Savage Nobles is a series of investigative posts covering grifters that savagely attack sustainability initiatives, including the Forest Stewardship Council and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and their proponents over their ”Noble” cause. The term ‘Savage Noble’ is a play on the mid-eighteenth century’s romantic yet racist construct of the “Noble Savage” (Ellingson 2001), which “has turned green and appeared on the frontline of a very modern propaganda offensive” (Whelan 1999). Savage Nobles use similar rhetoric constructs to black-wash sustainability initiatives and so polarise the public perception towards their ”noble” cause.
Note: This post has been updated repeatedly since it was first published; sections added/edited include Palm Oil Detectives promoting the Iceland supermarket chain and consumerism in general, as well as their blatant lies regarding an RSPO plantation, a donation to Orangutan Land Trust, protecting Javan rhinos, the effectiveness of boycotts, links to FSC/RSPO, police reports, promoting suicide and stalking/harassment.
For well over a year now, a Twitter account named ‘Palm Oil Detectives‘ has been smearing various sustainability proponents on social media. Its main target is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (@RSPOtweets), in an attempt to vilify its significant progress towards responsible management by the palm oil industry. The account prides itself on being anonymous (see this tweet/mirror), and even its website contains no information on the identity of the person or persons administering it.
This desperate attempt at avoiding responsibility for claims made is an obvious warning sign that something is very, very wrong with the due diligence of any initiative and its associated accounts!
As ‘Palm Oil Detectives’ considers “publicly available information” fair game to “debunk and destroy“, I’ll apply Palm Oil Detectives’ own standard to expose their links to industries and debunk their lies.
Despite the attempts to stay anonymous, the individual behind Palm Oil Detectives left an abundance of online clues that took less than an hour to uncover. Since some of the following evidence has already been scrubbed from the internet, and websites have been deactivated or set to members-only accounts, links to mirrors in the Wayback Machine are included throughout this article.
In a nutshell, the following clues were found online that unmask the owner and admin of several online accounts and websites and verify the identity of this individual without any remaining doubt:
- Per a now-deleted Tweet (mirror), the owner of @contentcatnip (mirror; Twitter account) is also the owner of @PalmOilDetect (Twitter account);
- @contentcatnip leads to contentcatnip.com, with images on the site leading to contentcatnip920332409.wordpress.com (blog account, redirects to contentcatnip.com);
- @PalmOilDetect leads to palmoildetectives.com, with images on the site leading to palmoildetectivez.wordpress.com (blog account, redirects to palmoildetectives.com);
- replies to older posts on contentcatnip920332409.wordpress.com – see a.m.o. this post (mirror) – identify its admin as Athena;
- Middleground – Issue 3 (mirror) and a Facebook post (mirror) lead to ‘Athena Dennis content catnip’ as a contributor, with the image right accompanying the post;
- A reply on Vegemite on Oatcakes (mirror) lead to www.athenadennis.com (mirror; blog account, suspended) and @athenadennis (mirror; Twitter account, suspended);
- clues #5 and #6 lead to linkedin.com/in/athena-dennis (mirror; LinkedIn account) with the same name and image;
- clue #7 leads to athenacreativeweb.com, with images on the site leading to athenadennisblog.wordpress.com (mirror; blog account, redirects to athenacreativeweb.com);
- a Google Search (mirror) identifies www.athenadennis.com as an admin of contentcatnip.wordpress.com; and
- the pull-up footer on athenadennisblog.wordpress.com (mirror) leads to @creativeathena (Twitter account), verifies the LinkedIn account in clue #7 and leads to an expensive house in a posh neighborhood of Wellington (New Zealand).
Note 1: there are numerous ‘via @athenadennis‘ tweets – the latest one from 17 January 2022 – that link to posts by Athena Dennis and mimic the ‘via @palmoildetect‘ links found all over the Palm Oil Detectives blog.
Note 2: the Wayback Machine was a valuable tool in viewing various deleted sites and pages published by Athena Dennis over the years, in particular those on athenacreativeweb.com and athenadennis.com.
Based on her LinkedIn account, Athena Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Communications & Marketing and has over 15 years of experience in “senior marketing consulting and strategic marketing” and “running content marketing campaigns for multiple clients“. She is – quite literally – a certified and experienced spin doctor who peddles her trade on social media. Note her various commercial web domains identified above: athenadennis.com, athenacreativeweb.com, contentcatnip.com, palmoildetectives.com and her ‘Strategic Content Marketing Stack‘ (mirror). Then, ponder over what a spindoctor has to gain from any successful spin – either paid or unpaid. The more outrageous and successful the spin, the more the spindoctor’s portfolio increases in value, the more clients (s)he will attract and the more income is generated to maintain her 2M$ house.
