Film Exposes Slick US Industry Behind Climate Denial

Robert Kenner’s forthcoming documentary lifts the lid on the ‘professional deceivers’ manipulating US debate on climate change

OPENS MARCH 6 in US

Shot from Merchants of Doubt film.
 Merchants of Doubt looks at professionals working for the fossil fuel industry to sow doubt in the US climate change debate.    Photograph: Sony Pictures Classics

By  for the Guardian

Who remembers that climate change was a top priority early in George W Bush’s first term as US president? 

Six months later everything changed. The film shows Republican party leader John Boehner calling the idea of global warming “laughable”, said Merchants of Doubt director Robert Kenner.

Framing Climate Science as Attack on Personal Freedoms

With the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center occupying attention, Americans For Prosperity, a powerful, fossil-fuel lobby group founded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, launched a decade-long, multi-pronged campaign to sow doubt about the reality of climate change.Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 5.34.47 PM

By equating the findings of climate scientists as an attack on personal freedoms, they cleverly shifted the focus away from science to political opinion. “Creating a focus point away from what is actually going on is how magicians pull off their tricks,” said Kenner who directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc.

The deception has worked well. Few Americans know 97% of scientists agree climate change is caused by human activity and is happening now.

Inspired by the 2010 book of the same name, Kenner’s film is about deception and profiles many of the charming and always smiling professional deceivers who work for the tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical, and fossil fuel industries. The tobacco industry knowingly and successfully deceived the public for 50 years about the connection between smoking and cancer, the 1988 tobacco lawsuit settlement revealed.

In a pattern of manipulation clearly evident today in the manufactured ‘debate’ over climate change, the tobacco industry used media-friendly pseudo-experts, doctored ‘science’ studies and attacked the credibility of scientists or experts who said otherwise, Kenner said.

If you can sell tobacco you can sell anything

Peter Sparber, one the tobacco industry’s most successful deceivers, told Kenner that he could get the public to believe a garbage man knew more about science than prominent climate scientist James Hansen.

“If you can sell tobacco you can sell anything,” Sparber tells Kenner.

Selling confusion and doubt around a complex issue like climate change was far easier than selling tobacco. Nearly all of those well-paid climate misinformers have no science background and often clear ties to industry lobby groups and yet are treated as expert commentators on climate science by media. It’s not just Fox News. Serious news outlets like CNN and the New York Times are complicit by featuring misinformers in news articles and on discussion panels, he said.

The film also focuses on the many self-described “grassroots” organisations that are actually promoting specific corporate and political interests. These organisations are often aided by, and passionately supported by, ordinary citizens who believe they are fighting for personal freedoms and libertarian or conservative values.

Kenner is hoping audiences “will realise they’ve been lied to” and develop better “bullshit detectors”.

First published at the Guardian

Climate Change B.S. Detector: Sorting Fact from Fiction

which makes more sense sml

By Stephen Leahy

Uxbridge Cosmos, Feb 2013

There is quite a bit of misinformation about climate science and climate change (global warming). This is the most important issue of our time but it can be a complex subject. Here are some tips to help sort fact from fiction based on my experience of writing about science and climate change for the past 15 years.

Tip #1: Consider the source

It’s important to know where the information is coming from. Are they an expert or someone with an impressive looking website but no climate science training? No one goes to an engineer if they want their appendix removed.

If someone says a group of retired NASA scientists claim there is no evidence carbon dioxide causes global warming, I check to see if they are climate scientists — they’re not. Then I go to the official NASA website and in a big headline it says: “97% of climate sciences agree” climate change is happening.  This is followed by a long list of well-regarded scientific societies from around the world who also agree.

Tip#2 Verify

A reader once sent me a link to a “science” article from Investor’s Business Daily that said increased activity of the sun was entirely responsible for the current warming according to the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, a well-known research centre in Germany. A quick check of the Max Planck Institute’s website revealed their actual conclusion: “Solar activity affects the climate but plays only a minor role in the current global warming.”

Tip#3 Brush up on some science

Our atmosphere traps and retains the suns heat which is called the greenhouse effect. Without this the Earth would be more like the moon: +100C in the day and -170C at night. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that helps keep the planet warm by retaining some of the sun’s heat.  John Tyndall proved this 150 years ago in 1861. In the last 100 years our burning of oil, gas and coal has added 40% more CO2 to the atmosphere. That extra CO2 has warmed the planet 0.8C globally and 1.5C to 2.0C in Canada so far.

Tip # 4: Follow the money

Ask this question who has the most to gain or lose? Climate scientist’s largely rely on getting research money from governments. Scientists are smart people who are good with numbers so if they just wanted to make money they’d be working on Bay St or Wall St.

