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Defamation, and reclamation

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  • Eric Britton
    Subject: Message of 27 Jan. 2010. Oil & Polar Bears Don t Mix. Stop EMBARQ-partner Shell Now -
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2010
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      Defamation, and reclamation

      Paris, Friday, 29 January, 2010

      Dear Colleagues,

      We have suffered an embarrassing incident here this week to which I would like to draw your attention this morning  in the hope that together we can perhaps learn a few positive lessons from it.

      The event:

      On the 27th one of our number, in his impatience for his own version of a better world, decided to engage in a pure propaganda maneuver which merits a bit of reflection.  In a phrase : this person posted to the forum a communication that he represented as having some from Francis Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC). The communication as he posted it violently denigrated the work and integrity of two important organizations working for the sustainable transportation agenda by associating them directly with the aggressive Arctic Refuge drilling policies of the Shell Oil Company.  Thus, in his doctored version each time the original made reference to the Shell Oil Company, he inserted "EMBARQ-partner Shell ".  This disinformation was then distributed to several lists including ours.

      The consequences:

      This is not only dishonorable, something that concerns the perpetrator of this sordid mess alone, but it is also a harmful thing on many levels. 

      First, because it puts the NRDC in a position which is more than awkward and which indeed is entirely contrary to their principles, given that they in fact collaborate and interact with the groups whose integrity was impugned.  I can well imagine  the impact this has on them and their staff, they who are working so hard and so vigorously for a better world.  Not fair!  (You can see more about their work and contributions at http://www.nrdc.org/about/.)

      And not fair either to our colleagues at Embarq, a global network of researchers, engineers and policy specialists created in 2002 under the aegis of the  prestigious World Resources Institute specifically to support environmentally and financially sustainable transport solutions to improve quality of life in cities in the developing world. Why should their hard-working staff and supporters be obliged to suffer from this calumny? (More on Embarq at http://www.embarq.org/en/about/about-embarq)

      The third innocent victim was the Shell Foundation, a charity  active since 1997 in funding a lot of good work in the field of sustainable transportation and other areas where greater thoughtfulness and more aggressive representation is much needed.   Their mandate links them to working with global development and environmental challenges linked to the impact of energy and globalization.  (Go to http://www.shellfoundation.org/ and see for yourself.)

      The fourth victim and in my view certainly the most important is all of us who are working so hard for this (I chose my word carefully here) noble cause.  There are thousands of us in local environmental and transport groups, public agencies, NGOs, universities, operators ready to take new approaches, consultants ready to join in, reporters, writers, and others who are committed to our common cause. When one of us suffers such calumny, we all are affected.

      I will not comment on this person's  motivations, which I have difficulty imagining on the part of a mature individual.  What I can hope is that he will now reflect in silence on all this, not hopefully  lose his obvious enthusiasm for sustainable transport and sustainable lives, and after a couple months of judicious silence and self-examination come back to us with his ethics in order. (Who of us has never made a mistake?)

      There was a good piece in yesterday's New York Times on this subject that is worth a look. Entitled "Tacking corrupt research and missing the point", you can read it at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/science/26tier.html?n=Top%2fNews%2fScience%2fColumns%2fFindings  But if you do not have time to do that, let me take a single point he makes that I believe has significance in our present context. I quote: "Conflict-of-interest accusations have become the simplest strategy for avoiding a substantive debate."  Indeed!

      Why we need to unite:

      One of the reasons all this is so harmful is that those of us who are giving our lives, energy, brains,  and resources to addressing the sustainable transportation agenda and all that entails, need all the help and solidarity we can get to pursue and prevail.  When it comes to money and influence we are losing the war of sustainable development and social justice. As a group we are heavily outgunned by the lobbies of those people and groups who are doing very well under the present circumstances and whose strategy by and large is either to ignore the gravity of the situation , to deny it, or to prolong action as far into the future as possible. So that their goose can continue to lay their golden eggs.

      In this unequal battle, what do we have going for us? 

      Well, first of all, in terms of all the basic values and fundamentals: we have the fact that we are right.  Sustainable transport, sustainable cites, sustainable lives that is something that we can and should do. It will be the future. We will make it the future.

      Our "rightness" however is considerably attenuated by the fact that as with any movement involving a lot of clever people, there are a wide range of views concerning how best to achieve these objectives.  That can make things a bit difficult at times. But this diversity is also an important part of our strength. We are not a monoculture, we are eco-diverse with all that entails.

      Take us as but one example: Here in our work at the New Mobility Agenda and World Streets for example we have made the strategic decision to concentrate our attention and work on what can be done in the next two to four years to achieve significant progress. That's all we do, and others work in terms of a less defined or longer time horizon. What this aggressive shortening of the time horizon offers, we find, is a big help to ensure the near-term changes which are needed and possible without waiting around for something perhaps bigger and better but above all later.   Not everyone agrees with this approach, but   one thing that happens when you have successes in the near-term, and that is that what you learn in the process  instructs you and others as to what to do next, and gives you courage in order to be able to execute those important next steps.

      We, the international sustainable transport alliance, have one other thing going for us and this is absolutely vital -- and that is our integrity.  Without our integrity we cannot prevail -- , so anything, no matter how minor, which undermines that is the true dagger in our heart.  It is not just a matter of "reputation Iago". It goes far deeper than that.  It is not only what others think of us, but what we think of ourselves -- and if we do not have high thoughts and high ambitions we are going to lose this war.

      And now what? Well, what about Haiti?

      In closing I would like to suggest that as allies we treat this as a wake-up call for greater solidarity and cooperation.  And with that in mind I would like to see if we could now start to discuss how we can gather all of our resources, all of our energy, all of our knowledge, and all of our integrity --- to point  it in the direction of one place and one time right now in order to demonstrate that sustainable transportation and social justice can work even in the most challenging circumstances

      Specifically, I hope that all of you read this letter will at least consider the possibility of finding ways for us to gather forces to undertake to create a viable sustainable transportation agenda that makes sense for Haiti.  Now the time to do this.  The fundamental decisions as to directions and values which will underlie what happens next in our sector have yet to be made.  Now is the time that we need to show up and make our voices heard. Together!

      I hope we will in this manner perhaps turn an embarrassing, regrettable event into an opportunity. The pas this the past, the future is our challenge. Starting today

      And of course as always I invite your comments and suggestions.

      Kind regards,

      Eric Britton

      Read World Streets Today at

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