Athena’s ethics are very questionable. For instance, she doesn’t take the concept of Intellectual Property very seriously – despite being clearly aware of it (she even refers to IP-free images on her old website). She regularly (ab)uses digital imagery from other sites without attribution or the owners’ consent. This includes imagery from a.o. Nicolas Schwab (tweet/mirror) but also many, many photographs and videos from Joel Sartore; see a.m.o. the tweet/mirror right, in which the logo (Video Ark) and the name (Joel Sartore) have been removed.
Not even the brand name ‘Palm Oil Detectives’ appears to be Athena’s intellectual property! She snatched it from the high schoolers who set up palmoildetectives.wordpress.com (note the ‘z’ in Athena’s palmoildetectivez.wordpress.com).
But Athena’s ethics are not limited to plagiarism.
Using her Twitter account @contentcatnip, Athena has already admitted that ‘palm oil [actually] produces more oil per hectare than other oil crops making it better for the environment than coconut or rapeseed oil‘ (mirror). She has also noted that deforestation in the tropics is due to various commodities, including ‘#soy #meat #cocoa #coffee’ (mirror). Yet, somehow only palm oil deserves a #boycottpalmoil call-to-action, while the other commodities are unimportant to Athena.
Clearly, Athena has a fair understanding of the issues concerning deforestation, the palm oil industry and the role of the RSPO in transforming this industry.
In light of even Greenpeace calling her claims “a little misleading”, Athena Dennis’s professional details raise numerous alarms. More so in light of her stubborn efforts to scrub posts from Twitter and other social media to hide her track record with for-profit entities and her conflicting interests. It raises the question of whether one of these entities is funding her propaganda, and which one is.
Only Athena can tell, but I won’t hold my breath for her ethics to kick in!
Athena argues that her assertions on palm oil “are based on @Greenpeace @EIA_News @ran @crresearch findings” (mirror). Yet, she sneaks in her real agenda, her #boycottpalmoil argument: if any deforestation for oil palm occurs, all palm oil must be boycotted. Dozens of tweets by Athena use the hashtag and tag or cite the above activist organisations.
Yet, tweets supporting a boycott of palm oil have been posted by neither Chain Reaction Research, Environmental Investigation Agency, Greenpeace nor Rainforest Action Network up to 2022. In fact, Greenpeace tweeted in 2018 that palm oil “can be produced without destroying rainforests” and it “*is* possible to produce palm oil sustainably, and we’re not actually encouraging a boycott“. Recently, Greenpeace stressed yet again it has “has never called for palm oil boycott” (see tweet right).
Using reports and statements by Chain Reaction Research, Environmental Investigation Agency, Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network to argue a point they don’t support is called a fallacy of stolen concept: Athena abuses their reports, etc to falsely suggest they support her boycott of palm oil.
One of Athena’s foulest spins is her assertion that “social media campaigns against palm oil are highly successful“, a bullet-point in Teng et al 2020 adulterated by her. What Athena deliberately(?) ignores is that this paper aimed to “categorize relevant themes of public opinions toward palm oil and its environmental impacts by using online data from social media accounts” (emphasis added), that it covers “how the public debates over palm oil” and that its measure for success is “negative public opinions on palm oil” (emphasis added). The study does not determine the effects of boycotts on oil palm cultivation, palm oil demand, deforestation and/or rare, threatened and endangered habitats/species!
In contrast, science sketches a more sobering perspective of the impacts by boycotts:
“You were either for or against a boycott of tropical timber: you either believed in the possibility of sustainable commercial forestry or you did not”Pearce, 1991
“The extreme organizations support consumer boycotts and/or government trade restrictions to minimize the trade in tropical wood products. The moderate position recommends the use of a number of education-oriented tools to address the problem, including certification programs.”Ozanne & Smith, 1993
“the deforestation effects of timber import boycotts of industrial countries, leading to a decrease in timber exported from Indonesia, are rather uncertain”Kägi, 2000
“measures directed at proximate causes – such as boycotts in developed markets against agricultural products that have caused deforestation – are likely to simply displace one cause of deforestation for another”Douglas & Simula, 2010
“the high costs of informing a boycott means that it is difficult to scale them up to effectively target more than a few target corporations or for them to affect national policy or legislation”Walker et al, 2013
“Well-intentioned beef boycotts potentially weaken the incentive to invest in pasture restoration and may lead to a counterfactual of extensive land use, and increased greenhouse gas emissions”De Oliveira Silva et al, 2021
In a nutshell, boycotts for forests and wildlife mainly polarise the public discourse and there’s little or no evidence that they reduce deforestation or the loss of habitat and species. Clearly, Athena’s claim that social media campaigns are “highly successful” is more than “a little misleading“.
