In their excellent new book, Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore take on the deceptive public relations tactics behind the global warming denial machine. Featuring an oily cast of characters that may be familiar to our regular readers, their work reveals the techniques of mass confusion employed by major players in the energy industry to stall action on climate change.

Post by Alexa Jay and Rick Piltz

James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, calls the book “An exposé of planetary scale.”

Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat Is On and Boiling Point, calls it “Absolutely superb – one of the best dissections of the climate misinformation I have ever seen. This is one terrific piece of work!”

Hoggan leads the team and Littlemore is an award-winning writer at DeSmogBlog, the first-rate Canadian group blog devoted to investigating, unmasking, and countering the global warming disinformation campaign.  DeSmogBlog offers a summary of the jumping-off point for their investigation:

Starting in the early 1990s, three large American industry groups set to work on strategies to cast doubt on the science of climate change. Even though the oil industry’s own scientists had declared, as early as 1995, that human-induced climate change was undeniable, the American Petroleum Institute, the Western Fuels Association (a coal-fired electrical industry consortium) and a Philip Morris-sponsored anti-science group called TASSC all drafted and promoted campaigns of climate change disinformation.

Climate Cover-Up traces the evolution of the global warming denial campaign from these beginnings, drawing stunning parallels with the tactics used by the tobacco lobby to confuse and mislead the public about the dangers of cigarette smoke.

Despite a scientific consensus that global warming poses a serious threat to human life as we know it, these fossil fuel-dependent companies sought to promote the notion that the evidence was still unclear, and the costs of mitigation too high.

Rather than present counter-arguments backed up by scientific research, they have used specious claims to call into question the validity of current data, and promoted them through conservative think tanks, like-minded political figures, and manufactured “grass-roots” movements. 

Hoggan and Littlemore call attention to the rise of industry-backed “Astroturf” groups with the public relations know-how to manipulate consumers, and their unfortunate success at muddying the waters of public opinion on climate change.

In a recent example of just such activity, on October 29 the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will hold a hearing to address the fraudulent opposing climate and clean energy legislation that were sent to Congress by Bonner & Associates, an Astroturf group operating under contract for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a public relations group formed by electric utilities, mining corporations, and other coal interests that has put forth major efforts to defeat the proposed regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the guise of support for “clean coal” technology.

In the early 1990s, Bonner and Associates was hired by Philip Morris to build opposition to the workplace smoking ban. Fast forward to 2009: posing as senior citizens advocates and civil rights leaders, Bonner and Associates sent more than a dozen letters to three members of Congress expressing opposition to climate change legislation. While Bonner & Associates has laid the blame on a temporary employee, this is not an isolated incident; the trail of disinformation is clear. For more information about Bonner & Associates, see here, here, and here.

While great strides have been made towards meaningful action on climate change, including the passage of a landmark climate and energy bill in the House in June, the denial machine grinds on. Because the message of scientific consensus on climate change has increasingly penetrated the political establishment and public opinion, the hard-line global warming denialists are finding themselves an increasingly endangered species, but one that still has the capital and know-how to obfuscate and mislead.

The same disingenuous tactics are now being put to work to undermine support for climate legislation by calling it an “economic disaster,” harnessing so-called popular opposition to what they term an “energy tax.” The American Petroleum Institute recently organized a series of “Energy Citizens” rallies in opposition to climate legislation. A leaked internal memo from API president Jack Gerard urged its member companies to transmit fraudulent information about the economic impacts of climate legislation to their employees and encourage them to attend “Energy Citizens” rallies organized by API. Employees were to be transported to the rallies directly from their workplaces. Further details on “Energy Citizens” can be found here, here, and here.

James Hoggan talked about the impact he hopes the book will have in an October 20 interview with Amy Goodman on the radio program Democracy Now!:

The more we know about these kinds of groups and these kinds of efforts, the less they work. And I would just encourage journalists to ask these people whether or not they’re actually practicing climate science, whether they are climate scientists, and who they’re taking money from. Start to ask these questions and shed light on these people, they’ll be far less effective.

Audio of the full interview and a transcript are available here:

CSW director Rick Piltz is mentioned in Climate Cover-Up on pages 171-174 and is quoted from an interview:

The science community tends to have a lot of integrity about “Here are the questions we still don’t have answers to,” and they’re up front about where they’re uncertain…But if you come into that with a predatory relationship to uncertainty, and you say, “Well, they have all these questions they haven’t resolved yet, there’s all this uncertainty, and we have a scientist here who thinks something different from that scientist there, so obviously there’s still some big debate and, of course, we can’t do something about [it] in terms of policy until all these scientific issues are resolved.” That’s what I saw the Bush administration White House people doing with the science program reports that I was working on. They were adding and deleting in such a way as to systematically—paragraph after paragraph, page after page—introduce the idea that there was some sort of fundamental scientific uncertainty that still needed to be debated and they would seize on any stray factoid or study or think tank, or whatever, in order to do that. And it was totally political. It didn’t have anything to do with science and the way scientists think and the way the scientific literature develops. It was totally predatory.

Needless to say, among our chief concerns, Climate Science Watch has gone after the global warming disinformation campaign since the project was started in 2005.  Relevant posts on this Website may be found in reverse chronological order here, and are listed under Archives by Topic here (scroll down).