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“Think global, act local!” “Be the change you want to see in the world!” “Every little bit counts!” We can all get on board with such sentiments, right? That, of course, is exactly what corporate spin-masters across the world are banking on. By weaponizing such seemingly innocuous yet powerful narratives, change becomes a matter of personal choice, something each of us must slave away at day by day: switching off lightbulbs to save the environment or exercising to shed the weight we’ve gained from consuming junk food. All the while, the corporate welfare tap continues to flow, with over $6 trillion worth of annual subsidies dished out to industries that directly contribute to the deaths of over 5.5 million people each year through diabetes, road deaths, global warming, and other crises. But such framing is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the corporate disinformation playbook. This playbook is the dark matter of activist work: the unseeable element shaping harmful spin across all issues. It has never been reverse engineered – until now.
In Dark PR, Grant Ennis – drawing on his decades of experience working in the environmental, philanthropy, and public health sectors – reveals exactly how multinationals go about hoodwinking and manipulating us. In doing so, he lifts the lid on the nine devious frames contained within the cross-industry corporate disinformation playbook: through denialism, normalization, victim-blaming, multifactorialism, and a variety of other tried-and-tested tactics, corporations divert citizens’ attention away from the real causes of global problems, leading them into counter-productive blind-alley “solutions” like ethical consumerism and divestment. Sadly, though, buying Fair Trade chocolate has not and never will save the world. Only by collectively organizing to lobby our governments can we break this destructive cycle of lies and deadly incentives, and reclaim control of our lives.
Praise for Dark PR
The struggle for health is a struggle against powerful vested interests – the corporations that produce harmful commodities, that damage our environment, and that trample over human rights. Yet, in so much of what we do they remain invisible, even though they have often succeeded in framing the narrative that defines and constrains our responses. Grant Ennis has shone a light on these shadowy forces and challenged us to take them on by organising and demanding change. – Martin McKee CBE, Past President, European Public Health Association
This book is a masterpiece of demystification. Ennis examines every given wisdom in public health and related fields as he reveals how capitalist corporations frame the problems that we perceive and the solutions that we advocate. Any efforts to change these conditions must recognize the importance of corporate framing. Now that this book illuminates our situation so clearly, the next steps focus on the revolutionary transformation of capitalism itself, and moving beyond the capitalist state that protects the corporative framing of what is and what must be done. – Dr. Howard Waitzkin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico
People who care about health and sustainability already know that consumerism defeats both. But the corporations that sell us consumerism also sell us all the most conspicuous “solutions” to it – responses that just keep the consumerist treadmill turning. As Grant Ennis reveals, they win both ways. Through diverse examples, Ennis shows us how the treadmill turns and how the usual responses are part of its mechanism. Ennis shows us how to spot ineffective responses so that effective, independent opposition can escape the treadmill, organize and act. Conscientious consumption, the search for corporate enemies, and atomized advocacy cannot avail, but Ennis also shows us what actually has worked. The stakes could not be higher. Dark PR is a refreshing and revealing departure from appeals to conscience, demonization of villains, misplaced optimism, and expressions of hopelessness. It is therefore a necessary and important book. – Dr. Peter Norton, Associate Professor, University of Virginia
Ever wondered how big oil has subverted efforts to cut global warming? Or how the tobacco industry thwarted attempts to ban smoking? Grant Ennis reveals how Dark PR enables big business to rig the political debate. A thought-provoking book. – Mick Hamer, author of Wheels Within Wheels: A Study of the Road Lobby
An eye-opening read. A disturbing revelation. An urgent call for action. – Dr. James Muecke, Public Health Advocate and 2020 Australian of the Year.
Dark PR is a compelling and engaging book in which Ennis presents nine dubious frames that sway political debate and help to widen the scope of corporate welfare. A keen insight for challenging corporate power is the need to move away from telling personal stories. These spotlight heroes and victims while obscuring damaging political structures and undermining political will. Ennis outlines seven elements of past organised and successful movements that have led to political changes. He presents models for global organising towards ending the six trillion dollars of perverse corporate subsidies and for saving five million lives annually. He argues “We have the problems that we have today because our political structures incentivize them to exist. If we want to be healthy and live on a healthy planet, we need to organize and demand political action. There is no time to wait.” – Dr. Julia Anaf, Research Fellow, Dr. Fran Baum AO, Professor, Dr Matthew Fisher, Senior Research Fellow, Stretton Health Equity, University of Adelaide
Dark PR’s arguments are compelling. The writing style is engaging. This is a very important contribution to how we should collectively be viewing the challenges before us. Ennis clearly distinguishes who are the real fiends in our public policies and the processes by which they came to be. There are so many deep and important lessons from Dark PR. This book will likely fall mostly into the hands of sympathetic readers—those who already agree that we need changes in our public policies to support equitable outcomes for citizens… For this particular audience, the most important lesson is “Aggregate action is not collective action.” We need this paradigmatic shift in our response to a myriad of challenges to local and global public health, safety, and general well-being. Dark PR makes a convincing argument and begins to show us the way. – Dr. Jennifer Brinkerhoff, Professor, George Washington University
A wake-up call to understand the dangers we’ve set up for ourselves as a society. – Abel Falcon, Congressman in 2012 Session of the Baja California (Mexico) Legislative Assembly
Sharp, smart, and concise. A brilliant job. – Leïla Cellerier, Socioeconomist
[Dark PR outlines] the industry and government tactics which misdirect citizen efforts. … Controversially, Ennis argues, it’s not just that these actions [like divestment] don’t achieve the desired effect – but that … they distract from what does. – Mike Muntisov, author of Court of the Grandchildren
We, humans, are better at focusing on isolated events, behaviors, and other symptoms of persistent problems. But we are generally not very good at grasping underlying deeply seated patterns, structures, and mindsets that give rise to those problems. When we want to address wicked problems – such as widespread obesity or climate change – we tend to get distracted with surface-level manifestations of those problems. Many large global corporations skillfully use this tendency to distract public attention from underlying problems they are aggravating, by throwing myriad bones of distraction. Public busily chews on them while such corporations are steadily eroding health of people and the planet. To add insult to the injury, these actors manage to get taxpayer-funded subsidies. In Dark PR Grant Ennis deftly exposes a wide range of well-crafted and honed tricks that many global corporations have been using to distract the public from addressing the roots of the problems for decades. Grant’s compelling examples will jolt the reader awake. They will start seeing with more clarity the scale of such problems, as well as the structures underlying those problems. Moreover, Grant provides pragmatic strategies for fighting back with more impact, sidestepping the distractions that corporations will throw along the way. This is a must-read book for students of systems thinking, and to anyone who wants to tackle the types of problems mentioned above. – Mahabat Baimyrzaeva, Associate Professor, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
A powerful, sometimes painful, exposure of how our attempts to do good, do harm. – Will Dayble, CEO of Citizen Climate Lobby Australia
An eye-opener on the consumer and corporate-driven world we live in. – Loic Nigay, CEO of CollectiveME
Completely perspective-altering. After almost every paragraph I found myself turning to those around me, or even picking up my phone, and saying “listen to this…”. Even six months after reading this book, it still seems to find its way into nearly every conversation I have. – James Harry, Citizen Climate Lobby Australia
At this moment of unprecedented global peril, when ecological, medical and urban crises threaten to derail the human project entirely, we are enmeshed as never before in the web of lies spun by polluters, junk food corporations, city planners, sponsored politicians, and their highly resourced disinformation networks. It takes a highly sophisticated intelligence to see through all this, and present the startling truth in terms that are both uncompromising and accessible. Fortunately, we have Grant Ennis, whose forensic analysis of the current malaise, and what we can do about it, offers the kind of hope that the weary of the groaning world thought had gone out of fashion. – Stuart Walton, author of An Excursion through Chaos: Disorder under the Heavens
