Breaking Prank News: Rising Tide Hoax

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News

Hoax Misrepresents Corporate Consortium’s Climate Change Goals
by Alexis Madrigal
Wired News
December 3, 2007

NASA Calls for ban on coal, eclimatechangenews.comWith the world’s environmental leaders gathered in Bali, a press release purportedly from the United States Climate Action Partnership, a corporate consortium, appeared on the internet Monday morning calling for a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and a moratorium on building coal power plants.

The announcement was surprising coming from companies often more concerned about the bottom line than reducing carbon emissions. But with a legit-looking website [currently suspended], press release and other documentation, the story got picked up by several news sources before being outed as a hoax by midday. (USCAP actually calls for 60 to 80 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and has pushed for coal plant carbon capture and sequestration technologies).

Behind the elaborate scheme is a group called Rising Tide, an international, all-volunteer activist network. They model themselves on satirical groups like the Yes Men, who have received intellectual backing by anthropologists like Harper’s Magazine contributor David Graeber.

Rising Tide, however, has a serious agenda. We spoke with Matt Leonard, a Rising Tide member, on the details of the hoax, what the U.S. Climate Action Partnership really wants, and their next event: Fossil Fools Day.

Wired News: Who pulled this hoax off?

Matt Leonard: It was pulled together by a group called Rising Tide, an international group of activists. We’ve been very active in Europe and Australia and getting going in the U.S., drawing attention to the root causes of climate change.

WN: What do you call the root causes of climate change?

Leonard: The leading cause is fossil fuels, so we’re trying to do what we can to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We’re also calling out a lot of the false solutions to climate change that are being touted by groups like the Climate Action Partnership, while at the same time they are stymieing true grassroots efforts to target the climate crisis.

The thing we really want to convey is that they don’t want substantive action. Some of the U.S. foot dragging has come because of lobbying efforts by groups like USCAP. And hopefully this will force USCAP to no longer block meaningful action.

WN: Can you talk a bit about the planning that went into the hoax?

Leonard: We had people in four different continents. We had people working on getting the press release far and wide. We had a web site mirroring the USCAP website. We had supporting materials, PDFs.

We spent all morning on the phone doing dozens and dozens of interviews with international press outlets. Some got stories out and dozens more were working on stories when abruptly our server was taken down.

WN: Who took down your server?

Leonard: We don’t know yet. I think it’s safe bet it’s someone with the USCAP. We have yet to receive any notification from our hosting company.

WN: How did it get taken down?

Leonard: The account was suspended on the server. We’ve got other servers and we’re resolving new name servers to point to the new host. Right now, some people are able to get on the website, but not everyone can.

WN: Are you worried about getting sued?

Leonard: No, I think there’s a lot of First Amendment protection for political parody and satire. Groups like the Yes Men have been very successful with these techniques. We have gotten some calls from some CAP members, but they don’t want to make any more publicity for this than is already out there.

If they want to go public and defend their positions, which are not based on science, that’s up to them, but I don’t see them wanting to do it. (USCAP has only responded with this press release.)

WN: Can you talk about how what you put out there differed from the real USCAP positions?

Leonard: The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) reports have very clear recommendations on what we need to do to stabilize our climate. We need to cut emissions 80 to 90 percent, at least for industrialized countries. The Climate Action Partnership is pushing for 60 percent cuts. That’s not rooted in science, it’s just what they want. They just don’t want to hurt their profits.

WN: What would you like to see come out of your actions?

Leonard: A lot of different things need to happen, but the goal needs to be reducing our emissions. Groups like the Climate Action Partnership are approaching from the angle, “How do we retain our profitability?” The people who should be making climate decisions are those who are going to be impacted, not the corporate interests that have been driving the process.

In terms of more practical things, we need federal legislation that focuses on emission reductions instead of commodifying our atmosphere. We need a massive public and private investment in creating a green economy. We really need to recognize that fossil fuels are an inherently dirty resource and stop saying we can make clean coal or make clean gas, when fundamentally we can’t.

WN: Clean coal does seem to have potential though. Don’t we need more spending on all forms of research for cleaner energy production?

Leonard: The biggest problem is that if you look at recent bills, in some ways there is good stuff for the climate. But the vast majority of research dollars from that bill are going towards keeping us dependent on fossil fuels.

Even by the industry’s most optimistic standards, carbon capture is not going to be ready for a decade or two. So, do we want to put our money on a future technology that may or may not be environmentally, scientifically or economically viable? Or put our money on those that we know are viable, like renewable energy sources, and work to bring those up to scale.

WN: What do you say to people who contend that wind and solar are not scalable, that they are too inconsistent to provide base load power?

Leonard: With enough renewable energy sources properly deployed, working with smart grid stuff, they can meet our needs. We’ve been working with solar technologies for decades. But it’s always been given a second seat. If we dedicated the same sort of resources we did to microprocessor development, we could figure it out.

WN: What’s next for you guys?

Leonard: We have a lot of people on the ground in Bali trying to bring some more substantive root cause issues. We’ll be participating in a lot of the dialogue there.

April 1 is Fossil Fools Day. We’re working with our counterparts in Australia and Europe at having a big day of action around the world.

Thanks Sheldon Drake. Photo: