We were driving on the Pennsylvania turnpike the other day, when we noticed this sign:
There were a couple of other signs that were just as weird. One had Yoko Ono. Another had Robert Redford. If you go to the website they display, you’ll find some interesting thoughts about environmentalists:
“Environmental activist groups have lobbied for stronger laws to protect the environment and public health since the 19th century. But while these organizations started out curbing real threats to our safety and the future of our planet, they have morphed into multi-million dollar lobbying machines that use questionable tactics to scare the American public and policymakers into supporting unnecessary and unreasonable policies.”
Okay, I can see some of that. But then I started wondering who funded “Big Green Radicals”. So I clicked on their “About Us” page and found this:
“Big Green Radicals is a project of the Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA), which exists to educate the public about the real agenda of well-funded environmental activist groups. The EPA receives support from individuals, businesses, and foundations.”
Interesting. The acronym “EPA” is usually used by the Environmental Protection Agency, a government agency. Surely the “Environmental Policy Alliance” is not trying to confuse anyone, are they? So I looked into who the EPA were in this case.
According to their website, EPA “is devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups and exploring the intersection between activists and government agencies.” And that’s it. There’s links to their projects and their Facebook page. On it they have the same kind of messages about environmentalists. It seems to me that they are all about making fun of people who advocate for the protection of the environment more so than to uncover some big conspiracy or concerted effort to influence bad policy.
According to the Center for Media and Democracy, EPA is “a front group operated by the PR firm Berman & Co. Berman & Co. operates a network of dozens of front groups, attack-dog web sites, and alleged think tanks that work to counteract minimum wage campaigns, keep wages low for restaurant workers, and to block legislation on food safety, secondhand cigarette smoke, drunk driving, and more.” This is somewhat humorous because it seems that one lobbying group is fighting another.
According to an article on the Huffington Post, EPA is the brainchild of a lobbyist named Rick Berman, a man who has several groups, or organizations, put together to oppose a lot of activism not only about the environment but about other social causes. In this CBS interview, it is said that he is doing this to save us (the American public) from being ruled by a nanny state. This was also humorous to me because it seems that Mr. Berman is acting like a nanny himself.
On the other hand, it’s a little scary to me that one man (or one group) has so much influence to oppose public health (and other) messages. The unsuspecting person may think, “Yeah, who is Lady Gaga to tell me how to get energy?” Or, “Yeah, Robert Redford should walk the walk and not use a private jet if he’s so concerned about pollution.” And that’s the magic of those billboards. They do make you wonder where you are getting your information from. Yet they warn me, someone who wants to inform the public, to be mindful of who I use as a spokesperson for any campaigns I may engage in.
Certainly, for a campaign against teen pregnancy, I may not want to use someone whose lifestyle detracts from the main message. At this point, I would not hire Charlie Sheen to talk to us about the importance of drug and alcohol rehab. At the same time, I have to be intellectually honest and not mock your message only because of who is delivering it. If what Lady Gaga says about energy policy is sound and based on good evidence, then it is worth listening to. That is exactly why I refrain from pointing out that Jenny McCarthy is a former nude model when engaging her thoughts on vaccination. (I used to do it a lot until my wife smacked me upside the head and told me why I was wrong.)
Be careful who is giving you advise, yes, but also check that advice and check who is giving you the counter-advice.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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