A timely, relevant work packed with quotes you’ll want to share, Dark PR is one of those books you’ll remember long after you have read the final page. Ennis crafts a confident story revealing the seven key ways corporate industries stay greedy, while making us unknowingly bend to their whims. With research that packs a punch, Dark PR will get your brain rattling, and your heart pumping, inspiring you to ready action for change. – Autumn O’Connor, Xenos Publishing
Devastatingly effective and unsparingly forthright in its scrutiny, Dark PR examines the issues surrounding corporate disinformation with laser-like focus. Backed by impeccable research and utilizing well-organized framing, Ennis presents a convincing picture of the damaging impact these issues and policies are having on society, while presenting potent arguments for how individuals can both inform themselves and take worthwhile action. An absolute must-read for anyone wishing to gird themselves against insidious and often invisible corporate disinformation campaigns, and those who are longing for a blueprint on how to organize, mobilize, and demand change toward a better tomorrow. – Luke Marty, Editor and Creative Consultant
Courageous. – Daniela Alejandra Marzocco Ponce
During my many years as Editorial Director at Zed Books, I commissioned dozens of important books critiquing power and advocating social change. Dark PR is up there with the best, pulling back the curtain on a crucial issue of pressing importance – particularly in the context of our current climate emergency. It’s opened my eyes and made me look at the world in a whole different way. – Ken Barlow, Pluto Press
We know a lot (and are learning more all the time) about how the tobacco and fossil fuel industries engage in deception, and manipulate policymakers and the public. Dark PR takes us down many different and new byways to explore the “Devious Frames” used by many harmful industries. It makes good use of less well-known examples too, while maintaining a firm grip on the evidence. Dark PR is a highly readable, compelling, and often alarming account of the complex corporate systems which drive disinformation and their associated harms. – Dr. Mark Petticrew, Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Director of the Public Health Research Consortium, author of Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide
An eye-opening book on corporate disinformation and its costs. Our health and humanity is at stake – we need change, and this book shows how it’s possible. – Dr. Linsey McGoey, Professor, University of Essex, author of The Unknowers: How Strategic Ignorance Rules the World
In public health, we were hoping for a better world after the covid-19 pandemic. Corporations and their invisible hands – public relations agencies – nevertheless took the opportunity to double their efforts to sell us unhealthy commodities. So much so that disinformation and misinformation are now more than ever part of our daily lives. In his book, Grant Ennis leads us through these practices that shape our modern world. A book to put in all hands! – Dr. Mélissa Mialon, Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin, author of Big Food & Company: How the pursuit of profit at all costs undermines our health
It would be an understatement to say that this is a hugely important book. It is. It shines a very bright light into some very dark corners and exposes the culpability of corporations, governments and economic systems in promoting products that damage our health and do so to make huge profits at the expense of a global health crisis, a crisis defined by 153 million deaths every 25 years. It must be read and must be followed by citizen action and political transformation. – Dr. John Whitelegg, Professor, Centre for Mobility Culture, Kassel, Germany, author of Critical Mass: Transport, Environment and Society in the Twenty-first Century
Dark PR is an enjoyable read. Importantly, it brings together a strong analytical view on many of the mechanisms critical to understanding transport and road injury. – Dr. Marco te Brömmelstroet, Professor, University of Amsterdam, author of Movement: How to take back our streets and transform our lives
Grant Ennis shines a strong light on “dark PR”. In the process, some truly exploitative tactics of the PR industry are exposed, which have huge implications for people’s health and wellbeing – and not before time. – Dr. Deborah Lupton, Professor, University of New South Wales Centre for Social Research in Health
The health of our communities is in no small part determined by the economic interests of multinational corporations that have a duty to their shareholders to maximise profit from sales. Governments across the world and of all shades have pursued public health policies rested on the notion of personal responsibility, this has delayed any product reform or industry regulation. The methods used have been well documented but in Dark PR Grant Ennis demonstrates how the whole narrative into which health policy is set is a construction of those very industries that harm us, and wilfuly designed to delay, denude or avoid regulation. This happens across multiple industries, we know it was invented by the tobacco industry but perfected by many others. Ennis highlights how this process works in wonderful detail setting out the strategies used, pointing us to counter strategies and an organising framework. For anyone interested in the commercial determinants of health, at any level, this is an essential read. – Greg Fell, Director of Public Health in Sheffield, Vice President, Association of Directors of Public Health
