Climate Propaganda for Corporate Profit: Bell Canada

Strategically timed to appear immediately after a heady week of international climate emergency marches, including large ones in Canada, and after the same week in which Greta Thunberg delivered her UN speech, Bell Canada sent out the message below on Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. This is only one very small, rather ordinary and everyday type of example of how fears about climate change are being exploited to enhance the revenues of corporations. Another example comes from my university, which terminated garbage collection from offices, replacing each office trash bin with a parody of a bin—so small that it is barely larger than a coffee mug. Since we were to empty the micro-bins ourselves, I accidentally threw mine out along with its contents. Some inspired genius came to the conclusion that, with a smaller container, we would produce less garbage. Perhaps we should test this theory by reducing the size of administrators’ offices.

When environmentalism unfolds within a system of heightened inequality and inadequate democratization, it does so unequally and autocratically. The result is not a “saved” climate, but rather enhanced revenue streams for corporations.

The message below is an artifact of contemporary corporate environmentalism. It is an everyday form of Green Neoliberalism. Regarding the message below, it is possible that many if not most Bell customers would have let this pass without uttering a single note of protest, or even asking a simple question out of concern for fairness—fairness to themselves.

“In an effort to reduce paper waste, as well as our environmental impact, we are moving towards paperless billing”.

First Bell specifies that this move is motivated by a concern for “paper waste”. What paper waste exactly? Recycling is widespread and obligatory in Canada, and we pay taxes for the service. Companies boast of the recycled paper content in their products. If paper is still being “wasted,” then there is a problem with the recycling program—therefore, either fix the problem, or cancel the program and then reduce taxes. Then Bell mentions an amorphous “environmental impact”. Apparently there is no longer any need for even an attempt at elaboration: “environmental impact” all by itself is sufficient enough as a sign to trigger action, namely compliance. There is thus no need to pause and reflect on the fact that any human interacting with the environment will automatically have an “environmental impact,” and that likewise the environment will have a “human impact”. Does it need to be said that environmental impacts must be generated by anything living within an environment? Thus “environmental impact” conveys exactly nothing; it is instead meant to serve as an emotional trigger that leads one to suspend judgment.

Nowhere did the message mention costs, namely savings in costs to Bell. With paperless billing, the entire process of printing, folding, mailing, and delivering bills is brought to a close. Entire shifts of people in mail processing centres, plus the structure associated with obtaining paper, and of course at least some jobs in the pulp and paper industry would thus also be brought to a close.

As mentioned, the timing could not have been more opportune. Canadians have been softened to the need for “hard decisions” to avert impending “climate disaster,” and this would hardly count as a hard decision—instead it is just a minor gesture (supposedly). Not receiving printed bills is not much of a sacrifice at all. Furthermore, the move is one that is in step with the “best practices” of countless other corporations that have switched to paperless billing (just do a web search for “paperless billing” to get a sense of the popularity of the move in the private sector).

No doubt some will rush to the defence of Bell Canada, using a predictable assortment of worn ideological tools. Libertarians will say that a business has a right to do whatever it pleases, and it is up to consumers to make other choices. Leftists driven by “climate emergency” mania will likely assault anyone who dares to continue the paper-based economy, and thus they will end up serving as apologists for corporate profit. Liberals will argue that there is nothing wrong with a corporation making money while “saving the planet” at the same time, and probably congratulate Bell on the wise move, possibly applauding it as “next generation thinking”. Critics will instead be tarnished as backward, as a threat, as reactionary rubes who need to be schooled by a mix of censorship and vulgar insults. Each one of these will have therefore missed the point altogether.

Not worried about appearing insufficiently supportive of environmental concerns, I immediately contacted Bell Canada. For those who do not know, Bell Canada periodically announces arbitrary rate increases for its services, because of unspecified “increased costs” of delivering service, in a country whose telecommunications consumers are already among those paying the most in the world for their services. So if Bell now found a way to instead reduce costs, then surely it should pass the savings on to consumers? Is the notion so utterly barbaric that it defies all logic?

Therefore I contacted Bell with that very question: would I now be receiving a refund or would there instead be a reduction in my monthly bill? I pointed out that I was asking this since a service that I had paid for, was now going to be cut. It is a reasonable question—and indeed, they anticipated it. After pausing to speak with a manager, the answer was: “We are opting you out of paperless billing. From now on, every month you will receive both a paper bill and an email notification”.

That is a peculiar answer, when the stated concern was about saving the environment. What was being tested here was Bell’s explicitly stated commitment to the environment, and Bell clearly failed the test. What the answer reveals is that revenues are not just the first and foremost concern, they are exclusively the only concern. Rather than have to deal with a loss of revenue, which would then need to be explained to shareholders and to creditors, Bell would prefer to maintain the paper service. Rather than garner popular enthusiasm for “Greening the economy,” by having everyone enjoy the reduced costs involved with paperless billing, Bell instead insisted on at least maintaining its current revenue flows.

