Monday, May 21, 2012

Petroleum and Propaganda

In his important new book, James Lawrence Powell poses a remarkable paradox: climate scientists have a near-unanimous consensus that global warming is occurring now, is largely human-made, and will cause very severe environmental problems if humanity continues business as usual. However, among the lay public, the picture is much more mixed: only about half of the US public agrees with the climate scientists. 

Why the enormous discrepancy?

James Lawrence Powell answers in an important new book, The Inquisition of Climate Science. Powell describes the corporate funding of a vicious and successful attack on science. 

In a review/essay, Petroleum and Propaganda: The Anatomy of the Global Warming Denial Industry , I discuss Powell's book. Corporate funders (e.g., ExxonMobil) support a network of think tanks, of which Powell discussed four in detail: the now-defunct Global Climate Coalition, the Heartland Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  The think-tanks put out a steady stream of propaganda that denies global warming. Powell also describes briefly some individual popularizers and propagandists, mostly non-scientists but with a few scientists as well, typically with little knowledge of climate change.

The mass media typically gives equal weight to a handful of climate change deniers and to the vast majority of climate scientists. The fossil-fuels industry does not have to win a debate. They will gladly settle for a draw, because it gives the impression that the scientific community is deeply divided about whether or not global warming is real. "Doubt is our product", as a tobacco industry executive proclaimed while the tobacco industry pursued the same strategy that the fossil fuel industry is pursuing today.

Lowell briefly summarizes "Climategate," which he justifiably dismisses as much ado about nothing.

Inquisition is an indispensable book: anyone who cares about global warming should have a copy.

My essay appeared in the May 2012 issue of Monthly Review. The editors of the magazine have written an introduction, Notes from the Editors in which they say that my review essay "raises critical questions with respect to science, corporate propaganda, and the future of humanity."


J Bowers said...

"'Hell.' wrote Thomas Hobbes, 'is truth seen too late.' Survival is falsehood detected in time."
-- excerpt from "The Enemies of Society"

John Mashey said...

Good commentary ...and I like Powell's book, but I do think the ideological "free market fundamentalism" discussion in Merchants of Doubt got lost somewhere.

We certainly know ExxonMobil & co have organized and funded much of this, but much (including the formation of George Marshall Institute) had little or nothing to do with fossil funding. Only later did EM funding come along for a while and then O'Keefe.
Here is the grant data from, top 6 (others are much smaller):

$1490K Sara Scaife Foundation, 2003-2010
$910K L&H Bradley F 2003-2011
$395K Earhart F 2003-2009
$330K Exxon Mobil 2003-2005
$305K Carthage (Scaife) 2003-2008
$280K Claude Lambe (C. Koch) 2006-2009

It would be an error to ignore the fossil interests, but would also be an error to ignore the strong ideological component, which sometimes in independent for many of the people involved. Of course some of the foundations have fossil interests.

As comes through strongly in MoD, much of the MoD+Singer foursome's motivation is ascribed to cold-warrior/free-market/ideology, not particularly money ... and she reiterated that in response to questions today at a Stanford talk.

As for Heartland, EM F used to fund them, and coal (Murray Energy) certainly has, but see:
Fake science, ... p.48, and especially pp.57-58.

There is pretty strong evidence that most of the money coming to Heartland was from Barre Seid via DONORS TRUST/CAPITAL, and most of the money there was *not* from direct fossil interests, and that is consistent with the 2012 Heartland fund-raising plan.
This makes sense: EM has "handed the ball" off to family foundations, cheaper that way.

Steve Bloom said...

So EM is out of the game now? Do they still fund Heritage? Note that the latter just participated in bailing out the HI conference.

In any event I think it's better to consider the network as one big 'tank, with donor money substantially fungible. It's tobacco tactics (not to ignore the lead and chemical industry forerunners) and Powell strategy, although IIRC the first of the 'tanks was established in the late '40s.

Agreed that MoD didn't detail all of this very well, nor did it succeed in highlighting the central thread (to which climate is only incidental, notwithstanding that it has by far the greatest consequences).

Anonymous said...

Well color me stoopid, that is why they call me "Hey Stoopid".

A sad tale, of catch 22, of biting the hand that feeds.

Most interesting, the oil corporations, in fighting for a delay, to maximize their profits, want and or desire the entire population of humanity, to jump the shark.

A sick sad sorry state of affairs, indeed!

One truly hopes and wishes that the intentions of "Desertec", is multiplied by two orders of magnitude, to counter this lunatic insanity.


Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money. ~Cree Indian Proverb

John Mashey said...

EM is *not* out of the game at all, but one must avoid the "thinktank X is bad, EM is funding them" unless ou8 can prove that currently true.

