January 24, 2012

Naomi Oreskes

Green Army: Persons of Interest

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927 – 2003):
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

A Part of the Solution

My book Merchants of Doubt was an attempt to understand the explosive mix that has developed around the question of climate change, and the ways in which science and politics have collided in this domain.
One of the things I learned by working on that project was the danger of scientists’ attempts to resist the reality that science and politics are in this together.

[The] debate about climate change really is not a scientific debate; that is to say, it is not an argument among scientists about the facts of climate change …
[It is, in fact,] a political argument about the implications of climate change. …

The scientific recognition of … anthropogenic climate change has huge implications for … how we organize our economic system in the industrialized West.
So the problem begins with science because
  • it was scientists who recognized the potential of greenhouse gases and deforestation to change Earth’s climate;
  • it was scientists who first began to talk about it as a potential problem;
  • it was scientists who recognized the political consequences of climate change; and
  • it was even scientists who began to recognize the economic consequences as well.
(p 19)

But scientists were not prepared to grapple with all the economic, social, moral, ethical, and aesthetic implications, and so they left a kind of vacuum that has been filled by disinformation and obfuscation.
[And, however] much we might want science and politics to be separate, however much we might dream of a world in which they are separate, that is not the world that exists.

The most important thing that we can do moving forward is to find ways for scientists and people in politics, economics, and the arts to work together — to see this as a team project.
With different insights from these diverse domains, we can come together to solve this very profound problem.
(p 20)

We know something about why people are in denial about climate change.
We know where the contrarian movement comes from, and it is not because the science is uncertain; the [scientific evidence is] overwhelming. …

We do need to do research, but it is not more research on the details of the climate system.
We might want to do that because we want to understand the climate system as scientists, but in terms of addressing climate change, it is questions about energy and about policy that we need to be asking.
We know that a tax can be an effective policy instrument, but we don’t know the conditions under which people accept taxation. …

We have been confused about what it is that we need to do …
Scientists could stand up and say yes, … we want to understand the natural world better, but in terms of what we need now I believe there are more urgent things [to be done].
(p 23, emphasis added)

(Bulletin, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Spring 2014)

Part of the Problem

Robert Brulle: Sociologist, Drexel University

[The climate change countermovement] is fairly well funded.
What’s interesting is that in comparison to the environmental movement, it actually doesn’t have as much money.
The environmental movement actually has more funding, but it’s the nature of the spending that makes the difference.

When you look at what the environmental movement spends its money on, it actually tries to spend its money on developing solutions to climate change, such as developing a solar panel industry in China, making sure everybody in India has an appropriate solar oven to reduce CO2 emissions, things like that.
And they spend hardly anything on political or cultural processes.
The climate change countermovement spends all of its money there.

So you end up with this great difference between the two movements.
As one movement is actually out there trying to develop technological solutions on the ground, the other is engaged in political action to delay any kind of action. …

[As] the funding of climate countermovement organizations has become more politically controversial [we have seen] less and less attributable funding to these organizations and more anonymous giving through the Donors Trust or Donors Capital Foundation …
[So, for example,] if you want to protest what the Heartland [Institute] is doing and write their funders, you don’t know who they really are. …

[If] we’re going to have democracy and public accountability of our institutions, we need to at least identify who these funders are so that we can understand who is really funding the different [operatives] in the climate countermovement. …

{[We've seen a] shift from attributable funding to anonymous funding [which coincided] with the publicity that Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace brought to the Koch brothers’ funding and ExxonMobil funding …
Donors Capital and Donors Trust [insulate] the giver from any kind of political fallout from their giving …
Politically, it’s a very skillful strategy.}

[Exxon Mobil ceased overt] funding any climate countermovement organizations [in 2009.]
… The American Petroleum Institute at the same time started a grant program funding climate countermovement organizations.
Now, whether this is a coincidence or is not, I [wouldn't] want to speculate …

{[The] conservative movement in the United States [is an] extremely well-organized, focused, well-funded and ideologically consistent social movement. …
[The] general coordination and capacity is really quite extraordinary, and to be able to retain focus for this long of a period of time on clearly identified goals is very impressive.
There is no counterpart on the left …}
[The environmental movement is, in fact,] much more disparate and fragmented. …