To be clear, having “everyone” enjoy the reduced costs of customer transactions with companies, can be misleading. The costs are by no means reduced for everyone, as a result of the move to paperless services. Jobs lost from lost business activity surrounding paper, printing, and mailing—everything from lumber to sales to the postal service involved in the chain—would not represent either a savings or a gain. For reduced costs to have the proper impact, they would have to be shared out in the form of compensation to those working in affected industries, on a virtually permanent basis. That is not Bell’s concern however: its concern is with increasing profit by reducing services. If they could find a way of marketing an Internetless Internet connection, and making you pay for withholding Internet access, they would surely do so.

At a minimum, every single Bell Canada customer should call in and demand either a reduction in costs, or maintenance of the paper-based service—whether they support the concept of paperless billing or not is beside the point. It also happens to be beside the point for Bell.

4 thoughts on “Climate Propaganda for Corporate Profit: Bell Canada

  1. nyolci

    Hi Max, sorry, it got a bit long… So:
    I have to tell you that I mostly agree with your article above, and you’re perfectly right in pointing out corporate (and whatever) motivations in climate change. Your observation (“For reduced costs to have the proper impact, they would have to be shared out in the form of compensation to those working in affected industries, on a virtually permanent basis”) is perfect, and it illustrates well our society’s (“capitalism”) inevitably surfacing internal contradictions, as per Marx.
    I think we completely agree that there are pressure groups and interests who want to make profit from “climate disaster”, furthermore, they can make public spectacles like Greta T (or “hijack”, co-opt some spontaneous movements). Actually, one of the most repulsive public figures, Elon Musk, is a good example to someone who builds up in this field more or less a cult to sell snake oil. The “Green technologies” stuff is extremely annoying, and they really try to ride this wave. The same holds for the NGOs (including the supremely annoying and fake Greenpeace).
    This all said, there are some other things to consider. First of all, Climate Science is a real field of natural science and it does say (as a scientific field can say, including “consensus”) that the problem is real, and has said for a long time already (more below). Regardless of the sad fact that quite a few people try to exploit this. Furthermore, the above mentioned interests, pressure groups, etc had been very marginal up to recent times, and their “expansion” is a quite new phenomenon. Even the most established (and at least really useful) Green thing, recycling, is rather new, at least in this fairly large scale. But what is most important is that they pale in comparison with the “other side”, the “denialists”, both in funding and organization, and this is extremely well documented. Consider this: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of the “Recycling Lobby”. Also, the fact that Nakamura’s book (below) got such an extreme amplified voice is a good recent illustration of the power of “denialists”. Paradoxically, even Greta Thunberg’s case can be a good illustration, she got suspiciously quickly an extremely hostile treatment in most of mainstream (and interestingly, in the “alternative”) media.
    The “denialists” have tried for a long time to “uncover” some actual interests and fraud in climate science, with ridiculous and widely debunked results (including the various “xxxGates”). They’ve been unable to uncover anything, neither fraud nor actual interests influencing research, and this is in stark contrast with the well documented interests and sometimes downright fraud in “denial”. Even today, where we really have “Green” industries, the interests are marginal compared to – say – the fossil fuel industry, which is, for example, widely (and to a large extent, justifiably) credited with starting the Iraq war. With exaggeration, the last 20 years in geopolitics is more or less about great powers manoeuvring around access to oil and gas fields. And well knowing all this, we are (sorry for the term) masturbating around the “green new deal” and the “NGO-industrial complex”??? I’m pretty sure the _mass_ _support_ for some environmentally (and otherwise) sane world is the main enabling factor for the “Green” virtue signalling, con men, and “industries”, otherwise it would get completely ignored, just as, say, the problem of affordable housing.
    Also, it is quite easy to demonstrate that the “Green” crowd has not much to do with real climate (or environmental) concerns, and they just try to ride this wave. Scientists long ago knew (and told us) about good solutions, and these are (of course) recycling, and, like it or not, nuclear and hydroelectric power, both are anathema to “Green” movements. Nowadays wind power does have a potential too. Solar (especially the more and more used semiconductor panels) is not just a dead end but even more harmful (in terms of “carbon footprint”). The same applies to anything battery based (ie. electric cars), they should be simply forbidden. Electric transmission (hybrid without big batteries) should be the only allowed type of transport (with the promotion of public transports), with possibly pantographs or some other kind of electricity transport as an alternative way for transferring energy in large scale. Industry should design for use, durability and recycling in mind, completely abandoning marketing. We (“mankind”) are able to produce extreme amount of energy with very mature technologies that already existed in the 80s, and use it wisely, at least in the technological sense. This is again what scientists say. I don’t think I have to tell you this is _not_ what the “Greens” promote. (And I don’t think I have to mention that in a sane society (“communism” and world government), fossil fuel use would’ve been abandoned or reduced to the absolute technological minimum in the mid 2000s the latest, and anything produced would be recycled in large scale.)
    All in all, I wanted to show that the voice of scientists and a few honest voices like Greta Thunberg herself are drowned in bullshxt and noise, mostly from the “denialist” camp but also from the other side. As for Greta Thunberg, it is extremely important to mention that she is not a coached fraud like Bana Alabed or most of the examples you’ve mentioned, and she does represent the feelings (however unpronounced and convoluted) of a real mass of society, and the anger with those (like my humble self :) ) who fokked up the world (not just environmentally). Please check it out :)
    Back to science, I’d like to address your last answer in our conversation at the comment section in “Girls, Groupies…”, the reference to Nakamura’s book (with excerpts, “Confessions of a climate scientist”, https://fabiusmaximus.com/2019/10/01/confessions-of-a-climate-scientist/ ). As a side note, I find it ironic that you and I seriously debate about climate modelling. Apparently, most people become have an opinion regarding “anthropogenic climate change”, while fields with comparable scientific complexity are completely alien to them (eg. Quantum Computing, incidentally a field where I suspect actual bullshoting with some interest groups). Nakamura is perhaps the newest example of the (not many) actual scientists who “spill the beans”, and these scientists have been adequately addressed in the scientific community.
    Anyway, he points out that “the predictions of climate models are useful but insufficiently reliable for large scale public policy action. None of this is new information. But none of it is widely known” (summary from Fabius Maximus’s editor, Larry Kummer). Modelling is almost the only way scientists can handle climate due to the inherent mathematical hardship of the field. Nakamura’s concerns are real, and Larry is right in that these concerns are not new information. But the thing is that they are widely known to the scientists, actually to any scientist who deals with models.
    One of Nakamura’s serious concerns is: “The models are ‘tuned’ by tinkering around with values of various parameters until the best compromise is obtained.” This is nothing new, and one of the 2(+1) mathematical models of Physics, Quantum Mechanics (or more properly the Standard Model) famously has a bunch of parameters that are just empirical numbers chosen to give results matching experiments. No one in his/her right mind would dismiss the Standard Model for this (not even those who think we should find another, better model). He mentions quite a few other things, with cloud cover may be the most important. But the thing is that climate modelling is already beyond this (this is perhaps the dreaded “consensus” of the field). While models do have problems, they do have predictive power too, and this power is getting better and better. Also, climate science is doing a great work in _reconstructing_ past temperatures, and this field is at least partly independent of modelling, while also helping refining it.
    The validations that Larry advocates (https://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/09/24/scientists-restart-climate-change-debate-89635/ ) have been (and will be) done. Larry says “Yet there is a large body of expert knowledge about the validation of quantitative models. Climate science just ignores it.” but this is untrue, and actually in the linked article we see exactly this validation from the IPCC 5th assessment. Of course Larry criticizes these validations, but the situation is far-far from “ignoring it”. (And the exact linked graph shows how the various models got better and better in their prediction during the cc 2.5 decades of IPCC assessment.) I have to mention that Larry has given voice to people who are proven frauds, hacks, including Stephen McIntyre (https://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/08/04/climate-science-public-policy-broken-87951/ ).

    1. Maximilian C. Forte

      Yes, that is far too long for a comment. You need to consider publishing independently when you have an essay-length comment like this. My own reply will instead be very brief, and will refer you to back to a short list of other times that climate scientists have instead been proven abundantly wrong, in the predictions they have been making for a long time (as you say) about climate change:

      https://zeroanthropology.net/2019/09/29/girls-groupies-and-grim-reapers-the-religious-politics-of-mass-response/#comment-27226

      With or without Nakamura, there has to be some skepticism about predictions, if one understands what a prediction is. What I am not hearing are sound, plausible, feasible, or even minimally humane “solutions” that will not deprive hundreds of millions, if not billions of people, of food and fuel, or their livelihoods, in a rapid socio-economic transformation as radical as some seem to wish.

      Some changes will inevitably occur, as I said in a previous post, and some adaptation will need to happen–as has been done before. I absolutely abhor the panic, and I do not tolerate being told to “listen to the scientists,” when scientists themselves will admit to you that they have very frequently been wrong about almost everything they have ever studied. There is a scientific consensus about that too. To say that the science is absolutely unambiguous about the extent or pace of climate change, its sources and directions, is just hogwash, sorry. In previous comments I also posted links to other sources which instead show significant disagreement, and I don’t need to repeat that here too.

