Wednesday September 22, 2010 12:05
Hey, me too on occasion. What salves that despair is seeing how many people are coming together to do great organizing. check out the pictures from last year at 350.org. we may not win, but we're going to give the bad guys a run for their (considerable) money.
That exchange came early in a Grist.org online chat event with Bill McKibben. And that's what I'm hearing. Shadows of doubt.
Early in this program, after a solid round of hate rant against the Greens by Texas Talk Show man Alex Jones - we look deeper into the engines of climate doubt.
Dr. Naomi Oreskes has a unique marriage of expertise, in both global warming AND the history of science.
She is a Professor at the University of California, San Diego. Her early books were on Geophysics, Plate Tectonics, and Continental Drift theory. But now Naomi Oreskes enters a more public battle, with her newest book "Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth, on Issues from Tobacco Smoke, to Global Warming."
During my own research in the early 1900's, I found a small group of scientists promoting dubious products, like tobacco and even asbestos. They were joined by other authority figures, like Dixie Lee Ray, a former Governor of Washington State, who never met a toxic chemical she didn't like. Many of the press releases came from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
These front institutions, funded by billionaires and very wealthy industrialists, are the "think tanks" that bring out endless reports suggesting the poor should be dumped, the prisons privatized, and taxes must always fall. They don't like environmentalism, because it costs them money for pollution equipment, or even stops a few big ventures - the ones that can't pass any public smell test.
I suppose the surprise isn't that big polluters hire spokespeople, even scientists. My question is: how did such a small number of people get so much media attention, to look like an equal half in the public debate? How did they do it?
Dr. Oreskes did the digging. She found a second thread to this story. Beyond the wealthy polluters, there also lurked a cadre of academics raised on fighting the Cold War, capitalism versus communism. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, many of the same faces switched over to anti-environmentalism. Since big governments could legislate restrictive environmental protection laws - they must be socialist, if not Communist.
Under that theology, several top-rated scientists, including one former President of the National Academy of Sciences, began signing press releases saying the risk of tobacco, DDT, and other chemicals was over-rated. Perhaps they weren't so dangerous. It was, and is, a strategy of casting doubt.
The fact that several well-known scientists went well beyond their fields of expertise to endorse media machines designed to protect chemical, oil and tobacco companies raises my suspicions. At least two were found to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from electric power and coal providers. Others may have acted out of idealism alone, who knows?
That anti-Green machine was established an well-oiled, as the carbon dioxide problem became more visible. Suddenly, some of the same scientists declared global warming to either not exist, or be a harmless natural change. The same think-tanks produced reports saying the same. Delay, delay, and cast doubt, as the tobacco lobby did so successfully for years (at a cost of millions of lives around the world....).
Naomi Oreskes shows the roots, the development and the present growth of this denial industry. Don't miss this interview.