[However,] not all of the activities of the climate countermovement take part through [libertarian free market] think tanks. …
[The] American Petroleum Institute [is spending] millions of dollars on advertising campaigns.
[On any given day] you’ll see two or three commercials extolling the virtues of increased energy production and using all of our energy resources to create American jobs.
[There is no actual mention of climate change.]
[Instead, they reframe the debate in terms of things] that all Americans would generally support [—] more economic growth and more jobs.
[It’s] a well-developed, focus group-tested approach to convince people that we really don’t want to mess with the [current] energy mix …

Plutocracy is government by the rich, and so you have a whole process here where [private] interests with large amounts of money [are secretly directing] public policy in accordance with their particular interest [at the expense of the rest of the population]. …
[By comparison, the environmental movement operates within the] allowable parameters of political action in our society, and so they are sort of constrained …

(Inside the Climate Change “Countermovement", background interview for Climate of Doubt, PBS Frontline, 30 September 2012, emphasis added)

A New Dark Age: The Second Fall of Western Civilization

Historian of Science, Second People's Republic of China, 2373

In the prehistory of “civilization,” many societies rose and fell, but few left as clear and extensive an account of what happened to them and why as the twenty-first-century nation-states that referred to themselves as Western civilization [1540-2073].
Even today, two millennia after the collapse of the Roman and Mayan empires and one millennium after the end of the Byzantine and Inca empires, historians, archaeologists, and synthetic-failure paleoanalysts have been unable to agree on the primary causes of those societies’ loss of population, power, stability, and identity.
The case of Western civilization is different because the consequences of its actions were not only predictable, but predicted. …
While analysts differ on the details, virtually all agree that the people of Western civilization knew what was happening to them but were unable to stop it. …
Indeed, the most [striking] aspect of this story is just [how little action these people took given how much] they knew.
(p 40-41)

In 2001, the IPCC had predicted that atmospheric CO2 would double by 2050.
In fact, that benchmark had been met by 2042.
Scientists had expected a mean global warming of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius; the actual figure was 3.9 degrees.
(p 46)

[In] the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2014, unprecedented heat waves scorched the planet, destroying food crops around the globe.
Panic ensued, with food riots in virtually every major city.
Mass migration of undernourished and dehydrated individuals, coupled with explosive increases in insect populations, led to widespread outbreaks of typhus, cholera, dengue fever, yellow fever, and [AIDS. …]

[Following the abortive attempt at geo-engineering in 2047] mean global temperature [rebounded] to nearly 5 degrees Celsius [above the pre-industrial average. …]

By 2050, Arctic summer ice was completely gone [and widespread and accelerating] thawing of Arctic permafrost [had ensued. …]
[The] estimated total carbon release from Arctic CH4 during the next decade may have reached over 1,000 gigatons, effectively doubling the total atmospheric carbon load.
This [resulted in] what is known as the Sagan effect [—] a strong positive feedback loop between warming and CH4 release.
Planetary temperature increased by an additional 6 degrees Celsius over the 5 degree rise that had already occurred.
(p 47)

The ultimate blow for Western civilization came in a development that … had long been discussed but [generally discounted] as a serious threat [—] at least in the twenty-first century.
Technically, what happened in West Antarctica was not, in fact, a collapse [but] more of a rapid disintegration. …
Over the [next 10 years] approximately 90 percent of the ice sheet broke apart, disintegrated, and melted, driving up sea level approximately three meters across most of the globe.
[And, subsequently, the breakup of the Greenland Ice Sheet added] another two meters to mean global sea level rise.

