Hired guns aim to confuse

Al Gore once told me that to get politicians to listen, you have to engage the people first. The former vice president is attempting to do just that this summer with his critically acclaimed global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” But he’s up against some pretty powerful opponents.


Vol. 7 No. 44
July 19, 2006
Science Matters
by David Suzuki
His movie, by most standards, is pretty good. Rotten Tomatoes, a website that compiles movie reviews from newspapers, television and the internet, shows that 92 per cent of critics liked it. A story by the Associated Press
on experts who critiqued the science behind the movie found that they too gave it a thumbs up for accuracy. Personally, I thought it was brilliant.
But shortly after the Associated Press article came out, other articles started popping up that said Mr. Gore’s science was shoddy. People claiming to be experts wrote opinion pieces in newspapers decrying the film, Mr.
Gore, and the “theory” of global warming in general. Contrarians, it seemed, were coming out of the woodwork. What happened?
What happened was a well-funded campaign to discredit the film and carpet bomb North Americans with confusing and contradictory information about the science of global warming. It appears to be having an effect too. Recent
polls I’ve seen indicate that while the public is very concerned about climate change, they are still confused about the science.
Those who read science journals probably find this public confusion, well, confusing. While there is plenty of discussion in scientific circles about what precisely a changing climate will mean to people in various parts of
the world, there is no debate about the cause of global warming (human activities, mostly burning oil, coal and gas), or about the fact that it is already having an effect and that those effects will become more and more
pronounced in coming years.
Yet, there they are in the editorial and opinion pages, supposed experts writing about the grand global warming conspiracy perpetuated by Europeans. Or socialists. Or European socialists. Those in the know can laugh off such
nonsense. But the problem is, most people aren’t in the know. Average citizens are busy people and they are not experts in climate science, so naturally they tend to defer to people who appear to know what they’re talking about.
Unfortunately, masquerading as an expert in the media is pretty easy. All you need are a few letters after your name and a controversial story to tell. That makes news. And there’s no shortage of public relations people
willing to spin a good tale – usually for a tidy profit. Companies pay big bucks to have these spin doctors work their magic and make sure the industry line gets heard.
But even some of public relations’ best-known spin doctors are disgusted by what’s going on right now over global warming. Jim Hoggan is one. He’s a personal friend who happens to be president of one of western Canada’s
largest public relations firms, James Hoggan and Associates. And he’s so appalled at what he says is deliberate manipulation of public opinion about this issue that he’s started a website called desmogblog.com to debunk the
global warming skeptics.
Jim writes in his blog: “There is a line between public relations and propaganda – or there should be. And there is a difference between using your skills, in good faith, to help rescue a battered reputation and using them to twist the truth – to sow confusion and doubt on an issue that is critical to human survival. And it is infuriating – as a public relations professional – to watch my colleagues use their skills, their training and their considerable intellect to poison the international debate on climate change.”
Well said, Jim. His blog makes fascinating reading. It names names and follows the money trail – often leading back to big U.S. conservative organizations and fossil fuel giants. Jim’s making it his mission to expose the liars and the frauds and he’s doing a pretty good job.
Al Gore was right, the people do have to be engaged before politicians will listen. But engaging the people sometimes requires clearing the air first.

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