Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Climate Change and the Merchants of Doubt

If someone told you cigarettes are safe, would you give them to your children? Why on earth then would you take that exact same person’s word on global warming and the climate you’ll leave for your children!? http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/

I heard a great show recently (Thursday 6/3 - 8:00) on WPR with Naomi Areskes, a geologist (yeah!) and one of the authors of Merchants of Doubt – How a Handful of Scientists Obscure the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming: http://www.wpr.org/webcasting/audioarchives_display.cfm?Code=jca

It seems that the same three names emerge repeatedly in the denial and sowing of doubt on major subjects where the science has actually been settled for some time, including DDT, Acid Rain, the Ozone Hole, Tobacco Hazards and Global Warming. Seriously? Tobacco and DDT!?

Cold warriors Fred Seitz, Fred Singer and Bill Neirenberg all worked on Starwars, Ronny’s Raygun project in the 1980s and were vehement anticommunists. When the Soviet Union collapsed they needed a new enemy (because that’s an essential conservative component). They were also free-market fundamentalists and believed that any government regulation lead directly to communism. Ironic, since global warming is a very real and concrete example of a failure of the so called free market place, just like the BP spill. In fact the externality of costs from global warming is probably the largest market failure in the history of the planet. So these market fundamentalists went to work for that pillar of corporate virtue RJ Reynolds and the Tobacco Institute. What fool would believe that a wholesome product like cigarettes cause cancer and emphysema?

These ideologues then turned on environmentalists as their new enemy, believing that environmentalists are like watermelons, green on the outside but red on the inside. They founded the George C. Marshall Institute http://www.marshall.org/ and worked closely with Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Enterprise Institute, the Advancement of Sound Science Center and the Heartland Group, all rightwing “think tanks” and all funded in large measure by the fossil industries. Unlike actual research scientists these groups carefully study how to change public opinion and then put their funding behind those efforts. And they’ve used an all too compliant media to convince a significant portion of the American public that there are two sides to every issue when there is not, especially in these cases. They even used the Fairness Doctrine (you know how much Cons love that) to threaten PBS into giving the pro-Starwars side equal time when essentially there were three scientist claiming it would work versus thousands who said it wouldn’t work, a fact that George Warcriminal Bush aptly proved 20 years later.

Doubt is their product and they use any minor uncertainty or disagreement and conflate it to convince the public that there are still major question surrounding the science that threatens the profits of their corporate sponsors. They use threats, intimidation, illegitimate lawsuits and lies (like the recent climate change email dust up) to advance their agenda.

One of these lies was that Roger Ravelle, one of the first scientists to study and warn about Global Warming and a mentor of Al Gore, recanted on his death bed. A young grad student, Justin Lancaster who worked with Ravelle and knew it was lie began to speak out, but Fred Singer threatened to sue him and because he had no money he settled out of court and agreed to a 10-year gag order that has now expired. Scientists, including the authors of this book have been threatened and targeted with ad homonym for espousing their anti-fossil views that the industrialists consider to be a threat to their profits for which they are willing to sacrifice future generations.



No comments: