Who would you take advice from?

We were driving on the Pennsylvania turnpike the other day, when we noticed this sign:

Lady-Gaga-Billboard

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.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

3 thoughts on “Who would you take advice from?

  1. I’m a bit curious as to whether or not the celebrities in those billboards gave permission for their likeness to be utilized for the purpose of those PR efforts.
    That said, my reply to any appeal to celebrity is, if the celebrity mentioned is not a specialist in the field of discussion, the consideration of the alleged words of the celebrity goes into the bit bucket.

    That said, I read this entry with some trepidation. I recall seeing the horror that is the air quality in Beijing. I also grew up seeing a close second to that lack of air quality here in the US. LA was infamous, until “those long haired commies” kept raising merry hell over toxic air and water.
    At the same time, some celebrities were telling one and all, “Turn on, tune in and drop out”.

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  2. Thanks for researching the billboards. We saw them recently and wondered about them too. We thought whomever purchased them must feel feel so insecure about their own life they have to talk about Yoko and it doesn’t even prove any point at all. We also wondered about using celebrity images. I just figured it was the gas company buying them.

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    • Funny, I thought it was the coal company at first. Yeah, it’s all a big, convoluted mess. But it’s from both sides. There are plenty of interests in the environmental groups that have nothing to do with the environment, and that is why public opinion can be swayed. Thanks for reading.

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