Friday, November 27, 2009

What We Are Up Against

Two books – SCORCHER by Clive Hamilton and HIGH & DRY by Guy Pearce – reveal an amazing capacity among fossil fuel companies to create faux grassroots campaigns to block or delay any action on Global Warming. They have been exceptionally successful.
And for this they have to thank a close-knit network of activists that includes scientists, journalists, government advisers, and lobbyists. The story is repeated all around the world – but it is in Australia and the US where these networks have achieved their goals, despite public opinion. The big polluters, led by Exxon-Mobil, feed funds to small, usually right wing organisations to conduct “astroturfing” campaigns – using PR firms to create an impression that they are part of a grassroots revolt.
These front organizations pop up like mushrooms, but the same people are behind them – arguing for genetically modified foods, against gun control, against the link between cancer and tobacco, cancer and asbestos, against any form of environmentalism, and of course against the notion of Climate Change. They hold conferences, release white papers by ‘experts’ and fill the pages of the press and the airwaves with misinformation, disinformation, and just plain lies. Some of them masquerade as professors and scientists, but they never have current publications in peer-reviewed journals. These groups have their own journals: World Climate Review and Energy & Environment. They look like serious, peer-reviewed journals.
These front organisations have names like the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), the Australian Environmental Foundation, the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, the APEC Studies Centre, the Lavoisier Group, the Centre for Independent Studies. They are linked to similar organizations in the USA.
The IPA relies on funding from a small number of conservative corporations: major mining companies, GM foods company Monsanto; and ttobacco companies - Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, oil and gas companies; 15 major companies in the electricity industry; forestry: Gunns, the largest logging company in Tasmania, and Murray Irrigation.
ExxonMobil is the primary funder of 74 climate change denial front groups. Besides a shared goal, these groups often share staff, board members and postal addresses. ExxonMobil has spent more than $19 million on "information laundering," - having a small number of professional sceptics attached to scientific-sounding organizations to push their opinions through non-peer-reviewed websites such as Tech Central Station.
IPA and its related fronts have a choir of journalists and commentators singing from the same song sheet: Christopher Pearson, Alan Jones, Piers Ackerman, Miranda Devine, Terry McCrann, Michael Duffy, Andrew Bolt – all have given speeches to front group events and all parrot the ‘junk science’ line.
Their respect for science is nil. They attack the integrity of the 2500 climate scientists working under the auspices of the IPCC (the UN body established to address the issue – the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change). These scientists are merely toeing the line to gain career advancement, they say.
The communication strategy is tightly held. There are three techniques the PR industry uses: astroturfing, ventriloquism and the echo chamber—to create skepticism about climate change and other issues. Ventriloquism is hiring “independent” scientists to put forward the message. Astroturfing imitates grassroots organizations, but usually they are paid scientists with modest credentials. The “echo chamber” is the repetition of key messages until they get noticed.
The results of all this is seen in the media. Media’s drive to have balance often sees editors and journalists giving more space to sceptics’ views than is reflected in community views. When the mainstream media have covered global warming, they have portrayed it as a scientific uncertainty. But of a sample of over 900 articles dealing with climate change and published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, none expressed doubt as to the existence or major cause of global warming. However, an analysis of articles in the most influential American dailies found that 53% expressed doubt as to global warming. The strategy of playing up the confusion and controversy, repositioning global warming as theory rather than fact worked well. These public relations campaigns by a small but well-funded group in the fossil fuels industry, reminds us of the tobacco companies' campaign to create doubt about the role of cigarettes in causing disease and the rearguard actions by earlier generations to defend lead and asbestos, slavery and wife-beating.

To see Astroturfing in action, go to

No comments: