Thursday, August 01, 2013

STEM the Science Deniers – Part IV

NOTE: It was March, five months ago when I took a hiatus from the above subject in order to concentrate on the Time magazine “Bitter Pill” articles, information that I thought to be of more immediate interest. I find it intriguing that the New York Times has just embarked on what seems to be a monthly series, each dealing with a specific medical issue that relates to the problems with treatment, and high medical costs. (Was the Time magazine article the catalyst for this?) The first of the NY Time’s series dealt with the possible overuse of colonoscopies leading to higher costs; the second with the seemingly ridiculous costs associated with childbirth. Below we return to the original Science Denier series.

Climate Change

As you might expect, there have been a number of changes to the subject of Science Deniers since the last article on the subject appeared herein in March, several of them quite dramatic. The most impactful was President Obama’s surprise move in late June to bypass a recalcitrant Congress, when he invoked his executive authority to undertake a slew of measures aimed at curbing climate change, and preparing America for its costly impacts. Another was New York Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to protect the city from the inevitable impacts of climate change, setting a precedent for other cities to follow. (More on these in next month’s article.)

The March Viewpointe article referenced the highly respected National Academy. That institution reported that notwithstanding the science denier propaganda, “there is an overwhelming level of consensus on human-caused climate change; 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that the earth is warming and that human activity is the cause.” Despite this, the most recent Gallup poll reveals that only 58% of the general public (this is up from the 52% reported in the March article) believes that scientists have reached a consensus. The main source of this disparity is the misleading, and often-false portrayal of the subject matter by the “Manufactured Doubt Industry” including a certain segment of the media.

Most will remember Alfred E. Neuman’s picture (right) from Mad Magazine. That graphic image and the three-word catchphrase perfectly exemplify the philosophy of the science denier industry, and its adherents. The catchphrase, “What, Me Worry?” perhaps not so coincidentally, matches the April 2013 Gallup poll that states, “Democrats and Republicans retain markedly different views about global warming, with 75% of Democrats versus 40% of Republicans saying they personally worry about it a ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount.’”

Those that worry the least about both the short and long term dangers inherent in climate change must be pleased that the Manufactured Doubt Industry continues what has turned out to be a very successful campaign to sow controversy and rejection of scientific fact. You never heard of this “industry?” I’m certain you have, but you possibly don’t know it. Its history actually goes back about 50 years. Here are Wikipedia’s comments:

Déjà vu

“Manufacturing controversy has been a tactic used by ideological and corporate groups in order to neutralize the influence of academic scientists in public policy debates. The formula is to amplify uncertainties, cherry-pick experts, attack individual scientists, marginalize the traditional role of distinguished scientific bodies and get the media to report ‘both sides’ of a manufactured controversy.” Think about it! Doesn’t that sound exactly like the tactics being used today against global warning?

Wikipedia explains further: “The industry” was essentially invented in 1954, when the public was growing increasingly alarmed about the health effects of smoking. The tobacco industry had to move quickly to protect profits and stem the tide of increasingly worrisome scientific news. Thirteen scientific studies had been published over the preceding five years linking smoking to lung cancer.

Big Tobacco turned to one of the world's five largest public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton (H&K) to help out. Wikipedia states, “Hill and Knowlton designed a brilliant Public Relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking is not dangerous. They encouraged the tobacco industry to set up their own research organization, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which would produce ‘science’ favorable to the industry, emphasize doubt in all the science linking smoking to lung cancer, and question all independent research unfavorable to the tobacco industry.”

Having succeeded in convincing the general public that smoking was not harmful, and by significantly delaying and reducing regulation, the success of this campaign has become legendary, especially so since its influence lasted for decades. Hill and Knowlton, on behalf of the tobacco industry, had founded the “Manufactured Doubt industry.” The fact that the consequence of its success has killed millions has been overlooked.

The Industry Flourishes

Hill and Knowlton's brilliant Manufactured Doubt tobacco campaign did not go unnoticed. Other industries manufacturing dangerous products hired the firm to design similar PR campaigns. In 1967, Hill and Knowlton helped asbestos industry giant Johns-Manville set up the Asbestos Information Association (AIA) that questioned the link between asbestos and lung diseases. Manufacturers of varied toxic elements like lead, vinyl chloride, beryllium, and dioxin products also hired Hill and Knowlton to devise product defense strategies to combat the numerous scientific studies showing that their products were harmful to human health.

Continuing the “industry’s” history as described in Wikipedia, “By the 1980s, the Manufactured Doubt industry gradually began to be dominated by more specialized ‘product defense’ firms and free enterprise ‘think tanks’. These front groups received funding from manufacturers of dangerous products such as Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) such as Freon and aerosol spray cans that depleted the ozone, and produced ‘sound science’ in support of their funders’ products, in the name of free enterprise and free markets. Think tanks like The George C. Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and Dr. Fred Singer's SEPP (Science and Environmental Policy Project) have all been active for decades in the Manufactured Doubt business, generating misleading science and false controversy to protect the profits of their clients who manufacture dangerous products.”

The Battle Over Global Warming

“In 1988, the fossil fuel industry realized it had a serious problem. The summer of 1988 had shattered century-old records for heat and drought in the U.S., and NASA's Dr. James Hansen, one of the foremost climate scientists in the world, testified before Congress that human-caused global warming was partially to blame. A swelling number of scientific studies were warning of the threat posed by human-cause climate change, and that consumption of fossil fuels needed to slow down.

Naturally, the fossil fuel industry fought back. They launched a massive PR campaign that continues to this day, led by the same think tanks (mentioned above) that have all been key players in both fights, and there are numerous other think tanks involved. Many of the same experts who had worked hard to discredit the science of the well-established link between cigarette smoke and cancer, the danger the CFCs posed to the ozone layer, and the dangers to health posed by a whole host of toxic chemicals, were now hard at work to discredit the peer-reviewed science supporting human-caused climate change.” Oh yes! You might have guessed it––Hill and Knowlton is still doing its dirty work (using the same tactics it devised 50 years ago) by attacking real climate science––how many more people it may kill remains to be seen.

Fossil Fuel Fulminators

Members of the fossil fuel industry have been the largest contributors to the climate change denial group. For example, between1997 and 2012, two of the world’s biggest oil companies spent more than $94 million to dispel claims of global warming. ExxonMobil spent more than $27 million, and the Koch brothers, who run Koch Industries, spent more than $67 million. A very long list of other oil and gas companies, plus other traditional energy companies spent funds totaling tens of millions more with only one goal in mind––to sustain profits. Some will say that’s their job. But is deliberately sowing doubting about scientific facts a legitimate tactic?

The thought occurred to me, that if the fossil fuel industry would think more futuristically, they could be adding to their current business by actively pursuing opportunities in the alternative energy fields as well. Chevron, through its Chevron Energy Solutions subsidiary is doing just that. Most ironically, the government of Venezuela owns Chevron.

Next month, in addition to the news from Obama and Bloomberg, you will learn of two organizations whose names, and actions should convince even the harshest critic of global warming that it is real.


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