On Wednesday September 21st 2011, The Irish Examiner ran an editorial by Steven King (not the horror author) on the world reaching 7 billion people. And boy was it a doozy!
All personal politics aside, the main problem with the article was that it was in many places a direct copy of a speech delivered by Brendan O’Neill, the editor of Spiked Online, at a debate at the Battle of Ideas in London on October 30th, 2010.
Smile, you’re on Candid Camera
I know this for two reasons.
First, because I filmed that debate for my documentary almost a year before King published his editorial. Second, I obtained a transcript of O’Neill’s talk from a third-party website to compare it with King’s article.
Although I won’t go into O’Neill’s background here, this article offers anyone with a high pain threshold a thorough round-up of the origin of the network which has its roots in the Revolutionary Communist Party here in the UK, later known as the Living Marxism (or LM) Network whose peculiar brand of “humanism” is a beautiful demonstration of Orwellian doublethink.
Compare and contrast
Leaving aside the questionable motives of the original author and the spurious nature of the content, let’s merely compare the texts:
O’Neill (30/10/2010): The main Malthusian idea I want to challenge is the idea that resources are finite. The idea that the Earth itself is finite. The idea that we live on a finite planet and therefore we can only have a certain number of people, living in a certain number of homes, eating a certain amount of food.
King (21/9/2011): The notion that we inhabit a finite planet and, therefore, we can only have a certain maximum number of people, living in a certain number of homes, eating a certain amount of food, must be challenged.
O’Neill: It seems commonsensical to say that the Earth is finite, and a bit mad to say that it isn’t, but it’s important to recognize how fluid and changeable resources are. It’s important to recognize that the usefulness and longevity of a resource is determined as much by us – by the level of social development we have reached – as it is by the existence of that resource in the first place.
King: It might appear commonsensical to say that the Earth is finite, and slightly perverse to say that it isn’t, but it’s imperative to understand how fluid and changeable resources apparently limited are. It’s important to recognize that the utility and longevity of a resource is determined as much by humankind — by the level of social development we have reached – as it is by the amount and availability of that resource in the first place.
O’Neill: Resources are not fixed in any meaningful sense. Resources have a history and a future, just like human beings do. The question of what we consider to be a resource changes as society changes.
King: So, resources are not static in any meaningful sense. Resources have a past and a future, just as human beings do. The issue of what we consider to be a resource changes as society changes.
O’Neill: So in Ancient Rome, one of the main uses of coal was to make jewelry. Women liked the look of this glinting black rock hanging around their necks. No one could have imagined that thousands of years later, coal would be used to power massive steam engines and an entire Industrial Revolution, forever changing how we produce things and transport them around the world.
Two thousand years ago, the only way people used uranium was to make glass look more yellow. It was used to decorate windows and mirrors. You would probably have been locked up, or subjected to an exorcism, if you had suggested that one day uranium might be used to light up and heat entire cities – or indeed destroy entire cities at the push of a button.
King: The supposed limits to resource-use have been transgressed time and time again by advances in human productivity — whether that is in terms of discovering that coal could be used not just for jewelry, as it was in Roman times, but to power an entire Industrial Revolution, or the use of uranium to heat and light (or destroy) entire cities, or the so-called “green revolution” in agriculture.
O’Neill: Thomas Malthus himself, the messiah of modern-day Malthusianism, argued in the early 1800s that food production wouldn’t be able to keep apace with human reproduction, and as a result there would be ‘epidemics, pestilence and plagues’ that would sweep off millions of people. Yet in his era, there were only 980million people on Earth – today there are more than that in China alone and they all have food to eat.
King: Malthus argued that food production wouldn’t be able to maintain pace with human fertility. Yet in his time, there were only one million [sic] people on Earth; today, there are more than that in China alone and they all have food to eat.
O’Neill: Malthus’s problem was that he saw natural limits where in fact there were social limits. His fundamental pessimism meant that he considered it impossible for mankind to develop beyond a certain, nature-enforced point. And yet, shortly after he made his population pronouncements, through the industrial revolution and various social revolutions, mankind did overcome many social limitations and found new ways to make food and deliver it to people around the globe
King: Malthus’s problem — shared by much of the environmental lobby today — was that he saw natural limits where in fact there were social limits. His essential pessimism meant he thought it impossible for mankind to advance beyond a certain, nature-enforced level. His essential pessimism meant he thought it impossible for mankind to advance beyond a certain, nature-enforced level. And yet, shortly after he made his population pronouncements, through the Industrial Revolution, mankind did overcome many social limitations and discovered new ways to make food and transport it to people around the globe.
O’Neill: The idea of sustainability is anti-exploration, anti-experimentation, anti-risk – all the qualities we need if we are going to make the kind of breakthroughs that earlier generations made with coal and uranium and other resources.
King: The whole idea of sustainability is, at core, anti-exploration and anti-experimentation — the qualities we need if we are going to replicate earlier generations’ innovation breakthroughs.
