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The Yes Men Pull Off Prank Claiming US Chamber of Commerce Had Changed Its Stance on Climate Change

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The business community got a shock on Monday when its leading advocacy group appeared to make a startling announcement. A statement purporting to come from the Chamber of Commerce said the group had dropped its opposition to congressional climate change legislation and would now even support taxing carbon emissions. The news wires quickly picked up the story, and within minutes it was being reported on the websites of outlets including the New York Times and Washington Post. It also made its way onto cable news, including the Fox Business Network. It was all a prank pulled off by the Yes Men. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The business community got a shock on Monday when its leading advocacy group appeared to make a startling announcement. A statement purporting to come from the Chamber of Commerce said the group had dropped its opposition to congressional climate change legislation and would now even support taxing carbon emissions. It was a striking reversal for an organization that’s been one of the most vocal opponents of efforts to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases.

The news wires quickly picked up the story, and within minutes it was being reported on the websites of outlets including the New York Times and Washington Post. It also made its way onto cable news, including the Fox Business Network.

    BRIAN SULLIVAN: There’s been a reversal on climate change from the US Chamber of Commerce. Breaking news right now, the Chamber of Commerce saying it will reverse its position on the climate change bill and wants a carbon tax, if you will, in the Senate bill on climate change.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That was Fox Business Network anchor Brian Sullivan. Sullivan went on to speak about the significance of the Chamber’s shocking announcement. But midway through, he was handed another piece of news: the announcement was a hoax.

    BRIAN SULLIVAN: Companies like Exelon and other power producers, primarily those on the nuclear side, left the US Chamber of Commerce because the Chamber opposed the climate change bill. Now the Chamber reversing its position. The reason that Exelon and others left is, they said, well, this may be a tax on business, but we need to know what carbon is worth. They want to have more of a set price.

    Alright, so the US Chamber is denying it now. Alright, so, maybe not. So, apparently, we just called the Chamber of Commerce, said, “Can you give us more comment on these headlines that are crossing?” And they are denying that they are changing their position on climate change legislation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s Fox Business News. You might be able to guess who was behind this prank. Well, if you guessed the Yes Men, you’re right. The anti-corporate pranksters that have previously impersonated officials from Dow Chemical, Halliburton, the US government, they’ve put out a fake press release in the Chamber of Commerce’s name. And while this was taking place, the Yes Men rented a room at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to hold a fake news conference for unsuspecting journalists. Posing as a Chamber of Commerce spokesperson named Hingo Sembra, the Yes Men member known as Andy Bichlbaum read from a prepared statement.

    HINGO SEMBRA: Ecologists tell us that if we don’t enact dramatic reductions in carbon emissions today, within five years we could begin facing the propagating feedback loops of runaway climate change, which would mean a destruction of food and water supplies worldwide, with the result of mass migrations, famine and death on a scale never before imagined.

    Needless to say, that would be bad for business. We at the Chamber have until now tried to keep climate science from interfering with business. But without a stable climate, there will be no business. We need business more than we need relentlessly higher returns.

    A number of prominent and longstanding members have recently left the Chamber over our opposition to climate legislation. Numerous others have expressed their dissension, and a number of local chambers have done so, as well. Today, we’re taking their cue.

    There is only one sound way to do business, and that’s to pass a strong climate bill quickly so that this December in Copenhagen President Obama can lead the entire business world in ensuring our long-term prosperity. The Kerry-Boxer bill is a good start to a strong climate bill, and the Chamber will work with Senators Kerry and Boxer to strengthen it. It does need strengthening.

    Cap and trade depends on complex market mechanisms and big government oversight, and where it’s been implemented, it’s had very mixed results, at best. The Chamber seeks a solid business solution, one that requires much less intervention and has a proven track record.

    What we need is simply a carbon tax. Only thus will we be able to compete against physics and create an environment where the best company wins and the best solution dominates. A carbon tax will mean new blood for free enterprise and a fertile new foundation for long-term business prosperity.

    The Chamber also calls on President Obama and the US Congress to cease subsidizing old and failed technologies like the so-called clean coal hoax and to incentivize tried and true clean technologies in their stead.

AMY GOODMAN: Chamber of Commerce poser Andy Bichlbaum, a Yes Man. He later took questions from the assembled reporters. As he answered a question about coal, the hoax was exposed in what could be a first in news conference history. An actual representative from the Chamber of Commerce entered the room, confronting his imposter.

    HINGO SEMBRA: We do feel that the subsidies for clean coal that have been given by this administration are completely misplaced. And if the same amount were applied to solid, ingenious solar technologies that we already have, we would see a dramatic improvement over the long term and the short term, in fact, and that clean coal is a technology that has not only not been proven, it basically doesn’t exist. And it’s just obvious we have to put our money — it’s a sane business decision — we have to put our money where the proof is.

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: OK, this is — I’m Eric Wohlschlegel. I’m with the US Chamber of Commerce. This is not an official US Chamber of Commerce event. So I don’t know what pretences you’re here.

