By Andy May
An intriguing report on the Greenpeace business model and philosophy has just been published by the Heartland Institute and can be downloaded here. The report was researched and written by Dr. Michael Connolly, Dr. Ronan Connolly and Dr. Imelda Connolly all of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Moore of Canada is one of the founders of Greenpeace and a past President of Greenpeace Canada, and Dr. Willie Soon of the United States. This truly international effort explains how Greenpeace has grown so wealthy and their business philosophy. Full disclosure, at the request of the authors, I reviewed this report before it was published, and have independently written about Greenpeace before (see here). This post is a brief summary of it.
The Greenpeace Business Model
Greenpeace’s annual income has more than doubled over the past 20 years from less than US$150 million to over US$350 million. Greenpeace is a Dutch company with assets in excess of US$277 million (all dollar amounts in this post are in US$), of which 64% is in cash and cash equivalents. Greenpeace is a nonprofit company and presents itself as a selfless soldier protecting the environment, but their actions suggest that their prime motivation is to collect the most money possible. The report notes that Greenpeace shut down their Irish branch because they were not generating enough income (Irish Times, January 13, 1997). According to Luxon and Wong, 2017 the Greenpeace structure is highly centralized. It requires local (that is, national) organizations to prioritize the Greenpeace global agenda.
When the Greenpeace home office senses a problem in a national affiliate it responds quickly and harshly. Greenpeace USA had had some successes protesting overfishing near Seattle and water pollution in Louisiana, but they were not bringing in enough money in 1997 to satisfy the home office. As a result Greenpeace ordered Greenpeace USA to lay off hundreds of employees and fired the Greenpeace USA executive director (New York Times and Business Insider).
Dr. Chris Rose was a strategic advisor to Greenpeace International and is an expert on environmental campaigning. He wrote a book on environmental campaigning called How to Win Campaigns. Dr. Rose’s recommendations can be summarized as follows (after a list from page 7 of the report):
- Choose a campaigning issue that you label as catastrophic and urgent.
- Choose a villain (enemy agent) who can’t put up much of a defense and a sympathetic victim.
- You (the good guy) propose a plausible solution to the campaign issue and accuse the villain (for selfish reasons) of preventing the solution from being implemented.
- Issue a call to action and provide a way for people to become engaged (protest marches, face painting, financial contributions, etc.), so that they can become committed to the campaign.
- Choose media outlets where you control the narrative. Don’t debate with the bad guys.
Rose argues that education increases knowledge and understanding, leading to a nuanced discussion of the topic, which undermines the campaign’s call to action. As a result, Rose believes successful campaigners should fight against education by deliberately oversimplifying the problem and providing a plausible, simple solution. All other potential solutions are rejected as inadequate. The “problem” is oversimplified and shown to be avoidable. An identified “enemy” (for example ExxonMobil or Proctor and Gamble) is needed to complete the story, enhance the drama, focus the public and, especially, the media. In Rose’s words on page 43 of his book: “Campaign communications need to roll out before an audience like a story.” A sympathetic “victim” or victims are needed to focus the news media and provide great news photographs and film. Rose emphasizes this on page 205 in his book:
“… the most empathetic figure in the story is you, or on your side. Don’t let the media fall out of love with your campaign through the natural tendency for it to dry out and become an elite dialogue.”
By “elite dialogue” Rose means a nuanced and intelligent discussion of the issues surrounding the problem. In other words, do not allow the public or the news media to become educated on the issue. To quote Rose’s book again (pages 23-25):
“CAMPAIGNING IS NOT EDUCATION
Campaigning involves stimulating action, best achieved by narrowing the focus and eliminating distractions and reducing options, as in advertising … Typically, it starts … with a problem and moves a target audience through the stages of awareness … concern and so on, to action.
In contrast, education expands awareness of options and complexity … It typically takes a problem and shows that it is not so simple as you may have first thought.
The educational model is great for education but not for campaigning. It reaches understanding but not action. Using it to try and decide or stimulate action is likely to lead to confusion and frustration. … Questioning fundamentals and reflecting on things is not how business, politics or war advances.”
So, we see the plan. Label an issue as catastrophic and urgent, find an enemy who will not defend itself (normally a publicly held company), propose a plausible solution, find an empathetic victim, issue a call to action, saturate the media (they won’t look at it closely), avoid debating the science and technology, and claim the “science is settled.” These are the critical aspects of a Greenpeace environmental campaign and they have used this formula over and over. They consider it imperative that the argument be kept on an emotional level, once a nuanced analysis of the issue is out, the campaign dies. Since the details and the implications of the “solution” can’t be kept secret for very long, each campaign has a lifetime. Greenpeace will milk each campaign until the money flow begins to decline rapidly, then move on to a new money-maker.
