Suppose, as a writer and climate justice activist, I want to ask you to boycott one of the world’s largest paper companies – Resolute Forest Products – because it is unsustainably cutting trees in the formerly untouched, ancient boreal forests of Canada. Suppose I also wanted to tell you that Resolute practices threaten the survival of the endangered woodland caribou and that the company has lost or had suspended some of its FSC certifications as a result.
Of course, I should tell you those things. That’s my job as a writer, right? And you should probably know. That way you can participate in your democracy: Put pressure on the company to change its behavior, ask your elected representatives to step in, and other actions.
But suppose too that Resolute is right now mounting an aggressive $300 million lawsuit against Greenpeace along with individual activists for publicizing the very same unsustainable forestry practices I want to write about. Suppose I also know that Resolute has a history of mounting specious lawsuits against those who speak out against them that can potentially bankrupt advocacy organizations and individuals by forcing them to mount costly legal defenses.
So suppose I and other writers like me are scared to tell you what you need to know to participate in our democracy and politicians what they need to know to legislate effectively. Suppose it silences us.
With a daughter to support, what should I do? Should I even write this article? Or should I sit back and hope someone else with better access to legal funds will tell you? Maybe the New York Times will tell you. Oh wait. The Times is printed on paper from Resolute. Well then, the Washington Post. Oh, hell. They get paper from Resolute, too. The LA Times? Yup. Them, too.
So it turns out, because of the complex economic relationships between big media and industry, it is often up to small nonprofit magazines and websites and book writers and independent publishers and advocacy organizations to sound the alarm when a big company is doing wrong. But scaring all of us from keeping the public informed is exactly what Resolute is trying to do with its huge lawsuit against Greenpeace.
Here is the background, according to a Greenpeace report on the suit:
Greenpeace has been speaking up and raising awareness of Resolute’s controversial forestry practices with the public and buyers of Resolute’s products for years. … Instead of working collaboratively with Greenpeace and other stakeholders to find lasting solutions for the forest, workers, and local communities, Resolute has filed a $300 million Canadian dollar (CAD) lawsuit against Greenpeace USA, Greenpeace International, Stand.earth, and individual activists …
With these lawsuits, and with its public attacks against other prominent environmental organizations, Resolute is attempting to silence legitimate public concerns, all the while ignoring scientific recommendations for the health of the forest and thus the longevity of the forest products industry.
… Ultimately Resolute’s meritless lawsuits against Greenpeace could impact individuals and groups across civil society that seek to make positive changes by making it too expensive and risky to engage in free speech, advocacy, informed expert opinions, and even research.”
In other words, if the suit against Greenpeace is successful, it could be personally dangerous for me to tell you the things I’ve told you in this article. In this way, it could be dangerous for other journalists and advocacy organizations to tell you other things you need to know.
That is why I am standing with Greenpeace’s new campaign, launched this week, to encourage newspaper and book publishing companies – whose very businesses depend on our right to free speech – to work with Resolute to find more sustainable solutions for the forest instead of pursuing lawsuits aimed at silencing their critics. In addition to the newspapers I’ve mentioned, Greenpeace has found that Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette, among others, all buy and use book-grade paper from Resolute. That includes from a mill in Canada’s boreal forest.
But how we can help?
1. Tweet and share this article on Facebook
According to Amy Moas, a Greenpeace strategist named in the suit, Resolute operates in relative quiet because it is not a household name. So sharing this article, as well as others that show what Resolute is doing both to the forest and in their attempts to silence activists, could help put pressure on them.
2. Communicate with publishers and newspaper companies
Social media and direct emails are effective ways to do this. Moas suggests something like:
“Thank you, [publisher], for being a beacon for freedom of speech in our society. The work you do for the free circulation of ideas is invaluable. But it has now been exposed that [you] are buying paper from a company that is posing a huge threat to the freedom of speech and to forests. Please talk to Greenpeace and take action. Continue to be a champion for free speech and stand by your environmental promises. Urge Resolute to stop attacking free speech and embrace sustainable solutions for the forest.”
3. Sign the new Greenpeace petition
In a few weeks, Greenpeace will be displaying the number of petition signers, as a show of people power, at the Book Expo America in New York City. It is the largest gathering of the publishing industry in North America. Greenpeace will also be handing over a book that contains the name of every petition signer to each publisher. This is meant to be a physical reminder that publishers’ paper sourcing choices are important to their readers and global community.
Will you do those things? I intend to. And then maybe in the future people like you and me and other writers and advocates might feel safer writing articles that stand up to big industry.
Colin Beavan wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Colin helps people and organizations to live and operate in ways that have a meaningful impact on the world. His most recent book is “How To Be Alive,” and he blogs at ColinBeavan.com. Besides YES! Magazine, his articles have appeared in Esquire, Atlantic, and the New York Times. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.