Analysts had predicted that a five-meter sea level rise would dislocate 10 percent of the global population [—] the reality was closer to 20 percent.
[It] is likely that 1.5 billion people were displaced around the globe …
[This dislocation] contributed to the Second Black Death, as a new strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis emerged in Europe and spread to Asia and North America.
[In addition,] 60 to 70 percent of [non-human] species were driven to extinction. …

Survivors’ accounts make clear that many thought the end of the human race was near …
[Many believed that,] had the Sagan effect continued, warming would not have stopped at 11 degrees.
However, when a key species of lichen evolved to use atmospheric CO2 more efficiently, this adaptation, coupled with a fortuitous shift in Earth’s orbit, reversed the warming trend.
Survivors in northern inland regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, as well as inland and high altitude regions of South America, were able to begin to regroup and rebuild.
The human populations of Australia and Africa [— as every schoolchild knows —] were wiped out.
(p 48)

As the devastating effects of the Great Collapse began to appear, the nation-states with democratic governments — both parliamentary and republican — were at first unwilling and then unable to deal with the unfolding crisis.
As food shortages and disease outbreaks spread and sea level rose, these governments found themselves without the infrastructure and organizational ability to quarantine and relocate people. …
[And while] China had taken steps toward liberalization [it] still retained a strong, centralized government.
When sea level rise began to threaten coastal areas, China rapidly built new inland cities and villages and relocated more than 250 million people to higher, safer ground. …
The [Mass Migration that began in 2074] was not easy …
[For] many older citizens, as well as infants and young children [the transition proved to much …]
Nonetheless, survival rates exceeded 80 percent.

[The ultimate irony was that] China’s ability to weather disastrous climate change vindicated the necessity of centralized government, leading to the establishment of the Second People’s Republic of China and inspiring similar structures in other, [reconstituted] nations.
By blocking anticipatory action, neoliberals [not only exposed] the tragic flaws [of lassiez faire capitalism:] they fostered expansion of the very system of government that they most abhorred.

Today [in the 300th year since the Great Collapse,] we remain engaged in a vigorous intellectual discussion [as to whether —] now that the climate system has finally stabilized [— political] decentralization and redemocratization may [safely] be considered.
(p 53)

(Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 142:1, Winter 2013)

Would you like to know more?


A Part of the Solution

A Part of the Problem

The Second Fall of Western Civilization

Doubts Must Remain

Passive Infanticide

The Deficit Model

Merchants of Doubt

Naomi Oreskes (1958)

Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University.

  • The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 142 (1) Winter 2013.
    Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway.

    Authors Note:
    Science fiction writers construct an imaginary future; historians attempt to reconstruct the past.
    Ultimately, both are seeking to understand the present.
    In this essay, we blend the two genres to imagine a future historian looking back on a past that is our present and (possible) future.
    The occasion is the tercentenary of the end of Western culture (1540–2073); the dilemma being addressed is how we — the children of the Enlightenment — failed to act on robust information about climate change and knowledge of the damaging events that were about to unfold.
    Our historian concludes that a second Dark Age had fallen on Western civilization, in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on “free” markets, [paralyzed] the world’s [most] powerful nations in the face of [impending] tragedy.
    Moreover, the scientists who best understood the problem were hamstrung by their own cultural practices, which demanded an excessively stringent standard for accepting claims of any kind — even those involving imminent threats. …

    For more than one hundred years, physical scientists in the Western world had known that carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor absorbed heat in the planetary atmosphere.
    A three-phase Industrial Revolution led to massive release of additional CO2,
    • initially in the United Kingdom (1750–1850);
    • then in Germany, the United States, and the rest of Europe (1850–1950); and finally
    • in China, India, and Brazil (1950–2050).
    At the start of the final phase, some scientists recognized that the anthropogenic increment of CO2 could theoretically warm the planet, but few were concerned; total emissions were still quite low, and in any case most scientists viewed the atmosphere as an essentially unlimited sink. …

    By the late 1980s, scientists had recognized that concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were having discernible effects on planetary climate, ocean chemistry, and biological systems, threatening grave consequences if not rapidly controlled. …
    (p 41)

    In 1992, world nations signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference” in the climate system.
    But there was backlash.
    Critics claimed that the scientific uncertainties were too great to justify the expense and inconvenience of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, and that any attempt to solve the problem would cost more than it was worth.
    At first, just a handful of people made this argument, almost all of them from the United States …
    [However, by] the end of the millennium, denial had spread widely. …
    [A message of inaction based on] “uncertainty” was promoted by industrialists, bankers, and some political leaders. …

