I’m fairly new to the issue of climate change, and even newer to the politics surrounding it. I’ve spent the past two years reading about climate change causes, impacts, projections, myths, media blunders, and public misconceptions.
I knew that vested interests, such as the fossil fuel industry and political lobby groups, had played a part in the widespread public confusion. However, I naively assumed that they had simply taken advantage of said confusion – that the public was already unsure, so the vested interests decided to jump in and prolong it.
How wrong I was. How very, very wrong I was, as Jim Hoggan and Richard Littlemore proved to me in their new book, Climate Cover-Up.
Example after example, and story after story, showed that vested interests didn’t just take advantage of public confusion surrounding climate change. They created it. They deliberately constructed the so-called “debate” in an effort to – what? Earn more money? Fight socialism?
Take the Information Council on the Environment, one of the first climate change lobby groups. They were established in 1991, right after governments first started to respond to climate change – Thatcher, Bush Sr, and Mulroney all made promises to reduce emissions. The ICE flat-out stated that their objective was “to reposition global warming as a theory (not fact)” and “to supply alternative facts to support the suggestion that global warming will be good”.
The American Petroleum Institute was even more blatant. A leaked email contains a list of objectives for their PR campaigns:
Victory Will Be Achieved When
-Average citizens “understand” (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom”
-Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science
-Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current “conventional wisdom”
-Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy
-Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.
Everything that we’ve been bemoaning for years now. Misplaced public doubt, artificial balance in the media, Bush and Harper’s ties to the oil industry. It didn’t just happen by accident.
The email goes on to discuss strategies to achieve these objectives, including plans to produce and distribute “a steady stream of op-ed columns and letters to the editor” doubting climate change. So all those skeptical editorials in the popular press might not be written by journalists that have been taken for a ride. They might actually be by people with ties to lobby groups like the American Petroleum Institute.
You could look at Frank Luntz’s plans to capitalize on uncertainty. Or the American Enterprise Institute’s offer of $10 000 to any scientist who wrote a critique of the IPCC. Or how The Great Global Warming Swindle, a documentary oft-cited by YouTubers, creatively took statements from its interviewees out of context.
Climate Cover-Up made me so angry. I remember not being able to fall asleep the night I finished it. Then telling everyone I could about it. I had been immersed in the issue of climate change for two years, and yet I had failed to grasp the scope of vested interests’ influence on the public.
Many of our readers, who have been following this issue for years, are probably familiar with the stories and examples in the book. There isn’t anything in it that will be new to everyone.
But that wasn’t the book’s purpose, and climate scientists aren’t the book’s audience. Rather, Climate Cover-Up is aimed at those just becoming interested in climate change politics. It’s aimed at people who are unaware of the near-constant misinformation thrown at them, who are new to the immense power of money and industry over science and truth, who wouldn’t think to check the citations of editorials. It’s aimed at people like I was, two years ago.
I must also note that Climate Cover-Up is substantially easier to read than most books about climate change. The prose is witty and easy to follow. It doesn’t talk about science. It feels nothing like a textbook.
I’d like everyone in the world to read this book. But truthfully, I’d rather that it hadn’t needed to be written at all.