- Find a scary issue
In Figure 1, we see a plot of expenditures of two of Greenpeace’s discontinued campaigns. Their biodiversity campaign died as people became aware that biodiversity was not declining (Dornelas, et al. 2014) and (J. Cardinale, et al. 2018), instead species populations were just moving about. Then they switched to GM (genetically modified) food, which died in 2010 as GM food was shown to be safe. It is interesting that research and public education are the reasons these donation campaigns died.
In Figure 2 a breakdown of Greenpeace’s campaign expenditures is shown. It shows a multiyear waxing and waning of campaigns over time. Initially, the public can be frightened into donating because they do not understand the issue, then as they learn more, the donations decline, and Greenpeace begins to reduce campaign expenditures. It is interesting that campaign expenditures on man-made climate change have started to decline.
2. Find a scary villain and a sympathetic victim
For Greenpeace, the ideal villain is a public company, because they are afraid to fight back. They just want the issue out of the newspapers and off TV. As Chris Rose has said, an enemy is essential to the campaign, because it focuses the public mind. In their “ExxonSecrets” campaign, Greenpeace chose ExxonMobil to be their enemy and claimed the company “knew” man-made climate change was dangerous and were hiding secret information that proved it. Worse, ExxonMobil was secretly funding “climate deniers.” None of this was true.
Greenpeace claims that ExxonMobil spent $1.8 million per year funding “climate denial.” They achieve this figure by counting any donation to any organization, regardless of the purpose of the donation, as funding “denial” if the organization had ever expressed any climate skepticism. Even this inflated amount is tiny compared to the more than $100 million per year spent by environmental organizations from 2011-2015 promoting climate change catastrophe due to “carbon pollution” (Nisbet 2018). According to Nisbet a significant portion of these expenditures were to oppose the fossil fuel industry.
As for the idea that ExxonMobil was hiding evidence that man-made climate change was leading to a global catastrophe, the evidence shows that they published all their findings on climate change in public scientific journals. A detailed review of ExxonMobil’s internal documents and publications can be seen here. The “villains” are generally chosen arbitrarily but are usually publicly traded companies.
Victims are carefully chosen. They must be very empathetic, photogenic and appealing to journalists. They can be animals (penguins and polar bears are excellent) or people, especially children. Lots of heart-wrenching photographs are needed along with back-stories. Greenpeace have made themselves the victims on occasion with carefully choreographed demonstrations, such as their Proctor and Gamble protest. The idea is to appeal to emotions and not the intellect.
3. Propose a plausible solution
Greenpeace must propose a solution to the problem and furiously reject all other proposed solutions as inadequate. As an example, replacing coal with natural gas is one way to reduce CO2 emissions, as proven in the United States. But, to have enough natural gas, wells must be “fracked” which Greenpeace is opposed to. Likewise, switching from coal to nuclear power plants reduces CO2 emissions, but Greenpeace is opposed to nuclear. Hydroelectric is out because it requires dams on rivers. They work through the list of possible solutions and reject all of them except for solar, wind and tidal power sources. All are intermittent and currently require backup by fossil fuels or hydroelectric, since battery technology is insufficient and too expensive. Regardless of efforts by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations, the public has become aware of how inadequate these sources are and how impractical and expensive eliminating fossil fuels is, witness the demonstrations against a carbon tax in France.
While Greenpeace will offer a plausible solution, they prefer one that cannot be implemented. If they propose a real solution, it will be implemented and their donations dry up.
4. Issue a call to action
An essential part of Greenpeace’s campaigns is a “call to action” by the public. If the public can do something, they “buy into” the campaign and are more likely donate money. Examples abound, but one example “solution” is to stop using “single use” plastics. The report discusses in some detail how the Greenpeace visual of “giant ocean garbage patches” are largely a fiction and photographic trick. The concentration of plastic material in some parts of the oceans (the “ocean gyres”) is higher than in the rest of the ocean, but still extremely low (Cózar, et al. 2014). Surveys of plastic concentrations in the oceans have been performed, one is shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3 shows the location of the gyres and where plastic concentrations are highest (the red dots). The red dots have 1 kg to 2.5 kg of plastic per square kilometer of ocean, a very small amount. The plastic fragments are quite small. Figure 4 shows all the plastic fragments found in one entire trawl with a fine mesh net in one of the red areas.