    By the early 2000s, [fires,] floods, hurricanes, and heat waves began to intensify, but these effects were discounted.
    Those in … active denial insisted that the extreme weather events reflected natural variability, despite a lack of evidence to support that claim.
    Those in passive denial continued life as they had been living it, unconvinced that a compelling justification existed for broad changes in industry and infrastructure. …

    [In 2007] the IPCC had declared anthropogenic warming to be “unequivocal,” and public opinion polls [initially showed] a majority of people … believed that action was warranted.
    [In response,] a massive campaign (funded primarily by fossil fuel corporations, whose annual profits at that time exceeded the GDPs of most countries), was launched to discredit the scientists whose research underpinned the IPCC’s conclusion.
    Public support for action evaporated …
    (p 42, emphasis added)

    It is clear that in the early twenty-first century, immediate steps should have been taken to begin the Great Energy Transition.
    [Astoundingly,] the opposite occurred.
    At the very time that the urgent need for an energy transition became palpable, world production of greenhouse gases increased …
    (p 43)

    By 2012, more than 365 billion tons of carbon had been emitted into the atmosphere since 1751.
    Staggeringly, more than half of these emissions occurred after the mid-1970s — that is, after scientists had built computer models demonstrating that greenhouse gases would cause warming.
    [Indeed] between 1992 [when nations pledged to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change under the UNFCCC] and 2012, total CO2 emissions increased by 38 percent.
    Some of this increase was understandable, as energy use grew in poor nations seeking to raise their standard of living.
    Less explicable is why … wealthy nations dramatically increased their production of fossil fuels.
    (p 45)

    [In 2012 the US] Government Spending Accountability Act of 2012 … restricted the ability of government scientists to attend conferences to share and analyze the results of their research. …
    [In the same year, the US State] of North Carolina (now part of the Atlantic Continental Shelf) [passed the now infamous “Sea Level Rise Denial Bill”.]
    [This was the forerunner of the] US National Stability Protection Act of 2022, which led to the conviction and imprisonment of more than three hundred scientists
    [For] endangering the safety and well-being of the general public with unduly alarming threats.
    By exaggerating the threat, it was argued, scientists were preventing the economic development essential for coping with climate change.
    (p 43)

    [In 2000] Canada’s government began to push for development of huge oil sand deposits in the province of Alberta.
    While these deposits had been mined intermittently since the 1960s, the rising cost of conventional oil had made sustained exploitation economically feasible.
    The fact that 70 percent of the world’s known reserves were in Canada explains the government’s [adoption of a] denialist position on climate change …
    (p 45)

    [The myth that] natural gas from shale could offer a “bridge to renewables” … neglected three crucial factors. …

    1. fugitive methane emissions — CH4 that escaped unburned into the atmosphere — greatly accelerated warming. …
      [Scientists] had foreseen this phenomenon, but their predictions were buried in specialized journals …
    2. [the assumption] that net CO2 emissions would fall [as a consequence of] strict restrictions on coal and petroleum use [— which never materialized; and]
    3. the sustained low prices of fossil fuels, supported by continued subsidies and a lack of external cost accounting, undercut efficiency efforts and weakened emerging markets for solar, wind, and biofuels (including crucial liquid biofuels for aviation).

    Thus, the bridge to a zero-carbon future collapsed before the world had [a chance to cross] it.
    (p 46, emphasis added)

    [Likewise,] the United States implemented laws forbidding the use of biodiesel fuels — first by the military, and then by the general public …
    (p 45)

    [The, so-called Penumbral Period (1988-2073) spans the period between the establishment of the IPCC and beginning of the Great Collapse and Mass Migration in 2074.]
    Historical analysis also shows that Western civilization had the technological know-how and capability to effect an orderly transition to renewable energy, yet the available technologies were not implemented in time.
    [The question is: why weren't they?]
    (p 48)