Our interlacing health, environmental, and climate crises often seem overwhelming, even insurmountable. The gift Grant Ennis provides each of us is an unveiling of the corporate capitalist hegemony over our health and our biosphere. Ennis fixes his analytic powers on the insidious ways government-backed corporations shape how our culture normalizes and problematizes the pressing social and environmental challenges of our day. From his deep investigation of corporate deflection and blame tactics, to his sharp treatise on citizen activism and social movements, Ennis has written both an indictment of the corporate-strangled status quo and an invocation for everyone to transcend the vote by organizing to co-create a better society. A phenomenal and motivating book. – Seth LaJeunesse, Assistant Director, National Center for Safe Routes to School, UNC Highway Safety Research Center, author of Factors and Frames That Shape Public Discourse Around Road User Safety
This book encourages readers to critically re-examine the information they have been given about key issues affecting the wellbeing of communities and their environment. Ennis provides frameworks that would be helpful in doing this in a methodical and analytical way. Whether you agree with his insights or not, they will get you thinking and reexamining your assumptions, which is always stimulating. – Dr. Sharon Beder, Professor, University of Wollongong, Author of Global Spin and This Little Kiddy Went to Market
Painstakingly researched and full of real-world evidence, Dark PR shines light on how seemingly innocuous and well-established messages (like “save energy” or “drive safe” or “eat healthy”) have long been systematically co-opted and weaponised by private corporations – to further their agenda, establish ‘alternative facts,’ and diffuse democratic citizen action towards a better world. By chronicling these tactics as Devious Frames, Ennis’s investigation serves as a powerful reminder to always be on guard and critically look at who exactly benefits from our governments’ subsidies, our public policies, and the taxes we pay. – Nikhil Chaudhary, Cities Advisor, European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s Climate Knowledge Innovation Community (EIT Climate-KIC), Co-Founder and Board Trustee, Equal Streets
Un sistema alimentario agroecológico no consiste más acerca de alimentos orgánicos que la abolición se refiere a abrir la puerta de una prisión. En este ensayo vital, Maywa Montenegro de Wit entrelaza ideas provenientes de las literaturas políticas y ecológicas más importantes de finales del siglo XX y comienzos del XXI. La pandemia proporciona un foco para estas dos fuentes de iluminación, pero la luz brillante que proviene de unir estas disciplinas brillará mucho después de que pase la sombra de la Covid-19. —Raj Patel, autor de Stuffed and Starved [Relleno y famélico].
El folleto resuena con la pregunta: ¿reforma o transformación? Pregunta: ¿mitigaremos y adaptaremos o revisaremos y cambiaremos nuestros imaginarios? Se nos ha dado un andamio para abordar el bastión del colonialismo y la colonialidad y para reconstruir los sistemas que ya han empujado su rodilla sobre los sistemas alimentarios y socioeconómicos que ya se estaban sofocando. Es hora de librarse de una pesadilla construida deliberadamente. – Nnimmo Bassey, autor de To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa [El cocinar un Continente: Extracción Destructiva y Crisis Climática en África] y fundador de Health of Mother Earth Foundation [Fundación Salud de la Madre Tierra].
La COVID-19 y otros brotes zoonóticos como el ébola son ilustrativos de las complejas interacciones entre la deforestación, la pérdida de biodiversidad, la destrucción del ecosistema y la salud y seguridad humanas. Estos cambios son impulsados principalmente por la agricultura industrial y el sistema alimentario globalizados, respaldados por el ilógico y destructivo capitalismo racial. … Montenegro de Wit presenta argumentos convincentes a favor de cambios hacia sistemas agroecológicos diversificados que reconozcan las complejas interconexiones entre la salud humana y animal, entre las plantas y nuestro medio ambiente y futuro compartidos. De hecho, abordar las pandemias de manera sistémica no puede desvincularse de la construcción de economías y sistemas alimentarios que se basan en las necesidades de las personas, en particular de los pequeños agricultores, y de los ecosistemas prósperos. Para lograrlo, debemos rechazar y prohibir rotundamente la ecocida ilógica de la mercantilización, la financialización y el extractivismo, como fuerzas impulsoras de las fortunas y los destinos humanos y ecológicos. … El fortalecimiento de los movimientos sociales a nivel local es indispensable para forzar la ruta de África hacia un liderazgo político eficaz y democrático. Se necesita una clara ruptura, dejando atrás intervenciones a favor de un desarrollo ahistórico y tecnicista, donde la tecnología y la productividad se plantean como problemas y soluciones, hacia un replanteamiento urgente y drástico para hacer frente a las crisis sistémicas convergentes que enfrentamos hoy.
– Mariam Mayet, directora ejecutiva del African Centre for Biodiversity [Centro Africano para la Biodiversidad]
COVID-19 ha expuesto la naturaleza racializada de los sistemas alimentarios, pero también potencialmente otorga oportunidades para construir de nuevo. Maywa Montenegro explora una serie de averías, desde cadenas de suministro fracturadas hasta infecciones incontroladas entre trabajadores de alimentos esenciales, entre comunidades negras, marrones e indígenas atravesadas por el virus a lo largo de viejos surcos de opresión racial y de clase.
Ella rastrea los orígenes probables de COVID-19 a los sitios de derrame forjados por la expansión agroindustrial en regiones boscosas donde los patógenos brotan libres e infectan a los humanos. La agricultura animal industrial impulsa estos cambios ecológicos que incuban futuros brotes. Las pandemias tienen sus raíces en la separación violenta de las comunidades de sus territorios, semillas, conocimiento y riqueza. El racismo permite tal robo como fundamental para la expansión capitalista.
Para hacer frente a las pandemias y las injusticias alimentarias, Montenegro pide una agroecología abolicionista. Ninguna alternativa anticapitalista puede ignorar el racismo que es central para el sistema alimentario transnacional. Académicos como Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore y Mariame Kaba han argumentado que aunque la abolición se ve con frecuencia como una estrategia de oposición, para erradicar, por ejemplo, las prisiones y la policía, la abolición es igualmente proposicional. Una agroecología abolicionista abre múltiples posibilidades que responden a las exigencias de un planeta pandémico: no hay una “normalidad” a la que podamos regresar con seguridad.
Esta es una traducción al español de Abolitionist Agroecology, Food Sovereignty and Pandemic Prevention
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief the deep structural problems affecting nonwhite racialized workers in the core and periphery. Yet, many social scientific analyses of the global political economy, at least in the pre-COVID era, are race neutral or willfully indifferent to the persistent racial pattern of global inequalities. This piece seeks to understand how the unremitting super-exploitation of Black and other nonwhite racialized labor in the core and the periphery persisted throughout the COVID-19 crisis through the lens of Black radical scholarship on racism and capitalism. It historicizes the pandemic within the long arc of racist capitalist labor super-exploitation at the birth of capitalism and in its subsequent unfolding. It also shows the mechanisms by which COVID-19 has exacerbated the already existing, structural racial and colonial inequalities that undergird the global economy. White capital and European and North American states have deemed Black and other nonwhite racialized labor “essential” to maintaining profits and called upon these workers both within North America and Europe and in the global periphery to ensure continued production and profits in almost every realm. These workers were seen as essential but expendable; compelling them to continue laboring during the deadly pandemic increased the precarity and danger they faced and exacerbated racial and economic inequalities both within and between countries. At the same time, neoliberal racist states are further marginalizing these very workers by excluding them from much needed social protections to cope with the impacts of COVID-19 on their health, income, and overall well-being. The piece also illuminates why, despite the dire social and economic conditions threatening the lives and livelihoods of workers writ large, white workers continue to refuse to join a multiracial antiracist movement for liberation from imperial and racial capitalist exploitation. The author ends by reflecting on what it means to “return to normal” within the architecture of racial capitalism and the pursuit of a different path to justice and freedom.
