What Tobacco Companies and Fossil Fuel Companies Have in Common?
Divide and conquer, the English crown has used this policy in different countries to successfully rule many. And those that are the remnants of its brutish past organizations like British Petroleum or British American Tobacco use the same tactics to win their fight against popular policies to restrict and control them.
Even though tobacco kills, even though the use of fossil fuels will destroy our world, how come they are wildly successful. And why are we so divided against controlling them?
Here is where it gets really interesting.
I have worked against tobacco companies for years and I found their way of shifting responsibility extraordinary. Tobacco is one of the most harmful drugs in the world with more people dying from tobacco use than any other thing in the world.
Yet it is legalised in most countries in the world! While being as addictive as heroin and as deadly as poison tobacco continues to be marketed.
The way they have managed to do this is by shifting the responsibility to the user. They say it's harmful but make sure people have access to it, and create this narrative that you can smoke fewer cigarettes-if you want. It expects consumers to be makers of better judgements(do you think most people make good judgement calls?) while causing public health havoc targeting children and killing half of its consumers.
Divide and conquer at the consumer level is: shifting the responsibility on the shoulders of the consumer and then positioning the user and the non-user against each other. So the user and the non-user fight each other, contradict each other and criticise each other. And you can stroke those contradictions and criticism and keep yourself off criticism. A really useful technique when you don't want the user to rise up against you.
Cigarettes companies create this narrative that those who are telling you to quit is infringing upon your right to smoke. In most developed nations tobacco advertising is banned. But if you ever looked at their advertisements, you would see they talk about freedom a lot. And that's their marketing tactics of divide and rule. The consumer buys into this narrative. If you tell them to stop smoking they can talk about their rights as a smoker and how you are infringing upon them instead of accepting that they are addicted and may or may not need help quitting. People take smoking so seriously that they have built whole work cultures around it.
The same is true for BP(British Petroleum), “leave it to the consumer of fossil fuel”. BP coined the term your carbon footprint and tells you to decrease it. BP even has guidelines on how you can reduce your carbon footprint. And now what's happening is people are divided into two categories, you are either a perfect environmentalist who doesn't eat meat, who doesn't fly, who doesn't use AC and those who do. Instead of going after corporations and criticizing their ways we look down on people who eat meat, who fly often and use AC.
Of course, we have to do our part, but wouldn't you use an AC in a world where the climate is less and less predictable, where because of heat waves people are losing Trillions of work hours in Bangladesh, India and even as far as the Mediterranean? Won't you eat protein in a world where people cannot get access to protein?
We must unite against these corporations and stop listening to their narrative, it's okay to be an environmentalist who eats meat and is less than perfect. We are not at a witch hunt. We are not here to make judgements of the morality of a person.
If we are not offered viable alternatives we will not see this shift, and that viable alternative needs to come to us from these multi-billion dollar companies. We must stop buying into their blame game, its a false narrative, as they continue to expand and exert power on entire countries making them fossil-fuel reliant, we must now more than ever talk about things like divestment from fossil fuel, against fossil fuel proliferation, against new exploration. That is where the real fight is, not against each other.
It's okay to tell people to stop smoking and still hang out with them. It's okay to eat meat if you are used to it and use A/C if you are feeling hot. It's okay if you are fighting harder than someone else. It's not about who is doing what at an individual level that will determine our future on this planet, which has little impact on our overall fossil fuel use. It's going to be about large corporations changing their ways. We are at their mercy and we must cash in on this mercy, it's about time!
Speak against these large companies that are destroying our planet. Together, perfect and imperfect people, together.
Fight the power, not the people!