    The thesis of this analysis is that Western civilization became trapped in the grip of two inhibiting ideologies: namely,
    • positivism and
    • market fundamentalism. …
    (p 49)

    Much of the argument [about magnitude of the threat] surrounded the concept of statistical significance.
    Given what we now know about the dominance of nonlinear systems and the distribution of stochastic processes, the then-dominant notion of a 95 percent confidence limit is hard to fathom.
    Yet overwhelming evidence suggests that twentieth-century scientists believed that a claim could be accepted only if, by the standards of Fisherian statistics, the possibility that an observed event could have happened by chance was less than 1 in 20.
    Many phenomena whose causal mechanisms were physically, chemically, or biologically linked to warmer temperatures were dismissed as “unproven” because they did not adhere to this standard of demonstration. …

    Western scientists [had also] built an intellectual culture based on the premise that it was worse to fool oneself into believing in something that did not exist than not to believe in something that did.
    [They] referred to these positions as “type I” [false positive / sensitivity] and “type II” [false negative / specificity] errors, and established protocols [were] designed to avoid type I errors at almost all costs. …

    For example, in cancer screening, it is better to have a few lesions flagged for further investigation that turn out to be benign than to miss one that is malignant.
    The same applies to other low risk / high impact events such as climate change or a meteor strike.
    It is better to over-detect a few asteroids which do not hit the earth than miss one that does.
    (p 44)

    [Power] did not reside in the hands of those who understood the climate system, but rather in [the, so-called carbon-combustion complex: the network of] political, economic, and social institutions [in whose interests it was to promote a continuing dependence on] fossil fuels. …
    • primary fossil fuel producers;
    • secondary industries that served fossil fuel companies (drilling and oil field service companies, large construction firms, and manufacturers of plastics and other petrochemicals);
    • tertiary industries whose products relied on inexpensive fossil fuels (especially automobiles and aviation); and
    • [the] financial institutions that serviced their capital demands.
    [In order to do this the carbon-combustion complex established] a network of “think tanks” [to undermine any] scientific knowledge [thought contrary to their interests.]
    Newspapers often quoted think tank employees as if they were climate researchers [— presenting their opinions as if they had the same truth value as the consensus positions of the scientific community.]
    This [strategy] gave the public the [false] impression that the science was still uncertain, thus undermining the sense that it was time to act.

    Meanwhile, [the physical] scientists continued to do science, believing [that:]

    1. it was inappropriate for them to speak to political questions [and]
    2. if they [continued to produce] abundant and compelling scientific information … the world would [eventually] take steps to avert disaster. …

    [And the social scientists pursued the question as to] why Western society was rejecting [scientific] knowledge in favor of an empirically inadequate yet powerful ideological system.
    [Some] recognized this system as a quasi-religious faith, hence the label [free] market fundamentalism [— also known as neoliberalism, economic libertarianism and laissez-faire capitalism or economics.]
    (p 49, emphasis added)

    [This] two-pronged ideological system [held that:]
    • [the material needs of society] were served most efficiently in a free market economic system [and]
    • free markets … were the only manner of doing so that did not threaten personal [ie political, civic, religious or artistic] freedom.
    [The second point was based on] the belief that marketplaces represented distributed power [whereas] centrally planned economies [necessarily entailed] the concentration of [both] economic [and] political power …
    [In other words, personal freedom depends on economic freedom; therefore, any threat to economic freedom is a threat to personal freedom.]
    (p 50)

    Consider the opposite.
    Political freedom is the foundation of economic freedom (not vice versa).
    Weak political institutions are inevitably captured by sufficiently large concentrations of economic/propaganda/naked power.
    The best defense against political tyranny is not economic anarchy but effective democracy.
    Freedom is a finite resource and it is the political system which determines how equitably or inequitably it is shared.
    For example, in a society in which 1% commands 50% of the resources, freedom is monopolized by the few at the expense of the many.
    Redistributive justice applies not only to wealth but to political and civic freedom as well.
    Economic slavery is no less oppressive than political slavery.

