Free speech is one thing. It’s another to lie about a company just because you don’t like it. And environmental organizations like Greenpeace go even further — they try to raise money through pitches based on lies.
Green groups say they have been fundraising like crazy since the election. It’s going to take commitment to defeat their smear campaigns, which threaten jobs and communities. In this fight, Americans can learn a lot from our northern neighbors in Canada’s boreal forest, who are refusing to take the abuse.
Union workers and government officials in the forest region have risen up against Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and other organizations that are making wild claims. For several years, activists have relentlessly attacked paper company Resolute Forest Products and its customers, claiming that it is destroying the forest. The people directly affected by these false accusations are speaking up in droves.
“We will not sit idly by while self-interested pressure groups try to malign the diligent and careful work that our members do for a living,” union leaders recently told the NRDC.
Roger Sigouin, the mayor of Hearst, Ontario, told Greenpeace that if its misinformation campaign is successful, “the aftermath will be whole communities dying and I can tell you right now, that’s irresponsible and we will not stand for that.”
Refreshing, eh? It’s not just a corporation-vs.-environmentalists battle; union workers, the company that provides their livelihood, and local governments are all on the same side.
The media aren’t supporting the false attacks, either. In 2016, Canada’s media ombudsman found that Greenpeace was misleading the public. Greenpeace showed photos of a devastated forest, insinuating that the damage was done by Resolute, when in fact the forest had been destroyed by fire. Journalists got to the bottom of the story.
Greenpeace has used photos to mislead people before. It has been caught twice using photos that it claimed were proof of coal-induced damage to the Great Barrier Reef — photos that actually came from another location. Australia’s Courier Mail reported last year that the group “was accused of false advertising to drive donations with emotive but erroneous adverts on the London Underground, claiming coal companies would be allowed to dredge in the Reef.”
Greenpeace has been caught twice using photos that it claimed were proof of coal-induced damage to the Great Barrier Reef — photos that actually came from another location.
Getting caught hasn’t fazed Greenpeace, which is benefiting from the modern “post-truth” era. When Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” its Word of the Year for 2016, the definition was: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
For environmental groups, shaping public opinion is everything. So when Resolute Forest Products sued Greenpeace, calling it a “global fraud” that has “duped” donors with “materially false and misleading claims,” Greenpeace reacted not with facts but with an appeal to emotion. It warned other activist organizations that they, too, could be sued — claiming that the only thing at issue was “free speech.” In November, Greenpeace put out a petition against Resolute, complete with a full-page ad in the New York Times signed by 80 organizations. The ad’s text: “Free speech is not a crime.”
In America, the First Amendment protects free speech, but not libel or slander. And the real kicker for Greenpeace is that Resolute’s lawsuit takes the group to task for fundraising off false claims. The lawsuit is based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, something that Greenpeace itself has used and encouraged in the past.
Greenpeace publicly shamed Resolute and harassed its customers, claiming the company was logging in areas that were off limits and was displacing endangered animals. These accusations were false. Yet it continues to warn that the boreal forest is being destroyed, asking for donations to its “Forest Defense Fund.”
Did you know that the Canadian government won’t recognize Greenpeace as a tax-exempt charitable organization? It has said Greenpeace’s activities “have no public benefit.” That’s an understatement. Instead, the group causes harm. Greenpeace and others like it should be held accountable for the ways they lie to supporters and hurt communities.
— Amy Payne is a media and think-tank survivor who writes about policy shenanigans.