Catherine Brahic, “New” “Scientist”‘s online environment reporter continues to reflect the magazine’s confusion between environmental science and environmental politics.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say “so much for the pulling power of oil money”. Reports suggested that it played a big role in George W Bush’s two terms in office, but according to this stunning online interactive graphic, it was powerless to save Rudolph Giuliani in the 2008 primaries.
The graphic is from OilChange International, who have made an online toy showing the relationships between past US presidential candidates and oil industry donors.
But what is the significance of oil money? Is it really surprising that corporations and businessmen donate to presidential candidates? Not a lot, and no. US presidential candidates are not going to have got to where they are by not taking donations and by refusing to be friends with rich people. You might find something equally scurrilous by looking at donations from any industry sector – toys, for example – and their donations. Even greener-than-though, pledge-making eco-warrior Al Gore took $142,014 in 2000, according to this silly database. (Only enough to pay his gas bills for just a couple of months though.) Rich people hang out with each other. It’s what they do. Companies (and individuals) make donations to US politicians. It’s how it is done.
Corruption? Hardly. Right or wrong? That’s a very different question. There are many discussions to be had about whether what goes on in Western democracies is ‘right’. But that it it ‘all about oil’ is an argument which comes up again and again, and again, in the climate debate. Why?
It reveals an awful lot about the Green movement (as well as a large part of the liberal left) that it can’t actually challenge its counterpart, or call for a new form of politics which doesn’t require such vast sums of capital. It’s easier to say, for example, that John Kerry ($184,037) lost the election to George Bush ($2,649,725) because of oil money, or because people are stupid, or like rats, and republicans appeal to stupid people. Instead of reflecting on why their ideas have failed to find a home in the public imagination, increasingly commentators have looked for other reasons to explain the failure of the self-proclaimed good guys. If politicians eager to identify with progressive movements were to try to challenge the politics by which powerful interests gain influence, they would undermine themselves. This is perhaps more evident in UK politics. We’ve linked to this video before… David Cameron, standing on top of Greenpeace’s HQ in London, showing off his ethical credentials, and announcing a new policy.
Is it any less dodgy to be in bed with Greenpeace (a multi-national player if ever there was one) than with an oil Baron? Who is Cameron trying to appeal to here? His plans for micro-generation will be appealing to about 0.001% of the UK population – mostly his landed school chums. Meanwhile, micro-generation is likely to serve only as a colossal pain in the arse to anyone who has to depend on it – everyone else. His policy has not emerged from a well-developed political philosophy that he wants to share, but just the immediate need to appear to be in bed with the “right people” in the mistaken belief that it will appeal to “the people”. Greenpeace are only too happy to be the powerful corporate interest in that relationship. All it has to complain about is that it’s own vast spending power hasn’t had the effect on the electorate that it imagines the oil money has.
If $2 million were enough to buy a US president, the US wouldn’t be quite the superpower it is. Like the shrill cries about ExxonMobil-funded sceptical scientists, the claim lacks any sense of proportion.
The oil argument is a big, black…er… red-herring tossed out by a movement that thrives on the exhaustion of political elites, but finds itself the object of just as much cynicism from the public. Naturally, then, the movement finds faults with both. The former is corrupt, and the latter is stupid. Tired politicians are turning to the environmental movement as a PR move for empty campaigns.
Back to the New Scientist blog… Brahic is, of course, not reporting science, but politics. We certainly don’t dissapprove of coverage of the politics of the environmental debate. But Brahic and the New Scientist’s agenda don’t actually bring a fresh perspective on the debate more than they epitomise it. You could hear the same old stories and tired rhetoric from any mouldy old hairshirt ecowarrior. Recycling internet innuendo, conspiracy theories and doom-mongery is not ‘news’. There is an interesting debate to be had about the relationship between science and politics, but New Scientist is not fuelling it.