    Neoliberalism was developed by a group of thinkers — most notably, Austrian Friedrich von Hayek and American Milton Friedman — who were particularly sensitive to the issue of repressive centralized government. …
    Neoliberalism was initially a minority view.
    In the 1950s and 1960s, the West experienced high overall prosperity, and individual nations developed mixed economies that suited their own national cultures and contexts.
    Things began to shift in the late 1970s and 1980s, when Western economies stalled and neoliberal ideas attracted [the attention of] world leaders … such as Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States.
    Friedman became an advisor to President Reagan; in 1991, von Hayek received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George HW Bush. …

    [Many] observers in the West [interpreted] the Soviet Union’s collapse [as] proof of the absolute superiority of the capitalist system.
    [And some] went further, arguing that if capitalism was a superior system, then the best system was capitalism in its purest form.
    (p 51)

    While it is possible that some academic economists and intellectuals genuinely held this view, it was industrialists and financiers, who perceived large opportunities in less regulated marketplaces, who did the most to spread and promote it. …
    A second Gilded Age [recreated] concentrations of power and capital not seen since the nineteenth century …
    [Most importantly, the quasi-religious notion of the "invisible hand" conferred on market forces an aura of divine infallibility and benevolent providence.
    And the idea that the market could "fail" became economic heresy.]

    When scientists discovered the limits of planetary sinks, they also discovered [evidence of] market failure.
    The toxic effects of DDT, acid rain, the depletion of the ozone layer, and climate change were serious problems for which markets did not provide a spontaneous remedy.
    Rather, government intervention was required: to raise the market price of harmful products, to prohibit those products, or to finance the development of their replacements. …
    As the implications for market failure became indisputable, scientists came under attack, blamed for problems they had not caused but merely documented.
    (p 52)

  • Naomi Oreskes, Conversations, ABC Local Radio, 8 June 2012.

    Emissions trading was … first proposed by the Republican party … under the presidency of George HW Bush back in the 1980's and early 1990's as a means [of controlling] acid rain.
    And emissions trading was promoted as a flexible, market based mechanism, to address these pollution issues …
    And liberals, and democrats and environmentalists went along with it because it did seem like a reasonable compromise.

    So, in a way, there's been a terrible betrayal.
    Because [in the last couple of years] the very people who proposed emissions trading … turned against it when it looked like it was actually going to be the basis for a bipartisan agreement. …
    And very few people in the media pointed out that:
    Well, this was actually your idea in the first place, so why are you backing off from it now? …
    We know, based on [the laws of] physics and chemistry, [which have] been known since the 19th century, that if you increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, you will very likely warm the planet.
    [In 1957-58, scientists began to] measure carbon dioxide, in order to see if it was increasing due to the burning of fossil fuels, and if, in fact, it was having the expected impact on the atmosphere. …
    By the early 1990's … the evidence had become clear …
    [Carbon] dioxide had increased [and] the temperature was increasing [just as theory] predicted. …

    This is something scientists [and politicians] have known about for half a century …
    President Johnson … made a major speech about it in 1965 …
    President Nixon knew about it [when he created the Environmental Protection Agency.]
    President Carter knew about and commissioned a major study from the National Academy of Sciences …

    Erik Conway and I are both historians of science, and so we had studied this scientific history, and were clear about where the science lay.

    And yet politically we saw, in the United States and elsewhere, [a] raging debate about it.
    [There] was this enormous disconnect between the political debate and state of the science.

    [So we became] interested in where that disconnect came from [and] started tracing it back.
    [Who were these people] who were claiming the science wasn't settled, even though it was very clear that [it was?] …

    [There] are many groups and organizations that spread this message …
    And one of the most important is the George C. Marshall Institute.
    They write white papers, policy [and opinion] pieces …
    They're constantly issuing press releases …
    They get on the radio and television … regularly promoting this message of doubt.