Athena displays similar intellectual dishonesty when she misrepresents a paper on the roles of two contrasting self-interests of consumers (‘hedonism’ versus ‘simplicity’) in their choices for boycotts or buycotts (Hoffman et al, 2018). This paper concludes that ‘hedonism’ increases the effects of environmental concerns and universalism and decreases the effects of social concern on buycotting. But ‘simplicity’ only decreases the effects of social concern on boycotting (The paper does not use the term ‘minimalism’!)
Only a twisted and deceptive mind would transpose these findings as meaning that “individuals who boycott value minimalism, individuals who ‘buycott’ value hedonism” (mirror). This claim is – yet again – more than “a little misleading“.
Dennis, 2021 (ContentCatnip/CreativeAthena/PalmOilDetectives)
Athena systematically banks on ambiguity for her black-washing. An excellent example of this is her false narrative about the link between the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Sisirau (an oil palm plantation in North Sumatra, Indonesia). Athena claims Sisirau is “an RSPO certified palm oil plantation” (see a.o. the tweets below), yet she cherry-pickes evidence from the RSPO’s Complaints Tracker and skews that to imply a direct relation between Sisirau and the RSPO. However, there is no evidence of this estate being owned, managed or certified by the RSPO!
In stark contrast, the evidence in the RSPO’s Complaints Tracker shows a very different relation: Sisirau was (and still is?) a subsidiary of the Ibris Palm Group, which in turn was(!) a member of the RSPO. No public announcement, public summary or certificate is available online to indicate that the plantation was ever audited against the RSPO’s standard for oil palm plantations, let alone that it ever obtained a certificate!
The Palm Oil Detectives also website mirrors a public summary concerning the complaint against Sisirau plantation. Ergo, Athena is well aware of the red findings from this summary (below), but chooses to ignore them to pursue her false narrative on the destruction of ”intact” rainforest:
- The P.T. Sisirau area was fully planted before between 1992 and 1996.
- The area is clearly being replanted and terraced and it is not a new development.
- Clearing and replanting began in 2010 and has continued through to 2013.
- It has been assumed that forest has been cleared and the orangutans will be starved, this might turn out to be a reactionary accusation not based on holistic information.
- There was no HCV to start with as the area was completely cleared and planted by 1999.
- Secondary forests areas have developed due to abandonment of fields as harvesting in non-terraced steep areas were not undertaken by the previous management.
- Due to recent stresses in the adjacent areas, the orangutans might be recent migrants seeking refuge.
- The orangutans could also be longer term users as the secondary forest areas which could have offered not only relative security but food too.
- Conservation value attributes have only developed over the past few years, but this could have been ascertained if the land manager had undertaken a HCV assessment in 2010 or earlier. But the records show that the holding was sold to P.T. Ibris Palm in 2010 and the company is only now getting familiar with RSPO requirements. The fact remains that in their interpretation of the RSPO P&C, a HCV assessment was not required because of the planted status of the estate.
- Most of the secondary forest areas has been cleared and replanted. Only a small proportion is left and currently being given conservation status by the company.
Note how Athena doubles down on her claim by upgrading the lie from ‘RSPO member’ to ‘RSPO certified’ – two very different claims with vastly different requirements – in less than a month after being called out over her lie:
30 October 2021 (ContentCatnip, CreativeAthena & PalmOilDetectives; mirror)
27 November 2021 (ContentCatnip, CreativeAthena & PalmOilDetectives; mirror)
Did I already mention that Athena’s claims are more than “a little misleading“? Can we by now agree that her claims are founded on zero intellectual honesty?
Adding unrelated images for shock value is another blackwashing technique that Athena has mastered to a T. In her “short story … about #palmoil plantations” tweet right, the top-right image of a dead fish was taken (likely in Slovenia) by Ajala and the bottom-right image of domestic(?) waste was taken in India by Yogendra Singh. Neither image nor their owners show any relation to oil palm cultivation or palm oil processing!
Even worse, Athena cannot even be bothered to accredit the owners of the images and plagiarism may well be her middle name. But there is much, much more evidence of Athena’s intellectual dishonesty!
Sunarto, 2021 (The Conversation)
A more recent black-washing attempt is Athena’s post about the “rapidly disappearing Javan Rhino” (mirror), published at 16:00 hours (GMT) on 28 May 2022. Athena claims that this post “is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license” (mirror) and she categorized it under “The Problems with Palm Oil“. However, there are several major issues with Athena’s post:
- The original post notes that “the rhino population in Indonesia has tripled since the 1960s” and starkly contrasts with Athena’s claim of “rapidly disappearing Javan Rhino” (mirror). In fact, Athena removed two paragraphs that cover the population increase of the Javan rhino from her ‘republished’ version!
- The original post also doesn’t contain any statements about palm oil, let alone that boycotting it can help the Java Rhino.