Moving Beyond Capitalist Agriculture is born out of the coordination between scholars and community organizers and it should be shared widely. The group behind it, the Pandemic Research for the People, is an expression of collective wisdom and necessary unease. In fact, organization and solidarity are two values to be cherished in this moment of multiple crises. COVID-19 is a neoliberal disease and agroecology that frees the land and people of greed and towards food sovereignty is the pathway out of this mess. — Saulo Araujo, US Friends of the Landless Workers Movement
If you want to know more about the connections between racial capitalism, industrial agriculture, environmental destruction, and epidemics and pandemics, then this is a great place to start. But this pamphlet is more than just an analysis of the immense problems generated by capitalism. More importantly, this pamphlet represents an attempt to overcome this system and to develop revolutionary alternatives to it. Rather than falling into the tempting illusion of reform, the authors of these texts give invaluable insights into how we might support and develop revolutionary forms of agro-ecology that can sustain and reproduce life outside of the racial capitalist machine that is destroying it.” — Arturo Castillon, co-author, The Revolutionary Meaning of the George Floyd Uprising
Increasingly threatening climate disaster coinciding with a pandemic has tragically illustrated that the world doesn’t have the luxury of dealing with one crisis at a time – and capitalist agriculture is at the root of both. The authors show convincingly that there is a better way: one that’s based on self-determination and building on human cooperation, not competition. This publication makes a strong case for agroecology as a crucial part of a future that puts people above profit; a future that assures people`s health by allowing planetary health to flourish. It will bring clarity to everyone trying to understand how the next pandemic could be averted whilst building a more just world — Vijoleta Gordeljević, Health economist and environmental health policy expert, People’s Health Movement.
Pathogens repeatedly are emerging from a global agrifood system rooted in inequality, labor exploitation, and unfettered extractivism by which communities are robbed of their natural and social resources. A crisis-prone economic system that prioritizes production for profit over meeting human needs and ecological preservation is organized around intense monocultural production that, along the way, allows the deadliest of diseases to emerge. The Pandemic Research for the People (PReP) focuses on how agriculture might be reimagined as the kind of community-wide intervention that could stop coronaviruses and other pathogens from emerging in the first place. We address how mainstream science supports the same political and economic systems that helped produce the pandemic. Then we introduce agroecology, an environmentalism of the peasantry, the poor, and indigenous, long in practice, that treats agriculture as a part of the ecology out of which humanity grows its food. Agroecology—a science, movement, and practice—combines ecological science, indigenous and peasant knowledges, and social movements for food and territorial sovereignty to achieve environmentally just food systems.
Peasant- and indigenous-led agroecology is uniquely positioned to limit the spread of zoonotic viruses: Post-capitalist agroecology champions the indigenous and smallholders who protect agricultural biodiversity. A diverse agroecological matrix of farm plots, agroforestry, and grazing lands all embedded within a forest can conserve animal biodiversity in the landscape. Agricultural biodiversity can make it more difficult for zoonotic diseases to prevail. Such a mode of conservation also takes into account the economic and social conditions of people currently tending the land, rather than a conservation that uproots people to foster the private accumulation of capital.
Contents: Introductory note / Globalized food systems, structural inequality, and COVID-19 / What is mutual aid? A COVID-19 Primer / Can agroecology stop COVID-21, -22, and -23? / Moving Beyond Capitalist Agriculture
COVID-19 has exposed the racialized nature of food systems, but also potentially grants opportunities to build anew. Maywa Montenegro explores a series of breakdowns, from fractured supply chains to uncontrolled infection among essential food workers, among Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities scythed through by the virus along old grooves of race and class oppression.
She traces the likely origins of COVID-19 to spillover sites forged by agroindustrial expansion into forested regions where pathogens spring free and infect humans. Industrial animal agriculture drives these ecological changes that incubate future outbreaks. Pandemics have their roots in the violent separation of communities from their territories, seeds, knowledge and wealth. Racism enables such theft as fundamental to capitalist expansion.
To tackle pandemics and food injustices, Montenegro calls for an abolitionist agroecology. No anti-capitalist alternative can ignore the racism that is central to transnational food system. Scholars including Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Mariame Kaba have argued that although abolition is frequently seen as an oppositional strategy — to eradicate, for example, prisons and police — abolition is equally propositional. An abolitionist agroecology cracks open multiple possibilities that respond to the exigencies of a pandemic planet — there is no ‘normal’ to which we can safely return.