      I really do not understand what it is that you want to convince me about, but I can see that it is largely peripheral to this specific article.

      1. nyolci

        Far too long comment, right. Where should I publish it? This was specifically an answer to you, as the thing below, also quite long.

        “I really do not understand what it is that you want to convince me about, but I can see that it is largely peripheral to this specific article.”
        This is a far too serious topic. I think you are basically wrong regarding climate, while being correct in a lot of things. You in essence published an erroneous opinion about anthropogenic climate change, which, whatever you think of that, is a scientific assertion, and a very unfortunate and far reaching thing that is happening even now. Furthermore, your opinion about corporate interests and the like would be correct even if you didn’t say anything about actual hard science. This is a shame that you’re unable to distinguish between them. Furthermore, I’m trying to debate with you, I don’t say “go fokk yourself” etc. If don’t think I’m trolling you either. I don’t want to, for sure. But perhaps this forum is not the warm, nurturing environment for consensus :) Anyway, I don’t want to offend you or bother you, and I usually like your writings, and mostly agree with you.

        Back to scientists, who do make mistakes, even the wrong assertions in the 1989 flashbacks were “right”. Please bear in mind that these headlines come from journos who apparently can’t understand anything that is a bit more complicated than a soap opera (this is personal experience too). And they mostly quote from politicians, with the same problem. A scientist would’ve probably said something much more nuanced, like “it may be possible this or that, given this or that”. It’s very easy to mock a field if you express basic assertions in sensation seeking headlines. Actually those predictions are coming true, especially crop failures, and I find it very likely that the actual scientists said something about the uncertainty of the time frame. Climate is mathematically characterized by the so called “deterministic chaos”, and it may well mean that you can predict something but you’re almost unable to predict _when_ it will happen. There are also “tipping points”, positive feedback loops that are currently poorly understood, but if they real and kick in, they can change the world in _extremely_ short time, in a matter of years (like sudden arctic methane release). This is a realistic fear, unfortunately, in the press you can only find extremely idiotic treatment which makes it almost incomprehensible, with predictions showed as facts etc.

        And there’s another thing. The long standing extreme level of attention to climate science due to the “denialists” actually made those scientists extremely careful in publications too, and I’m pretty sure this had an undesired effect of actually increasing the quality of those publications.

        There are other mistakes as well, but on closer inspection, most of them are not those extreme stupid mistakes and they are good steps in the better understanding of the subject. The Y2K panic is actually belongs to my specific field, computer engineering. That was a real concern, and it did have the potential to cause serious trouble. I actually didn’t expect anything except for some funny stuff, good fodder for later case studies. This problem is a special case of a broader category, the overflow related bugs, and those have already caused considerable problems, including literally destroying the first Ariane 5 rocket, or loosing space probes, making the early Patriot systems useless, etc.

        Solutions. You’re completely right in this, I mean what you can get from the mainstream is much noise, usually some new age bullshit like our consumption is unsustainable, we have to give up technical civilization, we have to go vegan, we have to grow our food at home, we have to switch to bicycles, and the like. This is usually accompanied with extremely annoying moralizing. And there are those idiots who masturbate around “overpopulation” and the necessity to reduce population numbers, usually in far away places like Africa. Or the ones who vision (or desire?) “resource wars” etc. No wonder you don’t hear anything that is not just not repulsive but somehow convincing. You should bear in mind that a danger can be real without a good solution, and while for this specific problem at least a few of these stupid “solutions” have obvious interests behind, the problem is not induced by these interests. Actually, IMHO the low quality and the stupidity of these “solutions” and their wide distribution is an obvious evidence to me that people in power want to distract our attention from the real solutions (or the problems with the various forms of denial!).

        Because while the immediate problem is something technical, eventually this is capitalism that makes it impossible to find something even remotely humane and satisfying (for the masses). The ruling class is simply not interested in that, furthermore they think they can get away with it, survive the thing, giving a flying fokk to what happens to other people. So we have to “transform” society, and this is means revolution, as per Marx, Engels, Lenin.

        Okay, this may be kinda frightening. The technical side is much simpler, and the picture is rosy. Of course the answer is technical-industrial, we don’t have to give up that (and no serious scientist has advocated that ever). Furthermore we already have the technology, we actually had it even in the 80s. There’s no need for deprivation either, Earth (and even current technology) is perfectly capable of providing (in a green way!) decent living standards for _everyone_ (not just the White Man), and even a lot more people than that are living today. I always get angry when some I read in the papers that this or that new technology may be the solution to global hunger or whatever. We already have the technology, what we don’t have is a sane society. Accidentally, Greta Thunberg demands sanity from politicians. Of course it is naivety to demand anything like this from them, this system is structurally incapable of providing sane answers.

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