Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan’s hoax yesterday — announcing ANZ had withdrawn funding for Whitehaven Coal’s planned Moules Creek operation — got Crikey thinking about some of the best green stunts over the last few years.

With the former feet-on-the-streets mentality of deep green social movements now going the way of the keyboard, the hoax has become a formidable tool in the political armoury of post-industrial warriors who’ve found they can jam the gears of carbonated capitalism with their smartphones and a laptop.

Much of the media — including Fairfax’s metro mastheads and The Australian Financial Review website — were immediately sucked in by the Whitehaven ruse and were forced to backtrack with embarrassing “how we were dudded” yarns (but not before the wily operators at Chris Mitchell’s Australian had screen-grabbed the devastating evidence).

After owning up, Moylan name-checked US culture-jamming activists the Yes Men and ABC TV’s Chaser “boys” to explain his tactics, which led to $270 million being cleaved off the Whitehaven share price before market sheep discovered the error of their ways and restored the stock to its former glory.

The initiative taps into a rich vein of global hoax activism that Crikey decided to rank in order of illness. A popular recent maneuver is the “false positive” — where activists put out a devious and fake press release claiming a fossil fuel behemoth is about to do something positive, which forces the company to issue a statement denying their progressivism.

1. Yes Men Dow Chemicals stunt

On BBC News a fake spokesman for Dow Chemicals claimed the company had finally accepted full responsibility for the 1984 Union Carbide disaster that led on some estimates to 16,000 deaths in the Indian town of Bhopal.

2. Harvey Norman’s fake furniture release

Anti-logging activists drew attention to the company’s love affair with dodgy flatpack tables and chairs by putting out a fake presser claiming it would replace furniture and flooring from native forests with plantation grown furniture ranges by June 2012. Other activists later tagged in-store furniture with fake contest QR codes that linked to an anti-logging site. The real spokesman for Harvey Norman was not amused.

3. The real mining story

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and ex-Chaser Charles Firth (“Firth with the Facts”) uploaded a parody site lampooning the Australian mining industry’s 2011 “Our Story” series with their own version starring fake mining billionaire Alan Billison. The thisistherealstory.com.au site thoroughly pissed off global miner Xstrata.

4. Shell gets Arctic Ready

The US arm of Greenpeace made waves last year over a campaign purportedly emanating from Shell that painted the melting of the Arctic as an “opportunity” for the company, complete with a polar bear struggling to make frozen land. The  original “viral” video generated a #shellfail hashtag on Twitter. Then, the group staged a fake “farewell” for Shell’s drilling rigs at Seattle’s Space Needle which were docked in Seattle at the time. With energy big wigs looking on, a ceremonial spigot-turning resulted in an undercover Occupy activist being sprayed in the face with black gold.

5. Coal Cares website

In 2011 a Coal Cares website — complete with an offer of free Asthma inhalers — cropped up, aimed at US energy giant Peabody. The site was a collaboration between Yes Men development bunker the Yes Lab and a group tastefully called Coal is Killing Kids.

6. Flat earth in Middle Earth

Last July, a fake group of members of the Flat Earth Society turned up to a meeting of climate sceptics — the Climate Science Education Trust in Aotearoa/New Zealand/Middle Earth. Their letter of intent was signed by “Nathaniel Pipe-Blower, Tzar and 33rd degree Grand Wizard Master of the first inverted pancake lodge of the totally awesome Flat Earth Society Ltd”.

7. Conservation International exposed

UK activist journalists posed as staff members of an international arms organisation to expose Conservation International as a “conservation” organisation which exists almost entirely to provide good green PR to any company who asks for it. CI — which has close links to Cargill, Chevron, Monsanto and Shell — turned a deep shade of red when the ruse was revealed.

8. Yes Men in print

In 2009 the besuited Yes Men renegades produced a fake issue and website of the New York Post with the headline “We’re Screwed”, in reference to the coming disastrous impacts of climate change. Three years later, the Post‘s distribution area was duly devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

9. Zombie Frack

Not a hoax per se, but last month anti-coal seam gas activists dressed up as zombies and invaded the current APT7 exhibition at the feted Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. A main sponsor of the exhibition is frackers Santos.

10. Alarms for airline industry

In 2010, anti-plane activists Manchester Plane let off helium balloons attached to r-pe alarms reading “Happy Retirement” and let them float to the top of an airline industry conference venue.

11. Utah oil and gas lease trickster

In 2011, US greenie Tim DeChristopher made fake bids for Utah oil and gas energy leases in an effort to sabotage the auction process. He was later jailed for two years.

*Remember a better one? Email your favourite enviro-stunt to [email protected] and we’ll keep the list updated. Thanks to Graham Readfearn for some of these.

Peter Fray

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