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The Yes Men: folk heroes, or cyber-terrorists?  (Source: Guerilla Innovation)
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." -- Mark Twain

In the 1990s the theory that the world was warming and humans were causing it -- anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory -- came into vogue.  Since, researchers have been unable to accurately model the climate trends and the Earth has even experienced cooling, virtually dashing wishful thinking of a global heatwave.

Undeterred by the lack of solid supporting evidence for their novel theories, international governments today stand on the verge of adopting expensive new carbon taxation schemes.  Ironically, these talks -- the Copenhagen summit -- come just weeks after many of the most prominent studies to support the theory were apparently exposed to be faked (see DailyTech's coverage on the CRU scandal).

Deep in the thick of the warming mess is pair of hooligans-cum-AGW theory "advocates", who call themselves "The Yes Men".  Critics call the pair essentially digital terrorists or worse.  They accuse the pair of spreading a long trail of libel, lies, and misinformation that has damaged many legitimate firms.

"The Yes Men" defend their actions, saying they're "Cutting the Corporate" crap.  They're beloved figures in the green and anarchist communities, which hold them up as Robin Hood-esque figures.  That's little comfort to thousands of employees and investors with Exxon, Halliburton, British Petroleum, Dow Chemical and others that have lost their jobs or tidy sums based on the havoc the pair's phony news stories and fraudulent web pages stir up.

Surprisingly, you won't find "The Yes Men" behind bars or sued out of house and home for libel and computer fraud.  Instead, the pair exists quite prosperously in New York City.  Despite their alter-egos' stance of anti-consumerism, the pair leads quite a posh lifestyle in New York City, with Igor Vamos (alias "Mike Bonanno") teaching as an associate professor of media arts at the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Jacque Servin (alias "Andy Bichlbaum") teaching as an assistant professor in subversion at the pricey Parsons The New School for Design in New York City.

Together the flamboyant pair recently committed their biggest hoax to date, this time impersonating a government organization.  The pair faked press releases from the Canadian government, claiming to announce pledges of drastic carbon cuts.

In reality, the Canadian government is likely to proceed with smaller cuts, and they did not appreciate the misinformation.  They contacted the ISP of the sites hosting the hoaxed content and were able to secure its take down.  They also briefly blocked a series of similar domain names to prevent the cyber fakers from changing the site name.  About 4,500 non-affiliated sites were briefly taken down, but have since been restored to working order.

While critics are saying "The Yes Men" are lucky not to be facing criminal and civil charges, the pair instead has cried that they are victims, audaciously declaring that they are being censored.  Emboldened, the pair is cooking up more pseduo-legal stunts for the near future, that will invariably result in more damage to legitimate businesses and government entities.

In the pair's discussions with The Seattle Pi and the blogosphere, they have said that their actions were driven in part by the Alberta Sands oil project, a proposed Canadian oil excavation endeavor.  Some estimates have suggested that the project will locally increase emissions by 165 percent, a figure critics like "The Yes Men" have pounced on.  Critics neglect to note the positive impact this project might have.

Worldwide oil sands -- primarily found in Canada and Venezuela, likely hold two thirds of the world's crude oil.  The Alberta sands, better known as the Athabasca Oil Sands are estimated to hold 170 billion barrels (27×109 m3) of easily extractable crude oil (a mere 10 percent of the total in the sands).  Oil companies have worked with the government to establish plans to minimize carbon and environmental impacts of any extraction projects.

The new projects, on the verge of government approval, could create tens or even hundreds of thousands of new Canadian jobs in an industry that already employs 500,000.  Additionally they could make Canada the world's second largest oil producer -- behind only Saudi Arabia (OPEC).  This would allow the U.S. and other commercial partners to enjoy decades of affordable power from a politically stable source.  Amid these benefits, it's clear that the issue is not as black and white as the critics claim.

Returning to the celebrated cyber phonies and their hoax, the actions of "The Yes Men" do at least raise some interesting questions -- chiefly: in the digital age, is misinformation and hoaxes protected under freedom of speech?  If this is partially true at least, how far should the protections go -- to false statements about individuals, to falsehoods about businesses, or to fraudulent government sites, even?  Conversely, if this kind of speech is illegal, who should be the judge of that in the international community, which shares the internet?

Further, should the legality be impacted by profit based on misinformation?  Current laws clearly provide grounds to prosecute phishers who steal peoples' credit card information.  What about individuals like "The Yes Men" who profit based on media works (books, movies, etc.) or prominent positions resulting from their escapades?  Should this be grounds for criminal or civil punishment?

Indeed "The Yes Men" and their warming farce raise many questions, if perhaps not the ones they intended.  Perhaps the biggest question of them all is whether this is truly the kind of figures that the self-proclaimed "green community" wants to embrace.


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Let's take a step back
By excalibur3 on 1/5/2010 11:15:48 AM , Rating: 2
I think that its important to always evaluate the neutrality of things that you hear in various places. As I scan through these comments a similar theme that I see in many of them is that they are just regurgitating things that they heard on Fox News without actually stopping to really digest the claims being made. (Many are scientifically wrong.) This makes it difficult to have a conversation to really get at the truth at something because this train of thought isn't conducive to new view points.

With that being said as a chemist who has taken a bunch of courses on the subject (but not actively researching it) lets see if I can help clear some things up:

1) While no one is perfect, I would say that science as a whole is about as impartial as groups come. The idea of evaluating an idea on its merits is demonstrated brutally during the peer review process. Since it is anonymous, it is pretty routine for papers to completely ripped to shreds and rejected for anything but the most iron clad publications.

2) The argument of a whole field being in cahoots to fabricate a story is absurd because all it takes is one thoughtfully written paper to make it all come crashing down. Look at Einstein, in writing his theory of relativity he completely shattered a fundamental view that was held by physics. Now he is immortalized as the token smart guy.

3) Turning back to global warming, there have been no scientific papers that have been published with refute that it is happening as a whole. There are reports here and there that suggest that there is cooling here for short periods of time or that it isn't as bad as this one model says, but this is all debating about small fluctuations on a much larger background that is large and unequivocal.

4) It is not fair to say that since we have a little bit of cooling some years that global warming isn't happening. If you look at global temperature trends ( http://www.newscientist.com/data/images/ns/cms/dn1... ) it is clear that the temperature is rising as a whole even though you have diurnal fluctuations and other things that complicate the picture. This temperature rise is faster than any change we have ever seen in the past 100 million years which brings me to my final point. (This speed makes things worse because we don't give the earth enough time to sequester CO2 from the air into the deep ocean.)

5) Due to the non linear nature of our climate and it has been pushed out of equilibrium due to a sudden burst of CO2 levels in the past 100 years we don't know for certain what is going to happen precisely. Its true that the models are bad but the models are still pointing in the same direction suggesting that things are going to get toasty over the next several hundred years. We hope they don't, but if they do it is certain that it will cause warming of ice sheets and other problems that you have already heard about before. The most unequivocal statement is that we are most certainly perturbing our climate system and who the hell knows what will happen but since we are pretty adapted to the world that we have now, why would we want to go and change that?




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