- Google Search indicates that the oil palm is currently no threat to the Javan rhino, while the langkap palm (Arenga obtusifolia) is a serious threat (Haryadi et al 2012).
- Google Earth shows the encroachment of langkap palm along the southeastern border of Ujung Kulon National Park.
langkap palm encroachment near Cegog Village (6°51’12.67″S, 105°34’2.14″E), Ujung Kulon National Park, Indonesia
(Source: Google Earth Pro)
there is hope for a middle way to take to ensure the palm oil industry can continue to supply the community’s needs for healthy and environmentally friendly products where the keyword is “sustainable”Sunarto 2022, The Malay Archipelago
Athena thus blatantly lies to her followers by omitting crucial information that doesn’t suit her narrative while adding outright nonsense about how “boycotting palm oil is how you can help [the Javan rhino]” (mirror). Not even that, Athena spins false narrative, suggesting that a respected Indonesian scientist supports her shallow demand to #boycottpalmoil despite him clearly supporting sustainable palm oil. Are we well beyond “a little misleading” yet?
Orangutan Land Trust is a registered charity from the United Kingdom that works towards the long-term survival of the orangutan in the wild, by enabling sustainable solutions that ensure safe areas of forest for the continued survival of the orangutan. (For more information about OLT, click here.)
OLT has rapidly become the bane of Athena’s zealous movement for a boycott of palm oil. It takes an active role on social media in sharing the expert consensus and scientific evidence about the environmental and social impacts of oil palm cultivation. In particular, it stresses that most of the experts in (orangutan) conservation are adamant that a boycott of palm oil will increase deforestation rates!
More coming soon!
… coming from someone living in a 2-million-dollar house, accusing OLT of being greedy is but shallow projection!
All the evidence above boils down to a single question: how does a self-proclaimed “independent wildlife activist” justify greenwashing a.o. “crisps, snacks, convenience foods” and a supermarket chain? And steadily Athena’s links to various supermarket chains – including ASDA, Matchbox and Tesco (Total Marketing Australia; mirror 2016, mirror 2020) – are being uncovered! With Athena also shilling for Iceland, one really can question whether she is volunteering or paid to do so?
What’s clear is that Athena was paid well for her most condemning contribution to consumerism: the “eHarmony Christmas infographic gift guide” (mirror). Pushing the holiday season’s sales of luxury items – including a gaming chair, gold and diamonds earrings, leather gloves, a plasma TV and a robot dog – starkly contrasts with the ”status” she projects: ”independent wildlife activist”!
The stark contradictions in her track record – more so given the vain attempts to hide her dark side – fuel the suspicion that Athena has no (f)actual solutions for the global concerns over climate change, deforestation and species decline. She merely abuses these issues to lure concerned netizens into a web of lies, pursue Athena’s empty “solutions” and hence continue (and even increase) climate change, deforestation and species decline through their consumerism.
One of Athena’s pages on palmoildetectives.com uses a password to avoid transparency. A leaked password shows the page to mainly contain a collection of Athena’s clicktotweet links for her zealous followers to increase her site stats and twitter engagement. Various followers do so zealously, see a.o. the clicktivist accounts @_pehicc and @boycottpalmoil.
De Oliveira Silva, S, RG Barioni and D Moran 2021 Fire, Deforestation, and Livestock: when the smoke clears; Land Use Policy, DOI: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.104949
Douglas & Simula 2010 The Future of the World’s Forests – ideas vs ideologies
Ellingson, TJ 2001 The Myth of the Noble Savage, University of California Press, ISBN: 0-520-22610-0
Hariyadi, AR, A Priambudi, R Setiawan, H Purnama, A Yayus, Ujung and H Alikodra 2012 Optimizing the habitat of the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) in Ujung Kulon National Park by reducing the invasive palm Arenga obtusifolia, Pachyderm 52(52):49-54,
Hoffmann, S, I Balderjahn, B Seegebarth, R Mai and M Peyer 2018 Under Which Conditions Are Consumers Ready to Boycott or Buycott? The Roles of Hedonism and Simplicity, Ecological Economics, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2018.01.004
Kägi 2000 Economics of Climate Change – the contribution of forestry projects
Teng, S, KW Khong and N Che Ha 2020 Palm oil and its environmental impacts: A big data analytics study, Journal of Cleaner Production, DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.122901
Ozanne & Smith 1993 Strategies and perspectives of influential environmental organizations toward tropical deforestation
Pearce, F 1991 Green Warriors, The Bodley Head Publishers, London, U.K. pp. 132-194
Walker et al 2013 Demand-side interventions to reduce deforestation and forest degradation
Whelan, R 1999 Wild in Woods, the myth of the Noble Eco-Savage, IEA Studies on the Environment 14, Coronet Books