Climate Cover-Up

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James Hoggan’s Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming is a valuable exposé of the efforts that have been made by self-interested actors to prevent political action on climate change, by manipulating the public debate and confusing people about the strength of the science. Written by a Canadian public relations professional, and written with a focus on actors and events in Canada, Hoggan’s book examines how the media has been involved in the debate, how companies have worked to create false grassroots campaigns (‘astroturfing’), the role played by think tanks, the use of lawsuits to intimidate and silence critics, the ‘echo chamber’ effect wherein false claims are endlessly repeated by sympathetic sources, and more. Hoggan makes a convincing case that status quo actors – particularly petrochemical firms – have been working for decades to keep the public confused, and keep legislators inactive.

Hoggan provides both logical and documentary evidence to back up his claims – pointing out things like how most of the scientists that actively deny the consensus view of climate change are being funded as advocates, not as scientists:

The Intermountain Rural Electric Association isn’t paying Pat Michaels to go back into his lab and do research helping the world to a better understanding of how human activities are affecting the climate. The coal-fired utility owners are paying him to “stand up against the alarmists and bring a balance to the discussion.”

Hoggan provides many specific examples of malfeasance, and argues that the public relations personal directing the campaign against action on climate change are often indifferent to whether the claims they are making are true or false. They are tested for how well they affect public opinion, not how well they represent the reality of the situation.

Hoggan does sometimes present information in a misleading way. For instance, he compares the risk of climate change with the risk of car and house insurance, and says that: “in both cases the risk of disaster is significantly less than the greater than 90 percent certainty that scientists ascribe to the climate crisis.” He is referring to how the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report concluded that: “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.” and defined ‘very likely’ as cases where “expert judgment and statistical analysis of a body of evidence” support an assessed probability of over 90%. The IPCC was saying that there is a scientific consensus that there is a 90% chance that the unequivocal warming that has been observed has anthropogenic causes, not that the “risk of disaster” is 90%. The question of how serious the consequences of warming will be is distinct from the question of what is causing warming. Another odd error is one sentence written as though the consulting company McKinsey was a person: “When McKinsey talks about a carbon revolution, he strikes the right tone.”

That said, Climate Cover-Up succeeds in its key purpose: revealing that not everyone is engaging in the climate debate in an honest or ethical manner. The scientific consensus that climate change is real and risky is exceedingly strong, and yet the public and policy-makers have been very effectively confused and encouraged to delay action. By revealing the extent to which the debate has been manipulated, Hoggan’s book will hopefully contribute to the eventual improvement of public understanding of climate change, and the development of a will to act sufficiently strong to sort out the problem before the worst potential consequences become inevitable. Hoggan also continues that effort through DeSmogBlog – a site he created to provide ongoing updates on climate change misinformation campaigns.

[Update: 13 October 2010] Another good book on the same topic is Naomi Oreskes’ Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

18 thoughts on “Climate Cover-Up

  1. Frogs in Boiling but Confusing Water: A Review of Climate Cover-Up

    Category: Bookworm • Climate
    Posted on: October 31, 2009 8:42 PM, by Jennifer L. Jacquet

    It’s no wonder that the most recent Pew report finds that belief in rising temperatures is down. As Jim Hoggan explains in his new book Climate Cover-Up, the media and the public it serves are awash in a corporate conspiracy to undermine the science of climate change, the corporate buyout of politicians, and corporate greenwashing.

    Hoggan deals very well with the ‘controversy’ (i.e. there isn’t one) and also shows some of the problematic issues between how corporations and scientists communicate (many of Hoggan’s climate deniers are featured in Randy Olson’s Sizzle, too). Yes, the book has the quaint, conversational tone that betrays its blogosphere beginnings. But it equally makes you appreciate the blogosphere by showing how scientists writing blogs have had a voice and a hand in uncovering conspiracy after corporate conspiracy. With all of this intentionally misleading information to keep track of, it comes as no surprise we have become a bunch of confused frogs in boiling water.

    It might sound odd, but I found a lot of hope in Climate Cover-Up. As Hoggan explains the machinery and enticing offers that have led to a coalition of climate deniers (who most often lack legitimate background in science), I wound up asking myself not about why scientists had been coerced into joining the corporate move to cloud the market with confusion over climate change, but why more had not joined. And I wound up feeling that, on the whole, climate scientists were a ferociously ethical lot with deep convictions about their research, even in the face of lucrative temptation.

  2. A brief comment on the state of climate science, worth watching

    “In my judgement, and that of the great majority of other scientists who have seriously studied this matter, the current state of knowledge about it, even though incomplete, as science always is, and even though controversial in some details, as science almost always is, is sufficient to make clear that failure to act promptly to reduce global emissions to the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping substances is overwhelmingly likely to lead to changes in climate too extreme and too damaging to be adequately addressed by any adaptation measures that can be foreseen.”

  3. “In Climate Cover-Up, in Ross Gelbspan’s books The Heat is On and Boiling Point; in my book Heat and on the websites and, you can find dozens of such examples. Together they expose a systematic, well-funded campaign to con the public. To judge by the comments you can read on this paper’s website, it has worked.

    But people behind these campaigns know that their claims are untrue. One of the biggest was run by the Global Climate Coalition, which represented ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and several big motor manufacturers. In 1995 the coalition’s own scientists reported that “the scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.” The coalition hid this finding from the public, and spent millions of dollars seeking to persuade people that the opposite was true.

    These people haven’t fooled themselves, but they might have fooled you. Who, among those of you who claim that climate scientist”

  4. Ottawa funding group that promotes work of climate-change skeptics

    (CP) – 2 days ago

    MONTREAL — Ottawa has been funding an asbestos lobby group that promotes the work of prominent climate-change skeptics.

