More than a month ago, in RHWN #342, we urged our readers to think like
their adversaries. We offered a view of the world that we believe many
polluter's secretly share. We asked readers to imagine how they would
behave if they were polluters who held these views. The following
compendium is written from the viewpoint of polluters. If you are put
off by the negative tone of some of these ideas, remember that they
were suggested by real people fighting for their lives.
1) DENY that environmental and health problems are real. This is
ESSENTIAL to our success. If the public believes we're endangering
their health, we're in serious trouble.
This idea is so important that it warrants an orchestrated campaign. If
possible, a major metropolitan newspaper, one known for objectivity and
good reporting, should kick off the campaign.
We should commission a half dozen books, written by former public
officials, particularly aging white males with Ph.D. degrees in science
or engineering, challenging the belief that ecosystems are endangered,
and ridiculing the notion that small exposures to chemicals harm
We'll also need a couple of slick magazines devoted to business and the
As we get into this campaign, we'll need to characterize our
adversaries with epithets and labels, such as chicken littles, or
simply chickens; chemophobes; hysterical housewives; irresponsible
doomsayers; crazies; and so forth. This part can be fun.
We will also need to initiate some strategic lawsuits against people
who accuse us of harming them. We can never keep them entirely quiet,
because they are too numerous, but we can learn something important
from organized crime. Organized crime does not beat up every one of its
adversaries. A single heavily-publicized beating goes a long way toward
bringing everyone into line. Everyone has a price: most of our
adversaries will not be swayed by money, but will respond well to fear.
Lastly, we will need a federal agency that we can rely upon to conduct
scientific studies that show pollution never harms communities. ATSDR
[Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry] is a good candidate,
though EPA has often served us well too.
Anyone who doubts our ability to get proper results from government,
should recall the EPA and the waste industry. During the past decade at
least 50 highly-placed officials of EPA, including 3 past
administrators, have created and enforced regulations tailored to
benefit the waste industry, and have then left government to take
lucrative jobs in the waste industry. This revolving door provides all
the control we could ever need.
2) DELAY the inevitable. Learn from the tobacco industry: they've
avoided the obvious for 40 years. Examine how they have achieved their
phenomenal success. Here are a few strategies that work:
Corporate philanthropy: tobacco companies support the arts, sports
events, and local schools, even as they are getting the kids addicted
to a product which, if used as directed, will ruin their health and
eventually kill them.
Crush your adversaries in court. Hire lawyers born of a marriage
between the bulldog and the shark. Take no prisoners. Vigorously defend
your absolute right to make and sell any product, no matter who may be
harmed. Defend at all costs your right to harm people; it is the
essence of a truly free market.
If possible, have the federal government label your product
"hazardous." This will shift liability onto the government, and onto
the user of the product.
Fund scientific research, especially irrelevant scientific research.
The public has no idea what's relevant. Funding research gives the
appearance of caring, and provides a basis for any claims you might
want to make. "Our research shows" is a much better introduction than,
"I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV," which also has been shown to
Sow the seeds of DOUBT. A little doubt goes a long way to confuse the
public and delay decisive action. If there's any doubt about the
science underlying an issue, the media give "both sides" even if one
side has only 0.01% support and the other side has 99.99% percent
support. Tobacco companies can still find people with science degrees
who will look straight into a TV camera and say, "I am not aware of any
convincing evidence that tobacco causes cancer."
Our plants in Congress need the merest shred of evidence, the slimmest
shadow of a doubt, to justify a hands-off approach.
In these hard times, it is especially rewarding to emphasize ECONOMIC
DOUBTS about environmental programs. Claim they're going to wreck the
economy, destroy jobs, cost the taxpayer billions of dollars. If it
turns out later that these predictions are wrong, it won't matter; no
one remembers such things.
3) DIVIDE. Keep your adversaries at each other's throats. If they get
together, they're formidable. Divided, they're weak. Our adversaries
are racially and cultural diverse. They represent rich and poor alike.
Therefore, we have BOUNDLESS opportunities to split them and set them
against each other. THIS IS A KEY IDEA, TO BE STUDIED CAREFULLY,
ELABORATED, EXPANDED AND EXTENDED.
4) DISSEMBLE. This means lie. Not that anyone likes to lie, of course.
But sometimes it's the only expedient way to spread doubt, divide our
adversaries, and make points with the media. The media almost never
look behind what we say--they report it at face value, so a little lie
can go a long way.