The other point is that one *cannot& make sense out of this without looking at the key family foundations.

Jay Alt said...

John M & all -

Here is the summary of a small, helpful book. The
author is a political scientist who teaches
sustainability. He takes ideas such as those by
Oreskes and Conway, to use a tired sports cliche, "to
the next level." Guess he didn't have their publicist?

Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power,
and Public Life 2009 Peter Jacques

"Environmental skepticism is the position that major
environmental problems are either unreal or
unimportant; in other words, environmental
skepticism holds that – especially global
environmental problems—are inauthentic. This
book empirically and historically describes, in line
with published research, how environmental
skepticism has been organized by US-based (some
in the UK) conservative think tanks as an anti-
environmental counter-movement.

This is the first book to analyze the importance of
the US conservative counter-movement in world
politics and its meaning for democratic and
accountable democratic deliberation, its importance
as a mal-adaptive project that hinders the world’s
people to rise to the challenges of sustainability,
the threat of the counter-movement to
marginalized people of the world, and its
philosophical implications through its commitment
to a “deep anthropocentrism.”

The book does not end in deconstruction of the
counter-movement, however, but concludes with a
full elaboration how to deal with current and
impending global environmental imbroglios through
two propositions: first the book offers a way to
civically engage and evaluate complicated
knowledge claims without falling into a positivist
“science-trap” that only degrades into dichotomous
dialogues that offer no closure or little ability for
fair social action. Second, the book proposes that
we reclaim our public life from the economistic
neoliberal globalism that currently and fully
ensconces world politics.

The book proposes that in order to do this we need
to develop an ecological demos where all earthly
inhabitants and environments are considered vital
and potential actors in their own right (the
ecological self, ala Val Plumwood and Bruno Latour).
In addition the book argues that we must reclaim,
decommodify, and defend the commons—like water
and genes-- against private enclosure that
inevitably becomes devoured by the predatory,
expansionary network of core powers, institutions,
and organizations like multinational firms that serve
Northern consumption."

John Mashey said...

I've traded emails with Peter on occasion. Unfortunately, the price tag on that book may not have helped it.

Anonymous said...

The book is not priced to sell, but you can read his lenghty and capitalization challenged introduction here.

It sounds far out but perhaps that's just the dialect :) This passage

Discourse in the counter-movement indicates that the counter-movement represents the interests of the global poor and disenfranchized, and these discourses are found to be misrepresentative and inauthentic. Here we see how the counter-movement frames the periphery in the Global South as undeveloped, indigenous peoples as savage elements of the state of nature needing to be civilized, women as hysterical emotional characters needing reason and management, and non-human nature (Earth others) as the penultimate instrument for disposal. the framing of these actors as others then prepares us for their use and annihilation, and it is hard to estimate a larger loss of security than this. thus, inasmuch as the countermovement insists on separating out some people from others, and humans from non-human nature in order to exploit both, it is violent.

is too good a description of the emails, tweets and billboards under discussion.

Pete Dunkelberg

Jay Alt said...

I bought a used copy for less than David Archer's text. Why? I'd borrowed a library copy first. I could've gone with more scientific explanations. But I know those don't help convince people that they're being deceived.

It is an academic book and Jacques is not easy to follow. My technical background doesn't help me follow Poly Sci lingo. But I'm looking for new tools. I want to create a vocabulary to plant new insights between the ears of sleepwalking politicians and voters. His ideas need regular people to turn them into everyday speech and action. [As George Lakoff might have done for environmental issues (he had a Sierra contract once) but is apparently too fond of regular politics to bother.]

Jacques sees the environmental counter-movement clearly. It's a broad push-back against all sustainability efforts, not just climate by Big Oil and their flunkies. The roots of the opposition are deep and he plumbs them in many ways. He begins with Rachel Carson and the unsuccessful chemical industry campaign to discredit her. That failed but they learned fast and changed methods. Conservative Think Tanks now shield the contributors and mystify the public. He is good at exposing inconsistency and deception. I believe that's one key to undressing their motives to help people understand.

Jacques makes unfamiliar use of capitalization but explains that in a Terms section. For example, the pair of words - others/Others. Lower case 'others' have agency and purpose. In contrast, 'Others' are socially constructed so that they may be disposed of. An example could be basic training. Soldier are socialized to kill the enemy - the ultimate
'Other'. Or, societies decide indigenous people are too primitive to appreciate their land. So we civilized ones aren't stealing when we use something they aren't, or take their minerals, lumber, oil, etc. Englishmen without property couldn't vote. So it was OK to drive them from the countryside into cities since the industrial project (Industria) needed cheap labor.
The neoliberal, global economy organizes society so that this socialization process is applied to anything or anyone who becomes available for commodification or consumption.