Went to a free lecture tonight at UNSW by Prof Naomi Oreskes on the politics of global warming and how the fossil fuel industry has paired up with a handful of scientists and dozens of think tanks that base their outlook on market fundamentalism. Together they heavily influence global opinion via a concerted PR campaign that sows the seeds of doubt, which in turn slows down environmentalist political action to a standstill. This obviously favours the fossil fuel industry that is making money out of destroying our environment (while supplying energy to our wasteful over-consumption) and makes it extremely difficult to either get the real scientific truth on global warming out there or to work towards effective change if we are to avoid very serious global consequences.
The lecture will probably be on the Science Show on Radio National in the coming weeks as there were audio and video recordings and Robyn Williams did the MC-ing.
Her main argument (though I’ll now have to read the book too and report back!) is that global warming/climate change skeptics weren’t just born out of money from the fossil fuel industries, but also out of market fundamentalism as an ideology that a group of scientists cling onto, all of whom have strong connections to big tobacco, conservative administrations in the US and right-wing think tanks that hope to ‘advance democracy’ via free enterpries and free market. These fears of social democracy, government legislation and regulation are born out of Cold War fears of a communist tyranny that can only be prevented with complete market deregulation. So they have swapped the enemy from the Soviet Union to environmentalism.
Science, unlike think tanks and big industry has no strong PR outlet and complex scientific findings are not always easy to explain to the public. The ‘merchants of doubt’ who have worked for big tobacco and now the fossil fuel industry (both for money, but even more for ideological reasons, as above) are working hard to create doubt partially by misconstruing scientific skepticism and partially by presenting a false ‘balance’ in the media where there is no ‘balance’ in the sense of a divided scientific opinion. There is almost complete consensus on what is going on scientifically speaking, 6000+ scientists against a small handful. This is not a matter of ‘balance’ but that of overwhelming scientific consensus based on hard evidence built up by tends of thousands of researchers. Very sadly big industry has much more clout in the public sphere than scientific consensus, leading to a distorted public debate in which global warming is in doubt, when in fact it absolutely isn’t.
So political action is further delayed and environmental catastrophies are not being averted. We are running out of time to make effective change. Interestingly the lecture also showed the history of global warming in science and by the 1950s there was a pretty strong growing consensus and by the 1980s there was overwhelming evidence. We only started having any meaningful international political action on this issue in the 90s, by then the consensus was very solid indeed. We are woefullylagging behind.
The industry even employs very dirty tactics that Naomi Oreskes and her research partners have tracked: the fossil fuel industry pays think tanks to intimidate and harass media outlets into NOT showing documentaries that present the scientific consensus in its objective state. At one point all public television and radio in the US were threatened with lawsuits if they didn’t drop the screening of a particular program. Unbelievable!!! Most of them dropped the program as they cannot afford expensive lawsuits, unlike the very rich and powerful fossil fuel industry that can afford to intimidate and harass the media and even nation states through loopholes in trade agreements that ‘guarantee’ them the right to be exempted from environmental legislation. Truly dismaying stuff.
The book will be worth a read: ‘Merchants of Doubt – How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming’.
No doubt there are many other valid viewpoints and it’s surely not just down to a handful of scientists, there is a bigger picture there including our psychological makeup that is averse to change that involves lifestyle changes that are unpleasant, and lack of media diversity where high quality public sphere debate is only truly available to the educated middle classes in the West (who listen to Radio National or turn up to lectures). But the big PR effort of the fossil fuel industries, like tobacco before, are not to be underrated, they have done an amazing job at creating (even manufacturing) doubt in people’s minds.
What a crying shame. Please spread the news, read the book, have a good hard think! 🙂 Or drop a note here even.