, is exacerbating the problem there. Further, the music industry is the vanguard of consumerism. How does flying Madonna’s 100 member entourage from New York to London on her private jet to express a message of conservation ring true to anyone? Media is to be consumed and the music industry cranks out a lot of plastic, puts a lot of rubber on the road (and CO2 in the air) while musicians tour, and demands terawatts of electricity to power countless speakers and to illuminate hundreds of millions of TV screens.

As for the Live Earth mega-concert, the worst moment was at Giants stadium in New Jersey (billed as New York), when Petra Nemcova, the supermodel that survived the Asian tsunami took the stage to help raise awareness about our “climate in crisis”. I would never shrug aside Ms. Nemcova’s harrowing ordeal, however, no serious scientist would ever link that particular tsunami with climate change as the 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake, not by CO2. It is unfortunate that the tragedy of that event would be used erroneously to advance such a debatable call to action on a debatable cause.

There were a few ironic moments including rap superstar Ludacris telling the audience (in song) that “if you ain’t got no money [sic], take your broke ass home”. Of course, this lyric is a part of a song that he sings on with Fergie (of Black Eyed Peas fame) which also includes the songstress singing “We [sic] flyin’ first class / Up in the sky / Poppin’ champagne / Livin’ my life / In the fast lane / And I wont change / By the Glamorous, oh the flossy flossy”. The video pictures Fergie flying in a private jet, ironically the vehicle of choice of some of the Live Earth performers. Irony is being told by some of this world’s greatest CO2 producers to cut our consumption. Ludacris’ other credits include a starring role in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Was it a movie about plug-in hybrid cars? Not likely. The film has inspired a generation of nitrous-infused street racers. Oh well, I’m sure he got some carbon credits in his gift basket to help offset the guilt. Ludacris! [sic]

Finally, if the intent of the mega-concert was to be a massive information campaign to finally bring everyone, united, onside to fight climate change, why the divisive elements? Melissa Ethridge chastised Bush’s ‘with us or the terrorists’ refrain by saying that in addressing the world’s problems that there is no “us and them”. She proceeded to drive a wedge between left and right by calling both Nixon and the current Republican president “criminals”. In fact, Ethridge’s performance was more of an anti-war screed than a call to unite against climate change. Macy Gray’s appearance also sought to alienate a significant proportion of the American population by having her stage performers wear anti-Bush and anti-Cheney t-shirts. The concert became an appeal to the left and had the effect of preaching to the choir while it did little to reach out to what should have been its intended targets: the skeptics on the right.

Were you one of the “2 billion” that tuned into the Live Earth concerts? What are your thoughts? If Al Gore runs for president (and wins) will we be fighting a costly war on warming AND a war of terror? Will Gore have any better luck bringing China and India into the Coalition of the Cooling? Will you be buying the new Smashing Pumpkins album when it comes out on July 10th? Consume, but don’t consume!

ABC News: Suicide bombers being sent to Canada

ABC News is reporting that a “graduation ceremony” for suicide bombers was held along the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan on June 9th. Some of the bombers are intended for striking within Canada.

Large teams of newly trained suicide bombers are being sent to the United States and Europe, according to evidence contained on a new videotape obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

Teams assigned to carry out attacks in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Germany were introduced at an al Qaeda/Taliban training camp graduation ceremony held June 9.

A Pakistani journalist was invited to attend and take pictures as some 300 recruits, including boys as young as 12, were supposedly sent off on their suicide missions.


ABCNews.com photo caption: “These recruits stand ready to target Canada.”

Of course, this may simply be a propaganda campaign by al Queda and the Taliban. It is not certain if the Taliban has the means to strike within Canada and individual suicide bombing has not been common in North America (I cannot think of one incident). Further, a suicide bomb strike within Canada would only strengthen the relatively shaky resolve that Canadians have in the Kandahar mission, an outcome that wouldn’t seem to be consistent with Taliban objectives. Of course, this quote from a Taliban commander indicates that their objective may simply be revenge:

“These Americans, Canadians, British and Germans come here to Afghanistan from faraway places,” Dadullah says on the tape. “Why shouldn’t we go after them?”