The Yes Men’s Latest Hoax-Within-a-Hoax Entangles a Canadian Pipeline Giant
At one point, Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler denounced it as “absurd” and “a joke.” And, boy, was he right. Canadian oil company, Enbridge Inc., really hadn’t enlisted beauty salons across North America to help clean up more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River last summer. It was a hoax by those veteran pranksters, The Yes Men, and their growing ranks of Yes Men-in-training.
And Weyler wasn’t the only one duped. The MyHairCares campaign was unveiled mid-March to media fanfare across Canada. The Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, and The Montreal Gazette, among others, published the “news” that Enbridge was collecting thousands of pounds of hair clippings to be used to help absorb the sticky tar sands oil it had spilled. But the “artivism” didn’t stop there. Taking advantage of the confusion, these hoaxsters issued their own version of an “angry response” from the company. Even more media outlets picked up the fake angry response. Most of the duped newspapers and websites quickly removed the stories without explanation, but you can find a few copies here.
The Men, and their apprentices in Michigan and Canada really did reach out to all those salons but never intended to collect thousands of pounds of hair, stuff them into old pantyhose and use them as booms in the river cleanup, which eight months after the spill is still far from finished.
A similar – but “for real” – hair boom initiative was briefly launched during the height of last year’s BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but was quickly discredited as more of a feelgood idea.
The pranksters’ real objective was to raise awareness of Enbridge’s environmental record. The Calgary-based company operates the world’s longest oil pipeline system linking Canadian oil fields to U.S. refineries; It also has a long rap sheet of environmental crimes. The company is reportedly responsible for about a spill a week between 1999 and 2008, even before the July 26, 2010 rupture in Marshall, Michigan. That incident was largely overshadowed by the BP spill, which was just wrapping up about the time the Michigan pipeline burst, coating a 30-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River and its floodplains with sticky tar sands oil. Birds, fish and other river dwellers died and dozens of people living along the river were sickened from the fumes. Some were forced to leave their homes, according to press reports. Enbridge has also angered the locals by allegedly reneging on promises made last summer to compensate locals for property and other damages.
But even as U.S. government regulators prepare criminal and civil lawsuits claiming the company acted negligently in failing to properly maintain its infrastructure, Enbridge is pushing ahead with a proposal to build a new pipeline. Dubbed the Northern Gateway, it would carry hundreds of barrels of crude oil daily of Alberta’s controversial tar sands across more than 1,000 rivers and streams, through the Rocky Mountains and the Great Bear rainforest to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia.
Oil and Hair
Especially considering Enbridge’s track record, allowing the company to cut through such as pristine area prized for its wild salmon would be a terrible mistake, says Shannon McPhail, an environmental campaigner in British Columbia working to defeat the Enbridge plan.
“With our wild salmon and our clean water, we cannot risk a spill. If the Enbridge pipeline would go through, it would be real kick in the head,” says McPhail, who contacted The Yes Men after seeing their movie and hoping the duo could help shine a light on a controversy that has generated strong emotions locally but decidedly little attention from the wider world. The Men were already talking to the Michigan group about how to hold Enbridge accountable for the Kalamazoo spill. They joined forces dubbing the new group PERM (People Enbridge Ruined in Michigan), in honor of Michigan residents who haven’t been able to return to their homes since the spill there, she said.
“It used humor to tone things down a bit and helped bring international awareness to a really important issue,” McPhail says. “Enbridge has $100 million dollars (in pipeline seed money). We don’t. But we have The Yes Men and they are great at getting attention to issues that don’t usually get much press coverage.”
This was the fourth project carried out by the Yes Lab, an initiative launched last year as a way to brainstorm with local activists and train them to carry on their own Yes-style hoaxes. Another dozen or so lab experiments are in the works, says Mike Bonanno, also known as Igor Vamos. He and Andy Bichlbaum, AKA Jacques Servin, have been pulling off Yes Men hoaxes for more than a decade.
“It has become much more about teaching what we are doing… that means there are lots of tasks having to do with writing everything down, making it all make sense to those around us… which is lots of work in itself!” Bonanno said in an email.
Weyler added via email that he didn’t know about the hoax when he made the comments that eventually landed in the news but was glad to help out some kindred spirits.
Of the Yes Men, he writes: “They’re a lot like Greenpeace in the 1970s, when we had no money and were just relying on creative use of the media to promote peace and ecology and expose corporate greed and fraud. That’s what they’re doing, only 21st century style. I thought it was all brilliant.”