    [And when] we asked ourselves:
    Who are these people, and where did they come from?
    [What] we were able to learn [was] that the Marshall Institute had been founded by … three men [— Robert Jastrow, William Nierenberg and Frederick Seitz].
    All physicists, who had risen to power and prominence in the Cold War.
    They had worked on weapons and rocketry programs … the atom bomb, the hydrogen bomb, the space program.
    And through that work … had become very prominent.
    They knew presidents of the United States, they knew admirals and generals, and they had access to power.
    And they used it to start to spread this message of doubt. …

    We were absolutely stunned … when we realized [who] these people were …
    That Frederick Seitz … a former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, had been behind disinformation campaigns[!] …
    And then we found that Fred Seitz had worked for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company. …

    In 1953 … researchers and the Sloan-Kettering Institute did a crucial experiment …
    They painted the skin of laboratory mice with cigarette tars, and those mice all got cancer, in the places whether their skin had been painted …
    So this experiment showed very definitively that tars from tobacco cause cancer …

    Now there had been a lot of evidence before that …
    [Back in] the 1920's and 30's … the Nazis banned tobacco smoking.
    But a lot of [this] earlier research had been [tainted] because of its [Nazi associations], so there was a … reanalysis of the data in the 1940's and 50's. …
    Reader's Digest had a headline in which they called it:
    Cancer by the Carton
    [— which] got enormous media in the United States.

    [At that time, about] 75% of American adults smoked cigarettes, so it was a huge market, billions of dollars in profits, millions of American people smoking …

    The [senior] executives from leading American tobacco companies … met with [John Hill] the chief of a [Hill and Knowlton] one of the oldest and most respected public relations firms in America … to decide what to do.
    And the [conscious] decision that they made [was that] they would defend their product by fighting the scientific evidence.
    [The documents that prove it later formed the basis of prosecution of the tobacco industry for criminal conspiracy by the Department of Justice.]

    They said:
    Doubts must remain
    They realized they could not prove … that tobacco was safe … but what they could do was [foster doubt:]
    [There's] a lot of uncertainty in science …
    We're not really sure …
    We have some experts over here who disagree with the consensus …
    [Because if they just] stood up in public and said:
    Oh we don't know
    — they'd be laughed at …
    Most of us would recognize that this wasn't credible.
    So crucial part of the strategy was to recruit scientists.
    And the more distinguished the scientists were, the better.
    [One] of the people they recruited … was Frederic Seitz. …

    They [also] started funding [diversionary research on] other causes of cancer. …
    Smoking cigarettes is not the only thing that causes lung cancer …
    Many other things can cause cancer. …
    And when someone would say:
    [Smoking] causes cancer
    They would trot out these experts, who would say:
    Well, I'm not really sure, because, of course, asbestos is a major cause of cancer as well.
    [Which] of course … was true, they weren't lying, they didn't have to lie, all they had to do was confuse us with these … distracting tactics. …
    Creating smoke about the issue …

    Why would distinguished scientists betray their own colleagues, turn against the very science they were a part of, to defend a product that kills infants in their cribs? …
    It was about liberty.
    It was about freedom.
    It was about the belief … that if the government steps in, to protect us form dangers like smoking, then there's no limit to how much the government can control our lives. …
    And one of the key people in our story said that, in virtually those exact words.

    So the fear … born out of their own experience [of] fighting the Soviet threat, that government intervention, government regulation would put us on the road to communism. …
    Today second hand smoke.
    Tomorrow the Bill of Rights.
    The day after tomorrow, the Gulag. …

    [If] this were only about choice, Erik Conway and I would agree with these people …
    [But there are] two crucial problems [with this argument.]
    The first [is] that nicotine is addictive. …
    Something … the tobacco industry knew since the 1960's but suppressed. …
    It's one thing to say, its my decision to ride a bicycle, or its my decision to gave a glass of wine with dinner.
    It's another thing to sell [an] addictive substance. …
    We don't allow people to sell opium on the streets.
    And yet we do allow, the tobacco industry to knowingly sell an addictive product that kills people …

    The debate over second hand smoke is [the second] crucial part of [this] story. …
    Because up until that point the tobacco industry had been able to say: …
    Adults in a free society have the right to decide for themselves, even if they put themselves in danger, that's their choice.
    But the second hand smoke evidence showed, that you weren't only putting yourself in danger.
    You were endangering your neighbour, you bartender, you flight attendant and your own children. …

