Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's the Biggest Can/Art Story of the Day, so Why Fight It? Yes Men Perform Canuckness at Copenhagen

This is pretty much the biggest Canadian-related art story of the day as I see it, so let's just affirm it now, shall we? From the National Post:

Prankster group Yes Men take credit for Canada climate hoax

COPENHAGEN -- The federal government was stung on Monday by a sophisticated hoax that made it appear the Canadian delegation had publicly committed to bold emission reduction targets and tens of billions in new aid to help African nations.

An American social advocacy group told media organizations they were responsible for the fake news releases that set Canadians at the Copenhagen climate conference abuzz late on Monday.

Activists calling themselves the Yes Men said they sent out an initial phoney news release, which laid out the supposed new Canadian targets and action plan.

That email was followed by others, one of which appeared to be a government indictment of the first hoax -- which stated Canada's standing with the international business community had been damaged, and the Canadian government would "seek the full measure of legal recourse against these criminals under Danish and international law."

Another hoax news release had the Ugandan delegation at the international climate change talks reacting with elation to Canada's news.

The news releases were posted on a fake Environment Canada website, and the first appeared on real-looking, but bogus, Wall Street Journal and United Nations Conference of the Party sites.

And from the Yes Men website:

Copenhagen Spoof Shames Canada; Climate Debt No Joke
African, Danish and Canadian youth join the Yes Men to demand climate justice and skewer Canadian climate policy

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - "Canada is 'red-faced'!" (Globe and Mail) "Copenhagen spoof shames Canada!" (Guardian) "Hoax slices through Canadian spin on warming!" (The Toronto Star) "A childish prank!" (Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada)

What at first looked like the flip-flop of the century has been revealed as a sophisticated ruse by a coalition of African, North American, and European activists. The purpose: to highlight the most powerful nations' obstruction of meaningful progress in Copenhagen, to push for just climate debt reparations, and to call out Canada in particular for its terrible climate policy.

The elaborate intercontinental operation was spearheaded by a group of concerned Canadian citizens, the "Climate Debt Agents" from ActionAid, and The Yes Men. It involved the creation of a best-case scenario in which Canadian government representatives unleashed a bold new initiative to curb emissions and spearhead a "Climate Debt Mechanism" for the developing world.

The ruse started at 2:00 PM Monday, when journalists around the world were surprised to receive a press release from "Environment Canada" (enviro-canada.ca, a copy of ec.gc.ca) that claimed Canada was reversing its position on climate change.

In the release, Canada's Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, waxed lyrical. "Canada is taking the long view on the world economy," said Prentice. "Nobody benefits from a world in peril. Contributing to the development of other nations and taking full responsibilities for our emissions is simple Canadian good sense."

Thirty minutes later, the same "Environment Canada" sent out another press release, congratulating itself on Uganda's excited response to the earlier fake announcement. A video featuring an impassioned response by "Margaret Matembe," supposedly a COP15 delegate from Uganda, was embedded in a fake COP15 website. "Canada, until now you have blocked climate negotiations and refused to reduce emissions," said "Matembe." "Of course, you do sit on the world's second-largest oil reserve. But for us it isn't a mere economic issue - it's about drought, famine, and disease."

Makes me sad to be a Canadian, but proud to occasionally believe in art. In other words: I don't think this stunt/performance/work accomplished a ton, but it did direct attention to the way image is used and misused in the climate talks--a worthwhile point whether one's Canadian or not. (Frankly for all those who just want to diss Alberta, I say where would Bay Street be without the oilsands... but that's a whole other discussion.)

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