    The revelation comes as Canada’s delegation struggles to avoid being cast as the villain at the Copenhagen climate conference, and environmentalists are urging the government to stop financing the group.

    On its website, the Chrysotile Institute promotes a chapter that it says debunks the asbestos health-risk hoax from the 2007 book titled Scared to Death – From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares Are Costing Us the Earth.

    But Chrysotile Institute president Clement Godbout says his organization actually has no position about the book’s chapter on climate change.

    He says his group is only promoting the book for outlining how the science of asbestos, and its potential health risks, have been systematically exaggerated by the “anti-asbestos lobby.”

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  7. Greenpeace released a terrific report today on the 20-year campaign by polluters to mislead the public by creating the climate denial industry. The new report succinctly explains how fossil fuel interests used the tobacco industry’s playbook and an extensive arsenal of lobbyists and “experts” for hire in order to manufacture disinformation designed to confuse the public and stifle action to address climate change.

    In the report, titled “Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science,” Greenpeace provides a brief history of the attacks waged by polluting industries against climate science, the IPCC and individual scientists.

    ExxonMobil deservedly gets special attention for its role as the ringleader of the “campaign of denial.” As Greenpeace has documented meticulously over the years with its ExxonSecrets website, ExxonMobil is known to have invested over $23 million since 1998 to bankroll an entire movement of climate confusionists, including over 35 anti-science and right wing nonprofits, to divert attention away from the critical threat of climate disruption caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels.

    The report, authored by Greenpeace climate campaigner Cindy Baxter, calls out by name a number of key climate skeptics and deniers who have worked with industry front groups to confuse the public, including S. Fred Singer, John Christy, Richard Lindzen, David Legates, Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon, Tim Ball, Pat Michaels and many other figures familiar to DeSmog Blog readers.

  8. Many denialist movements originate as cynical efforts by corporations to cast doubt on findings that threaten their bottom line. Big Tobacco started it in the 1970s, recruiting scientists willing to produce favourable data and bankrolling ostensibly independent think tanks and bogus grass-roots movements (see “Manufacturing doubt”). One such think tank was The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), set up in 1993 by tobacco company Philip Morris (American Journal of Public Health, vol 91, p 1749). TASSC didn’t confine itself to tobacco for long. After getting funds from Exxon, it started casting doubt on climate science.

    Such links between denial movements are not unusual. A number of think tanks in the US and elsewhere have been funded by both the oil and tobacco industries and have taken denialist positions on smoking and warming.

  9. I think this book is a good read for anyone interested in the role of public relations firms in redefining the debate on climate change. After reading this book I spotted some of the people mentioned in subsequent ‘news’ stories on tv.

  10. “With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

    The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

    In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.””

  11. “Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming (Greystone Books) was written by James Hoggan, owner of a successful Vancouver, B.C., public-relations firm, and his colleague Richard Littlemore. They are not radical environmentalists. They are businesspeople appalled at what other businesspeople have done to discredit global warming and help give the practice of public relations a bad name. With insider knowledge of PR tactics, the authors explain how deniers, funded directly or indirectly by industry, use their powers of persuasion in advertising and in factoids and viewpoints planted in the media. Hoggan and Littlemore reach a stark conclusion: “Reputable newspapers and magazines are today acting in a confused and confusing manner because a great number of people have worked very hard and spent a great deal of money in an effort to establish and spread that confusion . . . We have lost two decades—two critical decades—during which we could have taken action on climate change but didn’t.””

  12. “Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.

    Although all public relations professionals are bound by a duty to not knowingly mislead the public, some have executed comprehensive campaigns of misinformation on behalf of industry clients on issues ranging from tobacco and asbestos to seat belts. Lately, these fringe players have turned their efforts to creating confusion about climate change. This PR campaign could not be accomplished without the compliance of media as well as the assent and participation of leaders in government and business.

    The world’s best-qualified scientists agree that climate is changing and that the burning of fossil fuels is mostly to blame. Although there is no debate in peer reviewed science journals, the well-funded and highly organized public relations campaign has left the impression – in mainstream media – of a lively and continuing scientific controversy.

    Scientists from within the fossil fuel industries’ own organizations raised red flags about climate change as early as 30 years ago – and they specifically dismissed the credibility of deniers by 1995. Yet the fossil fuel industry has continued to support efforts to subvert the science, attacking real scientists and promoting a cast of “skeptics” in their place. DeSmogBlog looks behind these deniers to test their credentials and to search out their source of funding.

    People have a right to know who is paying the deniers. It is difficult to deceive or confuse a well-informed person. DeSmogBlog exists to clear up the PR pollution around fossil fuels and climate change.”

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  14. “In the wake of the crash, environmentalists pointed their finger at the usual bogeymen. They claimed that the problem has been that fossil fuel interests have massively outspent underdog environmental groups, funding skeptics to mislead the public and duping the media into giving too much credence to skeptical views about climate change.
    In reality, the environmental lobby massively outspent its opponents. In just the last two years, by our rough estimate environmental organizations and philanthropies spent somewhere north of $1 billion dollars advocating for climate action. In contrast, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Exxon-Mobil, the Koch Brothers, Big Coal, and the various other well publicized opponents of environmental action might have spent, when all was said and done, a small fraction of that. Indeed, much of the U.S. energy industry, including the largest utilities, helped write and lobbied for U.S. climate legislation.
    Nonetheless, and despite the enormous resources spent on public communications about climate, some continue to accuse the media of “false balance” – by which they mean giving equal coverage to skeptical views about climate change. But the phenomenon of “false balance,” according to the best academic studies of the phenomena, disappeared after 2005. And even the very notion completely undermines the idea that media coverage has been biased against climate action. The complaint, after all, is that the media has reported the views of skeptics or opponents of climate action at all.”

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