    None of us want the government telling us how to live our lives, or what to do, so it seems credible.
    But … if the product is addictive, the company knows it, and they're suppressing that information, then its not a free choice. …

    If we shift then to the other issues that these men got involved with [acid rain, global warming, the ozone hole] then it becomes a whole different matter.
    Because, if hair spray is destroying the ozone hole, and you're going to die from skin cancer as a result, that's not a choice you made.
    That not increasing your freedom.
    If you die from skin cancer, you've actually lost a lot of freedom. …

  • Scientists Who Lie, Big Ideas, ABC Television, 19 March 2011.
  • Merchants of Doubt, Public Lecture (2010), University of NSW, 8 January 2011.

    [The Pattern]

    • [Cherry-picking] data, so individual pieces of evidence that didn't seem to support the mainstream view, take those bits of evidence out of context, amplify them, make a big fuss.
      [Find] one glacier in New Zealand that isn't retreating and insist that there's no global warming …
    • [Making] personal attacks on leading scientists, like stealing private emails, we've seen a lot of this in the last year, but this has been going on since the 1980s …
    • [Pressuring] journalists to write balanced stories, giving equal weight to the industry position, even though that position is not supported by scientific evidence.
    • [Finding] a tiny handful of dissenting scientists, three physicists in America, two geologists in Australia, one climate scientist in New Zealand, and then vigorously promoting them on television, radio and in print media, to create the impression of real scientific debate, when the actual scientific community is in agreement about these issues. …

    [Passive Infanticide]

    An independent expert panel reviewed the scientific evidence from the United States, Germany and Japan and concluded … that second-hand smoke was correlated with an increase in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome …
    [Why] would anyone defend a product that killed infants in their cribs? …

    Would you like to know more?


    In the United States … the origins of the environmental movement … are to be found … in the progressive Republicanism of US President Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot … the first director of the US Forest Service, and of course that famous communist, John D. Rockefeller.
    Throughout the 1950s and 1960s in the United States there was a bipartisan consensus on the importance of protecting the environment …
    [The] Wilderness Act of 1964 [which] designated over 9 million acres … as areas where 'man himself is a visitor and does not remain' [was passed in] the United States senate by a vote of 73 to 12, and the US House of Representatives by a vote of 373 to 1.

    In the 1970s the US Environmental Protection Agency was created by Republican President Richard Nixon, who signed into law many key pieces of environmental legislation, including
    • the Clean Air Act Extension,
    • the Clean Water Act,
    • the Endangered Species Act,
    • the Marine Mammal Protection Act,
    • the National Environmental Policy Act
    [All] key signature pieces of environmental legislation that remain the framework of environmental protection in the United States today, all passed under a Republican president …

  • Climate Change Scepticism: Its Sources and Strategies, AAAS Forum, Science Show, ABC Radio National, 3 April 2010.

    Naomi Oreskes:
    [Scientists] tend to assume that the public are confused because they have a deficit of scientific knowledge, education and cognitive skills.
    That is to say … they're scientifically illiterate.

    So if the problem is a deficit, then the remedy … is a surfeit.
    So … the scientific community has … pursued what I would call a supply side response.

    [We] know empirically that the supply side model has failed.

    [Supply] side models assume that people are confused because they're ignorant, but we argue that people may be confused because in fact people have tried to confuse them.
    [The] coal industry in some ways was more scientific about how to change public perception than the scientific community has been.

    One of the things we document in the [Merchants of Doubt] is how very often when these misinformation campaigns were taking place they would be reported in the mass media …
    and scientists would respond by publishing detailed explanations of how the science was correct in peer reviewed scientific journals. …

    So you get an unlevel playing field where the accusations, the attempts to undermine science, are published in places where millions of people see it and then the scientific response is published some place where only fellow scientists see it …
    [By] contrast, the coal industry hired professional PR firms to test their strategies, to see what worked, and use that evidence to structure their communication campaign. …

  • The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, Science, Vol 306, AAAS, 3 December 2004.

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