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Grassroots vs. Astroturf: The Corporate Climate Spin Machine Goes Into Overdrive

    Grassrootsadjective of, pertaining to, or involving the common people, esp. as contrasted with or separable from an elite.

    Astroturftrademark used for an artificial grass-like ground covering.

In the lead up to next month's climate negotiations in Copenhagen and the possibility of the U.S. Congress voting a climate bill, many groups are claiming to “represent Americans” and their views on energy and climate legislation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has claimed to speak for 3 million American businesses in their rejection of cap-and-trade. After Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson did some math on that claim, however, the Chamber amended its membership number to 300,000 — a 90% reduction in its mandate to speak for America's businesses. Facing a number of high-profile defections over its opposition to climate legislation, the Chamber sent a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to clarify its position. Less clear is whether its members agree on what that would be.

Repower America, a campaign of the Alliance for Climate Protection — an organization closely linked to former Vice President Al Gore — has created a wall for people to show their support for clean energy, some of which will be used in advertising campaigns. Sprinkled among the teachers, actors, students, workers, veterans and other “ordinary” folks, are a number of celebrities, organizations and corporate logos, including Exelon, eBay, Starbucks and Avon, NAACP, National Wildlife Federation, United Steel Workers and Republicans for Environmental Protections. It is difficult to know from looking at the wall what the participants are supporting other than the broad idea of “clean energy”.

There have been other, perhaps more definitive, demonstrations of broad support for addressing the climate crisis. On October 24, for example, 5,200 events in 181 countries were organized for 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action. The organization has collected 22,000 photos of both the ordinary and extraordinary ways in which participants were making a common statement: address climate change by doing what is necessary to reduce atmospheric CO2 to 350 parts per million.

In their own effort to mobilize for a common purpose the American Petroleum Institute (API), held rallies and mobilized “energy citizens” over the summer to show their opposition to climate legislation. It later was discovered through a leaked memo written by API President Jack Gerard that among those “ordinary” folks were paid employees, retirees, vendors and contractors. Those claiming to be real grassroots activists call this “astroturfing”.

I asked Climate Cover Up author James Hoggan to explain the difference between a truly grassroots organization and one practicing astroturf.


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