    HINGO SEMBRA: I’m sorry?

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: I know some of you in the press world, but this is a fraudulent press activity and a stunt.

    HINGO SEMBRA: Who are you with, sir?

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: So, if you have any questions, you’re welcome to direct them to me. This guy is a fraud. He’s lying. This is, you know, a stunt that I’ve never seen before.

    REPORTER: How do we know [inaudible]?

    HINGO SEMBRA: I think this is the stunt.

    REPORTER: I have a question. So, does this mean that the Chamber of Commerce does not endorse — it is not acknowledging the climate change [inaudible] denial —-

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: Whatever this gentleman here said to you today is irrelevant. It’s not factual. This is a fraudulent press conference. OK? He’s misrepresenting the US Chamber of Commerce.

    REPORTER: So what is the position then? It has not changed, that it is going to continue to be that there’s no climate change. Is that correct?

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: I’m here to tell you that this is not a formal press conference -—

    REPORTER: Right. You said we can ask you questions.

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: — of the US Chamber of Commerce.

    REPORTER: Yes, I have a question for you.

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: We did — we did hold a press conference last week with our —- with President Donahue of the US Chamber of Commerce. If you’d like to get our position -—

    REPORTER: Right. We have questions for you.

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: No. I’m with the US Chamber of Commerce.

    REPORTER: Do you have a business card?

    ERIC WOHLSCHLEGEL: Yeah, I do. So if you’d like to actually talk to the legitimate Chamber of Commerce, I’ve got my business cards outside. This gentleman, I assure you, does not have any business cards, and he’s not legitimate.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, the Chamber of Commerce denounced the Yes Men, saying, quote, “Public relations hoaxes undermine the genuine effort to find solutions on the challenge of climate change. These irresponsible tactics are a foolish distraction from the serious effort by our nation to reduce greenhouse gases. The U.S. Chamber believes that strong climate legislation is compatible with the goals of improving our economy and creating jobs. We continuously seek opportunities to engage in a constructive dialogue to achieve these goals. We will be asking law enforcement authorities to investigate this event. Beyond that, the Chamber will simply continue to focus on a positive vision for getting people back to work and growing our economy.” That’s the statement of the US Chamber of Commerce.

Well, one day after his latest hoax, the Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum joins us now from Washington, DC.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Andy. What about the statement of the US Chamber of Commerce that you, in fact, are getting in the way of responsible constructive dialogue about global warming?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, the only thing getting in the way here is the Chamber’s absolutely troglodytic, backward stance on global warming. The entire rest of the world is ahead of them, including our own government, our own Department of Energy, and even a number of the Chamber’s own biggest members and branches have left the Chamber over this ridiculous stance that they’re taking that we don’t need climate legislation. They’re not backing the Kerry-Boxer bill, and not because it’s weak, but because they don’t want climate legislation. They don’t want science interfering with business. And that’s about as stupid a position as you could have. It’s like the most backwards of corporate America.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And I just want to read to you, Andy, some of the lobbying numbers, the amount of money that the Chamber has spent lobbying Congress. The third quarter lobbying expenditures were just released a few days ago. They tally to a jaw-dropping $34.7 million. That record-breaking amount translates into more than $300,000 in lobbying per day. What are your thoughts?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, for $300,000 per day, we could have put on about 600 of the press conferences that we did yesterday. It cost us about $500, I think, to rent that room, and the rest was free. So, you know, I guess maybe they’re running scared.

AMY GOODMAN: And the request by the US Chamber of Commerce for law enforcement to get involved here to investigate what you did?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, we welcome that. You know, the more we can get them to pay attention to what we do, the more we get our message out, which is that their stance is ridiculous. And I think most people looking at their stance will get that as the one-line takeaway. To deny the importance of climate legislation is stupid, suicidal and actually murderous. They’re putting us all on the line.

And the risk, the minor risk, that we took by doing this, which, you know, could result — who knows? Maybe they’ll — you know, unlike any of our other targets, they’ll figure out how to get us in trouble. That risk is tiny compared to the certainty of what we’re facing if we don’t do anything about it.

And, you know, we co-organized this. We got a lot of help organizing this from a group of direct action activists at beyondtalk.net. I heard the previous speaker talking about mobilizeforhealthcare.org, getting people to perform civil disobedience around healthcare. Beyondtalk.net similarly tries to get people to pledge to perform direct actions, arrestable direct actions, around climate change. It’s really come to that. More and more people are doing this. And we need to take risks — in this case, negligible risks — in order to get this issue on the agenda and really put pressure on portions of the public sphere that need the pressure put on them.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum, we thank you for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Posed as a spokesperson for the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC. His latest film, The Yes Men Fix the World, it’s being released around the country this Friday, at the same time that the Yes Men are receiving the Creative Time Prize for Art and Social Change at the Creative Time Summit that’s going to be happening at the New York Public Library.

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