The trawl that collected the plastic shown in Figure 4 was in the heart of the South Atlantic gyre “garbage patch.” This trawl covered between 0.4 and 0.9 miles of the ocean in the worst “garbage patch.” Yet, the 110 fragments shown (note the graphical scale) are all that were found. I should mention that the original report had two small errors. On page 33 they said there are 106 fragments, but there are 110. They also said all the fragments were less than 1/16-inch diameter, actually while most of them are, the largest is around ½ inch across. These errors were fixed 19 December 2018. But, 110 fragments, all less than ½ inch across, is not my definition of a “garbage patch.” The trawl net has a very fine mesh, since the smallest plastic particles recovered are much less than a millimeter across. Most plastic degenerates in ocean water fairly quickly due to sunlight, wave action and biogenic activity, besides the previous link to National Geographic, also see this post by Kip Hansen and the excellent microphotographs of degrading plastic.
Interestingly, the plastics concentration in most of the gyres is not increasing, thus the problem cannot be called “urgent.” However, the concentration is increasing in the North Pacific gyre, which suggests that the additional plastic is coming from Asia, mainly China. The concentration of plastic fragments (most of them less than 1/16 inch across) is quite small, generally less than a few hundred fragments per square mile. Despite this, Greenpeace has convinced much of the public that there are massive floating islands of plastic in the oceans, which is simply not true. In the words of Professor Angelicque White, College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University (Oceanic “garbage patch” not nearly as big as portrayed in media):
“There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists.”
5. Carefully choose the media outlets used, control the narrative
Greenpeace spends over $30 million per year on media and communications. They also carefully cultivate contacts in many media organizations and provide them with great film and photographs. It is unfortunate, but most in the media do not check press releases from Greenpeace and simply publish them or summaries. Yet, often these releases are misleading or simply fiction. In some cases, the fictitious press releases are deliberately malicious, as in the now infamous attack on Dr. Willie Soon, one of the authors of the report. Greenpeace fed a fictitious press release about Dr. Soon to the New York Times, where it was slightly modified and published as a news article. Later the story was proven false, but the damage was already done (see here). The malicious and untrue attack on Dr. Soon had some wide-ranging consequences as described by Dr. Richard Lindzen in the Wall Street Journal here. The onus is on the news media to check the facts. Just because the source is Greenpeace, or the Sierra Club, does not mean the press release is correct.
This is a very brief summary of the report; the report contains much more detail and many more references. The report raises serious issues with the Greenpeace business model that may apply to many other environmental organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club. How do we make decisions on environmental concerns? Emotion or reason? Do we use education, carefully collected data and critical thinking to guide our actions or anecdotes and doctored photographs?
Dr. Chris Rose’s rules for campaigning should give us all reason to pause and examine any environmental “call to action” critically and skeptically. I would encourage all readers to pay special attention to the report’s Appendix 3, which is entitled: “Influence of Chris Rose’s ‘How to Win Campaigns.'” Greenpeace and other campaigners (including political campaigns) use Rose’s methods and it is easier to avoid being fooled if you understand their methods. Before getting drawn into these campaigns or donating to them, do some research, get educated.
In the words of the Wilderness Society vice president of public policy Rindy O’Brien:
“Greenpeace has tended to look for ways to publicize problems instead of ways to actually solve them.”
That quote was found in a New York Times article here, Carey Goldberg of the Times adds:
“Her (O’Brien’s) comments echoed longstanding criticism by others that Greenpeace is too much of a self-promotion machine.”
That is a good summary and a good place to stop.
Connolly, Michael, Ronan Connolly, Willie Soon, Patrick Moore, and Imelda Connolly. 2018. Analysis of Greenpeace’s business model and philosophy. Chicago: Heartland. https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/analysis-of-greenpeace-business-model?fbclid=IwAR2zExmgrGIgmtqcdRPOfPNG9MqzT-Gm316A57hK_DmvSMkYxjGpDfdo0Y4.
Cózar, Andrés, Fidel Echevarría, J. Ignacio González-Gordillo, Xabier Irigoien, Bárbara Úbeda, Santiago Hernández-León, Álvaro T. Palma, et al. 2014. “Plastic debris in the open ocean.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (28): 10239-10244. doi:10.1073/pnas.1314705111.
Dornelas, Maria, Nicholas J. Gotelli, Brian McGill, Hideyasu Shimadzu, Faye Moyes, Caya Sievers, and Anne E. Magurran. 2014. “Assemblage Time Series Reveal Biodiversity Change but Not Systematic Loss.” Science 344 (6181): 296-299. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/344/6181/296.
J.Cardinale, Bradley, Andrew Gonzalez, Ginger R.H. Allington, and Michel Loreau. 2018. “Is local biodiversity declining or not? A summary of the debate over analysis of species richness time trends.” Biological Conservation 175-183. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2017.12.021.
Nisbet, Matthew. 2018. “Strategic philanthropy in the post‐Cap‐and‐Trade years: Reviewing U.S. climate and energy foundation funding.” Wires Climate Change. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/wcc.524.