Thursday, September 9, 2010

Greenpeace ‘Inspects’ Dow

It has been a while now since we last heard from Greenpeace on chemical security issues. Yesterday they posted the latest in their on-going series on conducting ‘citizen inspections’ of high-risk chemical companies; this time they looked at the Dow Chemical complex in Freeport, TX. Along with this web site, Greenpeace has also produced an eight page .PDF document that provides more detailed information, including aerial photographs, about the hazards that they ‘detected’ at this complex.

Political Campaign

As we have come to expect with these Greenpeace productions this web site is very well produced with a wealth of pictures and videos. More importantly there are tools readily available to share this information through the various social networking sites. And, of course, no site attempting to influence political policy would be complete without the link to a form letter to be sent to the individual’s Senator.

There is a certain amount of oversimplification of some the issues presented. They have a binary standard for security, either you have TIH chemicals produced and stored in quantity on site (bad) or you have switched to safer alternatives (good). They do mention just-in-time on-site production as a safer alternative, but they fail to take into account the possibility that the use of this or some other alternative might not be reasonable for the given site due to a variety of potential issues. Nor do they discuss what sorts of standards might be used to evaluate these alternatives.

Of course, the average voter (or Senator for that matter) doesn’t really want to concern themselves with that kind of detailed analysis. This message is going to resonate with those voters that use binary reasoning in making political decisions, particularly those with some reason to mistrust chemical companies. In a year when election results my hinge more on who turns out the most voters on election day than actual ideas or issues, this type of campaign may be able to influence enough liberal voters to go to the polls to be able to change the results of a close race.

Industry Response

The chemical industry has a hard time countering this type of political campaign. To move voters away from the binary standard provided by Greenpeace, the chemical industry would have to undertake a significant education campaign, explaining how a toxic vs alternatives decision is made in the real world. The issues involved in such a campaign are complex and difficult to communicate with Tweets or YouTube videos.

The chemical industry has not tried to direct such an education campaign at the voters, instead relying on directly influencing politicians. This results in the environmental activists pointing out the sums of money that lobbyists are spending to counter the Greenpeace backed campaign. In an election year that is also marked by a general mistrust for politicians, this influence issue also moves some additional support to Greenpeace.

Influencing the November Elections

The chemical industry is going to have to find some way to counter this message if they are to have an affect on the election, particularly in areas near these large plants. This safety message used by Greenpeace will resonate in these areas as more and more chemical jobs are being shipped overseas. The remaining workers will understand the potential hazards associated with these dangerous chemicals and may have less trust of management than they had in the past.

This may end up being the sleeper issue of the 2010 election. Voters have a low opinion of politicians and businesses. If Greenpeace and their fellow travelers can use sites like this to motivate large numbers of younger, more liberal voters to get out on Election Day, the Republicans may not get the clear mandate that they are hoping to receive.

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