On June 14 of this year in Calgary, Canada, a roomful of oil industry listened with rapt attention to a conference presentation about a promising, sustainable replacement for petroleum: Vivoleum.
The concept was very straightforward:
They proposed that the bodies of climate change victims, who they said now number about 150,000 a year, could be rendered into a burnable product, particularly as combustion of fossil fuels sped up ecological disasters. To demonstrate the efficacy of this, they distributed candles throughout the audience, which were allegedly made of the stuff. The candles were lit, and the oil execs passed the flame from one to another.
The presenters claimed to be top executives from ExxonMobil and the National Petroleum Council. In reality, they were a couple of high-octane hoaxsters, the Yes Men, engaged in a culture-jamming practice they call "identity correction."
The business leaders watched attentively as animations showed how the human flesh would be rendered into fuel. The logic was compelling:
“Vivoleum works in perfect synergy with the continued expansion of fossil fuel production,” said “Florian Osenberg,” claiming to be an ExxonMobil representative. “With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of disaster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will continue to flow for those of us left.”
The presentation continued to unfold smoothly until the level of absurdity finally reached a breaking point:
The two then showed a video tribute to an ExxonMobil janitor, “Reginald Spanglehart Watts,” who had purportedly died of toxic exposure after a chemical incident at a company facility. Before passing away, the kindhearted worker had donated his body to be made into one of the candles, so that he could do some good and be useful to others after he died. “Osenberg” lit the candle made of Watts’s flesh and held it up.
The tear-jerking tribute to “Reggie Watts” (with “You Light Up My Life” sung out of tune by Reggie as its theme song, as he mopped and swept) finally pushed the presenters’ credulity a shade too far. At that point, realizing the presentation was a hoax, Simon Mellor, commercial and business development director for the company putting on the event, walked up and physically forced the two imposters from the podium. The police were called, but the pair could only be charged with trespassing.
Many of the other identity readjustments staged by this group are equal parts funny and disturbing. The worldwide BBC broadcast where one the Yes Men, appearing as a Dow employee, explained how the victims of the Bhopal disaster were finally going to compensated is a genuine eye-opener (as was the response from Dow).
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So, we had best not stake our energy futures in Vivoleum. The “o” in the Vivoleum logo was a drop of blood.