The coal barons went first. In 1991, they hired
- Western Fuels Association
- Edison Electric Institute
- hired PR people
- tested messages
- recruited compliant scientists put out radio ads “If the Earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis getting colder?”
- University of Virginia’s Patrick Michaels to write skeptical editorials for small town papers
Philip Morris joined in 1993
- spent decades defending a product that is lethal
- established a fake grassroots organization—an “Astroturf group”
- The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC)
- recruited other businesses, like oil companies, that had a stake in undermining public faith in science.
- hiring and promoting willing scientists like Dr. S. Fred Singer, who was equally happy to argue for the safety of secondhand smoke or to deny that climate change was real.
A third denial campaign was started on behalf of the
- American Petroleum Institute
- (Steve Milloy, at the time the executive director of TASSC)
- (Candace Crandall, Fred Singer’s then-wife).
- “Global Climate Science Communication Action Plan”
- take advantage of small newspapers and TV stations to spread disinformation.
- They recruited more scientists-for-hire and
- media training and
- editorial support,
- promoted them as interview subjects, and
- distributed their skeptical articles widely.
Industry pays more every year to promote climate confusion. An Astroturf group, the
- American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE),
- Hawthorn Group PR firm
- recruited and paid young people to wear bright white “clean coal” T-shirts and baseball caps to electoral rallies.
- Paid bonuses to anyone who got their photo taken with a candidate and got it on the news.
For the Waxman-Markey climate change bill debate, ACCCE hired a Washington, D.C., Astroturf specialist called Bonner & Associates to generate fake grassroots opposition. Employees got scripts directing them to hide who they were working for. They forged letters on purloined letterhead. Congressman Markey’s office discovered the scripts and forgeries and continues to investigate.
The funders actually admit their intent to confuse the public and undermine the credibility of legitimate scientists. They use Astroturf front groups because people know who not to trust: A recent poll showed that only 19 percent of people believe what corporations say about climate change.
The Greenpeace “Exxon Secrets” project have documented other huge corporate investments in confusion and attacks on climate science. The oil and gas industry keeps adding to the budget—in 2008, its expenditures on lobbying alone increased by 50 percent.
Neither the major media nor politicians are counterbalancing these campaigns. And that leaves a huge burden on you, the individual.
It also creates a great opportunity. People are crying out for leadership. If you inform yourself and speak out, people will appreciate and emulate your example. And if you start demanding more from media, from business, and especially from government, others will applaud.
We have to take back the public discourse. We can begine by demanding that think tanks like the Heartland Institute have to declare the source of their funding. Demand that companies like Bonner & Associates have to acknowledge their clients—that all Astroturfers should declare when they are operating on behalf of self-interested corporations.
Climate change can be beaten, quickly and affordably. It’s time we all insisted that it be done.
James Hoggan wrote this article for Climate Action, the Winter 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. James is owner of the international PR firm Hoggan & Associates, chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, and author (with investigative journalist Richard Littlemore) of the new book, Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming.