Friday, September 25, 2009

Greenpeace discovers PR for nuclear

I'm not sure if this one has been reported in English much yet, but Greenpeace (Germany) just released a PDF (in German) of a public relations firm's proposals to sell nuclear power to the public -- in the week before elections for the Bundestag.

Presumedly, this disclosure is supposed to reveal how manipulative supporters of nuclear power are. For instance, the consulting firm has the following suggestions for conservative, pro-nuclear politicians:

  • refrain from aggressively promoting nuclear; support it only when you are asked
  • start off statements in support of nuclear with confirmation of a commitment to renewables
  • talk about nuclear as a "bridge technology"
  • play on Germans' "widespread, handed-down fear of Russia" (a large source of natural gas for Germany)

In a way, all of this is indeed very manipulative, but somehow I don't find it all that surprising. If I were a PR guy, I probably would have made the same recommendations. And if I were simply to describe what has been going on, I would have come up with all of the above -- which only goes to show that the recommendations have been heeded.

I'm not saying that these proposals are not manipulative; I'm simply saying that, like all PR, they are intentionally manipulative, and they are not particularly pernicious -- we are not talking about open lies and falsification like the kind of crap we have in the US with death panels and Kenyan birth certificates. This is not Karl Rove.

What's more, I really don't think that my side is completely innocent. Recently, I complained about the misleading argument that nuclear power actually produces as much carbon emissions as a modern natural gas combined cycle plant. Since that article was published, that completely misleading statement has been popping up in comments on various websites, much to my dismay. Do we really want to win the argument with falsifications?

We also have to keep in mind that, prior to 9/11, no one was really talking about nuclear plants as potential targets for terrorist attacks.

I also wondered whether Greenpeace had this report some time ago and only now released it in order to have a last-minute impact on the elections. That would certainly have been manipulative. But Jan Haase wrote me back saying that Greenpeace had actually received the printout of the report by mail anonymously at the beginning of September. Now, you can only wonder who leaked the report.

Strangely, a similar thing happened back in 2005, when some members of the Green Party released some PR stuff that the CDU had been suppressing; the material criticized the energy and climate policy of the Schröder coalition, and some of the material did not sound good just a few weeks after Katrina (I wrote about it in German back then).

If we are going to have last-minute disclosures of embarrassing material demonstrating how the other side has been trying to manipulate the issue over the past few years, we need to be careful lest we open ourselves up to charges that the timing of the disclosure is itself manipulative.

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