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Playing Make Believe with the Yes Men

The Yes Men – who Andrew Zolli explains are “not identity thieves, but identity correctors” – credit Will Wright for helping start The Yes Men. One of the principals had been working at Maxis, on Sim Copter – he added an “easter egg”, where, on the top level of the game, you see “two hundred muscle guys in swim trunks kissing each other.” Unsurprisingly, Will fired him… (they offer to give him a bottle of Poland Springs water in thanks.)

The men take us to Bhopal, where they argue that the green revolution made farmers unemployed, moving farmers to the “suburbs” of Bhopal. A pesticide plant from Union Carbine blew a gasket, releasing gasses that killed 25,000 people.

The Yes Men – whoc call themselves “a corporate watchdog that bites,” put up a website – with the assistance of Bhopal activists – which looked like Dow Chemical. They were then asked to speak on the BBC, where a Dow “spokesman” – “Jude Finistera”, accepted full responsibility, offering “a $12 billion plan to fully compensate the victims, 120,000 who may need medical care for the rest of their lives.” To do this, the spokesman announces that Dow will be liquidating Union Carbide to pay for the claims and to cooperate with future legal actions.

The appearance generated roughly 900 press articles as well as TV spots… and the Dow stock value lost about $3 billion when the market thought Dow was, in fact, going to do the right thing. Once Dow announced it was a fraud, the stock came right back up.

The Yes Men are not particularly enabled with technological solutions to global warming, like carbon sequenstration or carbon neutrality, through tree planting. They offer some reasons why tree planting to offset fossil fuel use are a hoax – the trees sequester less carbon than is released from disturbed soil, they argue. This, they argue, is free markets don’t work on problems of this scale.

So they went to “work” for Haliburton, as “Dr. Northrup Goody”, pitching “survival balls” (think “survivable”), designed to protect the few and the wealthy against catastrophic environmental change. The point: these technological fixes might only save the very wealthy, and reflect a dangerous mindset.

Concerned about environmental refugees – specifically the Katrina refugees – the Yes Men focused on projects to close down public housing in New Orleans and the groups fighting these plans. The plans exist to raze projects like the Lafitte Projects, and the people who lived in these buildings are now displaced. So the Yes Men appeared as “Deputy Assistant Secretary” to HUD secretary Alfonso Jackson, who announced that Lafitte projects were being opened. Ray Nagin bought the prank and went to the projects to have a ribbon cutting, along with a brass band. Residents were less upset than you might think – they were pleased someone was paying attention to the situation, since HUD was not.