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Sunday, 12 January 2014

Why Do Industry Body Representatives Tend to Make Fools of Themselves?

You will have seen this many times on television, the person who is speaking for an industry, typically someone appointed by the industry’s trade body to answer questions from the media. There he or she stands and faced with profound questions about damage to people, society, or the environment, resulting from the actions of companies in the industry concerned, come the stupid responses. Usually there are only two variants on the stupid answers offered: denial that there is any problem, or, that the industry is only offering what customers want.

On the BBC’s programme Countryfile, broadcast on Sunday December 1st 2013, it was the turn of the Scottish Salmon Industry to engage in making stupid remarks and on quite a grand scale, coupled also with a chilling arrogance that highlights why we need to change the global free market economic system.

The interview began with some bragging on the part of the industry – lots of information about its economic importance in terms of people employed in the industry and also those working in sectors such as fish processing, agriculture, and logistics that provide products and services to the salmon farming industry. Later we were to learn also, that people in the chemical industry are also partly dependent on the salmon industry as well, as you will discover as you read on. We were told how impressively big the industry has become, and about the large number of countries to which Scottish farmed salmon is exported. We were also informed that fresh salmon can be on someone’s plate in New York within three days!

Those readers with insights into sustainability will recognise here an industry demonstrating all the signs of being unsustainable and in need of significant restructuring and a different business model. Interestingly, sustainability was mentioned during the interview, but the industry representative did not provide a rational explanation of how an industry using large amounts of chemicals, consuming significant amounts of energy, and no doubt also with a carbon footprint to match, could be made sustainable in its present form. Is this not always the case?

The interview became disturbingly interesting when the question was addressed of farmed salmon being responsible for the increase in sea lice that are believed to be responsible for the drastic reduction in populations of wild salmon. When asked about this, the industry representative said, “there is no empirical evidence that this is the case (that sea lice from farms are killing wild salmon).” What we did learn however is that sea lice have become a serious issue for the industry and large amounts of chemicals are being used to kill the sea lice, so much chemicals in fact, that there are now concerns that the presence of these chemicals in the environment around some fish farms is excessive. That there is a problem with sea lice is unquestionable, but this was downplayed by the industry representative – was this because he had no sound and rational answers to the questions raised?

The BBC did not enlighten viewers about whether there is any evidence that the problems of sea lice created by having large concentrations of farmed salmon in relatively small spaces is in fact causing problems for wild salmon. But we quickly learned that we were not going to hear from anybody about this, for the Scottish Salmon industry representative had refused to appear in the programme if a representative from an organisation called Protect Wild Scotland was interviewed. When the Scottish Salmon industry representative was asked why he had taken this stance, given that he was so confident about his case, his response was “I am not prepared to discuss (this)”.

But the arrogance and contempt on display was to continue, when the representative said, “I am willing to discuss anything on a rational basis with anyone with a rational argument.” The implication was clear – Protect Wild Scotland do not have a rational argument, so therefore they are to be ignored and this from a person who has no rational basis for believing that the Scottish Salmon industry as currently structured and with its current business models, can be made sustainable.

I describe what was on display in this programme as arrogance and contempt, chillingly so, and it is reminiscent of bees and neonicotinoids. The attitude in the latter case was let the bees die, for we are making lots of money out of neonicotinoids. This attitude also seems to apply to wild salmon as well – let the wild salmon die for we are making lots of money! And if you think about it carefully, this is often the attitude for money comes before environment, which is not what sustainability is about.

Here now is my (ir)rational response to this. I expect people to show more concern about the environment and the natural world and to adopt a more responsible position and to be willing to accept that there might be problems that point to the need for changes in industry practices and structure. This I did not see in the person. In fact I found the person’s attitude, as I have mentioned, not only arrogant and contemptuous, but chillingly so.  To this I felt a need to respond.  Normally over Christmas in my household, smoked Scottish Salmon is consumed – none was over the Christmas 2013 period. I will in future not be buying Scottish farmed salmon, unless I can find fish that comes from a farm with a responsible approach. And this is an example of what I have previously referred to as using the wallet to bring about changes. Mine may seem to be an insignificant gesture, but if enough people do this, then change will happen for there are few things more powerful than the market, which is why we must use it to change the way that businesses behave.

I also here provide for you the web link to Protect Wild Scotland (http://www.protectwildscotland.org/) so that you can assess for yourself whether they do have a rational case for concern about the affects of salmon farming on wild salmon populations.

In my previous blog about the meaning of sustainability, I mentioned the matter of the need to change the economic system. The Scottish Salmon industry well illustrates the problems of vested interests, of people chained to the rock of the past, who will fight to maintain the status quo, and who are looking, at best, only for incremental improvements, while what is really needed is a massive change to the way the industry operates. This focus on defending what is, what exists, when all the indicators suggest that this is inappropriate is one of the reasons industry body representatives tend to make themselves look foolish when interviewed. Whether they realise this I do not know, but the value of them doing so is that it provides that can be used to stimulate a consumer revolution that can help bring about a significant step forward towards a sustainable civilisation.

I look forward to the day when one of these industry people just openly admits that their industry needs to change and in a significant way. We will not see such a massive change however, until we start thinking about and experimenting with radical alternatives that offer the prospects of real sustainability. This is why individuals need to start using their votes, wallets and lifestyle choices to create the circumstances whereby politicians and business people realise that business as usual is no longer an option.

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