5) DESTROY. When all else fails, destroy your adversaries' credibility,
cohesiveness, and confidence. Call them commies. Call them hippies.
Call them at 3 in the morning and curse at them in Spanish or Korean.
Drive them crazy. Have the police "discover" drugs in their cars. Kill
their dogs. Burn their homes. Whatever it takes. (But don't get
6) DECOY. Set up smoke screens. Divert attention away from the real
issues. Looking for a site? Announce that you're examining multiple
sites, to keep your adversaries spread thin, unable to focus on the
site you really want.
Hide in a web of enterprises. The modern trend toward "enterprise webs"
instead of old-style corporations (see Robert Reich's book, WORK OF
NATIONS) offers great opportunity to leave exceedingly complex paper
trails that few can follow. Contracts, subcontracts, leases,
subsidiaries--all offer opportunities to conceal who's doing what to
Avoid appearing at public meetings. That's what we have government for,
to appear on our behalf.
At all costs, avoid direct confrontation with communities. It takes a
miracle to win a direct confrontation, unless of course you can turn
the situation violent. A violent confrontation, we can ALWAYS win.
7) DEFEAT bad legislative proposals. Simply put: buy votes and
influence. Money spent on lawmakers and judges is ALWAYS a good
8) DEMAND and require government to use risk assessment wherever
possible. It is our best tool for having our way with any community. A
well-written risk assessment can prove that anything is safe. Risk
assessment, more than any other single tool, has allowed us to continue
business as usual. THIS IS A KEY IDEA. We must support risk assessment
at all costs.
DEMAND public hearings where the public gets only 30 seconds (if we're
generous, 3 minutes) to state its case. Better yet, have "public
information sessions" where the public can only "ask questions" and
cannot "make speeches." If they "make speeches," cut them off. That way
we control the whole meeting, yet give the appearance of a democratic
process. Appearing to be democratic is important.
It goes without saying that meetings should be held during the day,
whenever possible, so working people can't attend. If you must meet at
night, arrange the agenda so the hystericals get to speak late in the
evening, after the media have left.
9) DEFLECT liability and responsibility, particularly at the personal
level. The key to the success of the business system is that individual
investors are not held responsible for anything a corporation does. If
things go bad, chapter 11 bankruptcy bails everyone out, as in the
asbestos industry. If individuals were ever held strictly liable for
corporate behavior, our privilege and power would disappear.
In addition, it is important to DEFLECT attention away from corporate
behavior. Keep the public focused on its own personal behavior. Make
people feel guilty about their lifestyles. Keep people focused on
water-saving toilets, setting up recycling programs, and planting
trees. One of the great success stories of all time is the way
corporations have effectively disappeared as a public issue. When was
the last time you saw a headline, "Legislature limits size of
corporations" or "Corporate bad actor loses right to do business." Not
since about 1915 have you seen such a headline. Now THAT'S successful
10) DIRECT AND CONTROL the pace of change. The inevitable IS
inevitable, but we can control the pace, which is really all we need.
11) SUPPORT the Big 10 environmental groups when they work to pass
unenforceable legislation, as they've done for 20 years. Passing
unenforceable legislation undermines confidence in government, splits
the environmental movement, wastes taxpayer's money, bloats the
bureaucracy, and convinces the public that real change is impossible.
12) Keep regulators focused on controlling chemicals one at a time,
instead of controlling whole classes of chemicals. THIS IS ANOTHER KEY
IDEA. Controlling chemicals one at a time, risk assessment by risk
assessment, will take centuries or longer. Meanwhile, the chemicals are
profitably in use while we debate.
13) We need to restrict the first amendment to the Constitution, so-
called free speech. Speech isn't free, it's loose. This is one key area
where we haven't solidified control, and we need to work on it.
14) Free trade agreements, like NAFTA and GATT, are keys to the
expansion of our control world-wide. WE NEED THESE AGREEMENTS. Not only
will they let us have our way with the developing world, but they will
undermine jobs in the U.S. Who will be blamed for that? Government. The
more we can convince people that government is the main problem, the
better off we are.
15) We must convince people that it is hopeless to work for change.
Always create the strong impression that nothing different is possible.
It's important for the public to believe things have always been the
way they are today, and always will be.
16) Paint ourselves green, green, green. Green is good. Green is
friendly. Green is the color of money.
Descriptor terms: business strategies; greenwashing; free trade; nafta;
gatt; liability; corporations; corporate charters; risk assessment;
first amendment; freedom of speech; free speech;