On the other hand the oil, coal and gas companies represent by far the richest industry in human history. In 2010 their revenues were estimated to be $5 trillion, far more than Canada’s $1.7 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) that year. (A trillion is one thousand billion. A trillion seconds is nearly 32,000 years).

The five biggest oil companies made a record $137 billion in profits in 2011. Surprisingly Canada’s largely foreign-owned oil and gas industry still receives $1.3 billion a year in public subsidies despite many promises to end this taxpayer handout.abyess cartoon 2012Toon05

Some fossil fuel companies have been caught sowing confusion and doubt about climate change just like the tobacco companies did regarding the link between smoking and lung cancer. Fossil fuel interests fund organizations that look official or science-based and they publish reports, write opinion pieces or do media interviews stating that global warming is a hoax and there is no real need to burn less oil, gas or coal. One of these organizations is Canada’s Friends of Science and its related site ClimateChange101 that received funding from Calgary oil company Talisman Energy to put out false and long-debunked critiques of climate science.

Here’s two of the best sources I use to help me sort fact from fiction:

For climate science go to “Skeptical Science”, a volunteer community with clearly written, rock solid science-based answers on climate.

For everything else go to “DeSmogBlog – Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science” . There is now a Canadian version “DeSmogCanada”  that I will be contributing to.

No one really wants to think about climate change and what it means for our children’s future. It is too difficult, too painful to even consider. But avoiding or denying global warming and its dangers prevents us from taking action to minimize future impacts. Inaction and delay are truly terrifying. However taking action at the personal, family and community levels is liberating and empowering. We need to start a conversation about this.

Uxbridge’s Stephen Leahy is the 2012 co-winner of the Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for Climate Change reporting . He is the senior science and environment correspondent at IPS,  Inter Press Service News Agency, based in Rome. His work is also published in National Geographic, The Guardian (UK), New Scientist, Al Jazeera, Earth Island Journal and others.

Or Just Print This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Win Every Climate Argument (thanks to Mother Jones)climate-flowchart_FINAL2sml

Proof of Anti-Global Warming Cabal: Fossil fuel Interests, Christian Evangelicals and the Media

Stephen Leahy interviews science historian NAOMI ORESKES

PARIS, Mar 24, 2010 (IPS)

Even though 2009 was the fifth warmest year since 1850, and 2000-09 the warmest decade ever, according to the World Meterological Organisation, surveys show that public concern about global warming in the United States and Canada has dropped sharply in the past 18 months.

Why? Because of a relentless disinformation effort from an unlikely cabal of fossil fuel interests, Christian evangelicals and the media, says Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego.

“They have managed to reopen the debate over global warming in people’s minds,” she told IPS.

Oreskes and co-author Erik Conway, a science historian at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, document similar efforts to manufacture doubt around the science on acid rain, the ozone hole, secondhand cigarette smoke, and the pesticide DDT in their just published book, “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”. [Tons of excellent reviews —  the “eye-opener of the year” says one reviewer.]

In 2004, Oreskes was vilified on TV, radio and in print by commentators for providing clear evidence there was in fact a scientific consensus on global climate change. Her essay in the journal Science examined all of the peer-reviewed scientific papers on climate over the previous 10 years and found none dissented with the theories that climate change was occurring and it was caused by humans. Her survey has never been successfully challenged, despite many attempts.

IPS environmental correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke to Oreskes over the phone. Excerpts of the interview follow.

Q: Where is the vehement opposition to the very idea that we need to do something about climate change?

A: Some of it is ideological, part of a long history in the United States that equates environmental regulation as going down the slippery slope to socialism. And some is religious. Christian evangelicals don’t like science in general and have found common cause with the coal industry as a way to be able to teach creationism. Obviously, the motivation of the coal industry is rather different but now these people have come together to undermine science in general.

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Doubt Is Our Product: Media and Global Warming

Why do media run nonsensical “scandals” about climate science?

Why does the public put up with it?

Those are some of the questions posed on Alex Smith’s fine syndicated weekly Radio Ecoshock Show has three expert viewpoints in his one hour show OUR PRODUCT IS DOUBT

Clive Hamilton on “Requiem for a Species, Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change.” The madness of masses & media.

Stanford’s Prof. Stephen Schneider on death threats, & threats from Senators (calling climate scientists “criminals”).

Naomi Oreskes on “Merchants of Doubt”.

1 hour CD Quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

See also Alex’s detailed notes and links to far more on his blog: DOUBT IS OUR PRODUCT – the blog

[full disclosure: I supplied my interview with climatologist Stephen Schneider – Violent Backlash Against Climate Scientists

]

Violent Backlash Against Climate Scientists

By Stephen Leahy

From death threats to aggressive discrediting in the press, disaster has hit the IPCC, the global scientific panel dedicated to studying climate change – and it is now finding ways to regroup and respond.