O’Neill: The ascendancy of the Malthusian outlook can really be seen in the way people are frequently discussed these days: exploiters, the mere users of resources, the destroyers of things.
King: We need to think about people as positive agents of change not mere users of resources, destroyers of things.
O’Neill: We created the means for extracting and transforming those resources; we created cities, workplaces and homes on the back of those resources; and every time, we managed to get more and more stuff from fewer resources and created new resources along the way.
King: We created the means for extracting and transforming mineral resources. We created cities, workplaces and homes on the back of those resources. Every decade that passes, as a species, we have managed to get more and more stuff from fewer resources and create new resources along the way.
Well, that was fun. So who is this (un)masked man who publishes his opinion in the form of other peoples’ words?
King, or, to give him his full honorific, Dr. Steven King, is currently the director of the New Delhi office for APCO Worldwide. The man has degrees from three universities, one of them Oxford, and for years was the chief political adviser to the Ulster Unionist Party. He ostensibly left politics to join the Policy Exchange, a British think tank where he worked as the External Relations Director from 2006 to 2008. The Policy Exchange is “powering the renaissance of the center right” according to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend
I’ve written about the creeping (and creepy) influence of the think tank system before.
The Policy Exchange isn’t to my knowledge affiliated with the IEA/Antony Fisher crowd, but the intellectual high ground they profess to inhabit can be shown as quicksand very easily nonetheless.
Today, the Policy Exchange are having a debate at the Labour Party Conference called “Remonopolising power? Reforming the electricity market,” which is sponsored by Oil & Gas UK, who describe themselves as working “to strengthen the long-term health of the offshore oil and gas industry in the United Kingdom.”
So both major political parties in the UK are participating in a debate about energy issues which is sponsored by an industry lobby group which recently danced on the grave of the mooted EU offshore drilling moratorium. The only other speakers were representatives of Policy Exchange, another think tank called the Regulatory Policy Institute and a representative of the lobby group sponsoring the whole sordid farce of “policy-based democracy.”
This begs the questions of policy written by whom, based on what and enforced by what public mandate? As we will learn from the heads at APCO, this falls under one of the global PR machine’s primary strategies: “the imprimatur of a respected third party.”
Knitting it together
So back to King, now that we’re familiar with his pedigree.
He works for APCO Worldwide, one of the largest PR companies in the world. Frankly, I’m at a loss as to where I can begin with these people. Let’s just go through their greatest hits:
- In 1993 APCO founds TASSC (The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition) on behalf of Philip Morris after secondhand smoke is classed as a carcinogen; the intention of the “grassroots” movement is to “prepare and place opinion articles in key markets”.
- In 1995 APCO, on behalf of Philip Morris, spearheads the “tort reform” drive to stem the rising tide of product liability suits. APCO also represented Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha that year after the adverse press caused by the detention and execution of nine environmental activists including Ken Saro-Wiwa.
- In 2007 Ken Silverstein gives an excellent account of a meeting he took with executives from APCO while pretending to work for a company interested in livening up the image of Turkmenistan – I won’t go into further detail here but his article is a riot.
- Speaking of riots, that same year Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat in India, hires APCO after over 1,000 people were killed and thousands more injured in riots in 2002 which Modi was accused of turning a blind eye to. In 2005 he was refused a visa to enter the US on the grounds that he was “responsible for, or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom”. This from an American government that had Muslims detained without trial at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay. Go figure.
Oh, I almost forgot. TASSC, the APCO front espousing concern over “junk science?” They’re also the leading purveyor of doubt-fog on other “controversial” scientific topics like toxic pesticides and climate change. George Monbiot outlines their role at length here. With reference to my previous article about the Institute of Economic Affairs, it’s worth noting that Ralph Harris wrote a screed about secondhand smoke during the same period as APCO’s campaign against the “controversial” scientific assertion that breathing in secondhand smoke might be bad for you.
This PR strategy/trend appears again and again – multiple “unconnected” sources producing counter-intuitive, market-led objections to common sense concerns about the social or physical environment.
So how is it any surprise that a representative of APCO publishes an “opinion” in The Irish Examiner that happens to tie in with exactly what the market-uber-alles corporate dogma peddled by the clients of the company that pays his salary? What is surprising is that a man with three degrees working for one of the world’s largest PR firms puts his name to an article largely copied from a source which goes unmentioned and unacknowledged.
Even more shocking, or, perhaps worryingly, not shocking at all, is that an established newspaper will accept editorial opinion from a representative of a PR firm retailing specific market ideologies without pointing out that the same guy saying that human population growth is not a strain on our biosphere works for a company that defends dictators, excuses human rights abuses, casts doubts on the carcinogenic effects of smoking, refuses to see pesticides as potentially harmful to humans and classes climate change due to CO2 as a controversial theory.
I cannot help but see a certain irony in King arguing the “human ingenuity beats scarcity” case with words he plagiarized. Perhaps honesty is a finite resource.
–Mike Freedman, Transition Voice