There’s an interesting new article at Forbes, by Robert Wynne of Wynne Communications, about the public relations battle between fossil-fuel-industry-funded climate science “deniers’ and “skeptics” on the one hand; and by the “‘pro-science’ faction of the debate” on the other. The former, as Wynne notes, have had their case “bankrolled…with $558 million between 2003 and 2010.” Bankrolled by who? Exactly the folks you’d expect:
Fossil-fuel companies like Exxon and Peabody Energy — which obviously have a business interest in slowing any attempt to reduce carbon emissions — have combined with traditionally conservative corporate groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and conservative foundations like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, to raise doubts about the basic validity of what is, essentially, a settled scientific truth. That message gets amplified by conservative think tanks — like the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute — and then picked up by conservative media outlets on the Internet and cable TV.
Other than raising false doubts about climate science, what fossil fuel interests spent hundreds of millions of dollars – a good chunk of which is essentially subsidized by taxpayers and the government, both implicitly and explicitly – just between 2003 and 2010 is crystal clear: falsely claiming that cleaner power plants would kill jobs, falsely smearing non-carbon-based sources of energy such as wind and solar. And, as Robert Wynne notes, unfortunately they’ve had a decent amount of success doing all this, just as the tobacco companies fought for years to deny tobacco’s link to cancer and other diseases, to fight regulation of their (highly profitable) industry, and to “prevent most regulation of tobacco products until 2009, nearly six decades after the carcinogenic properties of tobacco were established.” In this case, the fossil fuel folks have succeeded in “block[ing] laws that would require them to retrofit or modify their facilities or to pay additional taxes on pollution while promoting a sense of doubt in the public’s mind.”
It’s worth reminding everybody that the fossil fuel industry’s tactics wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as they’ve been without a big assist by the media. As we wrote in late 2012 about “a groundbreaking new study by the Checks and Balances“:
…The Checks & Balances Project looks at 10 fossil fuel-funded think tanks that are prominent in their criticism of clean energy policy support. We found that these groups were mentioned over 1,010 times on energy issues in 60 mainstream print outlets, including major daily newspapers, the Associated Press and Politico from 2007-2011. These organizations’ ties to fossil fuel interests are mentioned only 6% of the time in the five-year period studied despite receiving at least $16 million from fossil fuel lobbying interests – both directly from companies and from fossil fuel-connected foundations.
As we wrote at the time, “the media is doing a disservice to the public by failing to reveal the sources and motivations behind the ‘experts’ and ‘think tanks’ cited in their pages,” in this case fossil-fuel-funded interests paid big money to promote dirty energy, attack clean energy and call climate science into doubt.
Fortunately, there may be some good news here, according to Robert Wynne. In Wynne’s view, “there’s reason to believe the ‘Pro-Science’ faction of the debate may have learned to argue their case more effectively,” and that in 2014, “five developments may have slowly melted the resistance to the prospect that man’s carbon pollution has accelerated global warming.” Those developments, in summary, are:
- Major corporations like Nike and Coca-Cola are not only acknowledging the reality of global warming, but also that it has “significantly affected their business operations.”
- Other major corporations “have started planning and profiting from global warming including Deutsche Bank and Shell Oil.”
- The U.N. in March 2014 issued a “conclusive…climate change report,” one which has now “been cited thousands of times in stories around the world,” and which definitively concluded ”Human interference with the climate system is occurring.”
- The Pentagon says the effects of global warming are a serious national security problem, acting as “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”
- There’s actually a 99% consensus, not the oft-cited 97% consensus, among scientists that there’s “a link between man-made activities and global warming.”
Given all these developments, Wynne argues that “those who still deny man-made global warming would have to conclude the following groups are colluding to fool them: The Pentagon, Nike, Coca-Cola, Shell Oil, Deutsche Bank, the United Nations, 99% of the world’s scientists,” etc. Clearly, such a “massive worldwide conspiracy” is beyond laughable. Given that reality, the question is, when will the media stop treating fossil-fuel-funded climate science deniers and clean energy bashers as being a serious “other side” they feel compelled to quote? The correct answer, of course, should be “right now.”