[See also personal posting Scientists Face Death Threats, Democracy at Risk ]

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 8 (Tierramérica)

Climate change science is under full-scale attack in a last-ditch effort to delay or prevent action by the U.S. government against global warming, experts warn.

U.S. Senator James Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma and climate change denier, in late February released a list of leading climate scientists he wants prosecuted as criminals for misleading the government. Those scientists are receiving hate mail and death threats.

“I have hundreds” of threatening emails, Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University, told Tierramérica.

He believes scientists will be killed over this. “I’m not going to let it worry me… but you know it’s going to happen,” said Schneider, one of the most respected climate scientists in the world. “They shoot abortion doctors here.”

This backlash against the evidence of climate change and the scientists themselves is not just a U.S. phenomenon. It is happening in Canada, Australia, Britain, and, to a lesser extent, in Europe and elsewhere.

On the surface, this campaign is about a few errors in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2,800-page report released in 2007 and some 10-year-old personal emails stolen from Britain’s University of East Anglia.

But deeper down, this is the last big effort by the fossil fuel industry to delay action on climate change, just as the tobacco industry successfully delayed understanding of the harmful effects of smoking for several decades, says Schneider.

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“We’re up against the multi-billion-dollar fossil fuel industry and the haters of government. They spin and spin and cast doubt on the credibility of science,” he said. Continue reading

State of Denial: The Real Global Warming Fantasy

What ever happened to common sense?
(based on a true story)

By Stephen Leahy

Two guys were sitting in a bar one evening. The first one says: “Climate change is a complete hoax you know. There’s lots information on the internet proving that.”

“No it’s not” the second guy replies. “I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of climate scientists around the world and read hundreds of reports and studies.”

The first guy responds saying: “All my friends agree with me. This global warming thing was just scam to make money for Al Gore.”

“But I’ve seen the vanishing glaciers, melting Arctic ice, rising temperatures and sea levels and extreme weather events with my own eyes,” says the second.

The first guy, pauses for a few seconds and says: “Well, I guess you’re entitled to your opinion. So let’s just say the jury is still out on global warming.”

The two fall silent for awhile. Finally the second asks: “Let’s say I’m driving you home and it’s foggy out. You tell me to slow down a bit because there’s a sharp curve in the road coming up. Now I’ve never been on this road before and could acknowledge you might know the road well but instead of slowing down I say: ‘you’re entitled to your opinion, but the road looks straight enough to me’ and then step on the gas.”

The first guy gets up and puts on his coat saying: “You’d have to be crazy not to slow down just in case. I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing now.”

“But we are,” says the second as the first guy walks out the door.

Even if the world’s best scientists are wrong about climate change taking action now will create new jobs, save money, clean the air and water, improve energy efficiency, boost the health of our children, reduce our dependency on big oil companies, create more sustainable communities and many more benefits to all.

So you have to wonder why people oppose this.

And should 30 years of climate research done in dozens of countries be correct, the “bonus” in taking action is keeping rising temperatures to no more than 2 degrees C hopefully ensuring our children and grandchildren have a reasonable climate system to live with.

My wish for the new decade is that common sense will come back in fashion.

Related:

Denial & Delay: Global Warming B.S. Detector Tips

Greed Stalls 21st Century Bio-Economy

Interview With One of the Last Environmental Journalists Left Standing

Climate River in Full Flood

Analysis by Stephen Leahy*

Apr 2 (IPS) – Rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere can be compared to a flooding river, swamping low areas at first but inevitably bursting its banks.

But unlike normal seasonal flooding, humanity is largely responsible for the crisis by burning fossil fuels.

[ *This story is part two of a four-part examination of the psychological and behavioural changes needed to dial down the temperature on our global greenhouse. Part one: Climate Change Reshaping Civilization Part three: CLIMATE CHANGE: A Vision Worth Fighting For Part four: CLIMATE CHANGE: A Game With Too Many Free Riders ]

Today, a routine drive to the supermarket adds another fraction to the CO2 in the atmosphere, trapping a little more heat. And not just for today but the next 5,000 years. That is how long it takes before the carbon dioxide we release today is finally absorbed and safely tucked away. But for 5,000 years, that carbon will trap additional heat.

If climate change were a rising river near our street, we’d all be at the dikes, filling and carting sandbags with neighbours and strangers. We’d share our food, enjoy the camaraderie and remember forever our individual and collective effort with pride and satisfaction. Continue reading