By William Allen, Guest Columnist
The news on the climate change front this month is grim as usual: 2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record, a seawater heat wave is coursing through the ocean off of California, and scientists have identified several potential tipping points that could push the planet to a “Hothouse Earth” state not reached in 1.2 million years. Climate-related events harmful to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the planet appear to be increasing in number and intensity.
If you feel overwhelmed and don’t want to think about what it all means, that’s understandable. The science behind global warming and the climate disruption it causes is complex. And potential solutions seem confusing, even threatening.
But turning away and tuning out is just what Big Oil and Big Coal want you to do. Especially now, in the run-up to the Nov. 6 elections.
Climate change is the ultimate local issue. Anywhere you live or go, big changes are arriving, and they’ll affect you and your family for generations.
Yet for decades, the fossil fuel giants have put on a show to distract and confuse you about this — a show that would make P.T. Barnum blush. Their circus performers include such obfuscators as Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Chicago-based rightwing Heartland Institute, and even President Trump, who has called scientific warnings about climate change a “hoax,’ “con job” and “myth,” and has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement (a milquetoast pact at best anyway).
The climate-denial clowns have tried hard to persuade the public that climate science is bound up in “a major scientific controversy” and that anyone who supports policies to move society off its carbon addiction is “alarmist.”
They don’t want you to know that an overwhelming consensus exists among climate scientists that global warming is due to human activities, especially carbon dioxide and methane pollution, and that disruptive climate change already is occurring.
To give you an idea of how hard the climate-denial circus has been trying, we present three of its greatest hits so far. (There are dozens more.)
First, in the “Most Sinister” category, there’s the leaked 1998 memo by American Petroleum Institute, the trade association for the oil and gas industry. The memo outlined a secret climate communications plan that included hiring a small band of gadfly scientists to obfuscate the scientific consensus. In part, the API would attempt to “inform” the news media about “uncertainties” in climate science, which in turn would lead the public to question policymakers.
According to the memo, “Victory will be achieved when recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.”
If that sounds familiar, compare it with this line from a 1969 conspiratorial memo by the Brown and Williamson tobacco company for a campaign that recruited similar scientists and public relations operatives: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”
The second greatest hit, in the “Most Replayed” category, was first uttered by Inhofe, the senior senator from Oklahoma, which is one of the nation’s top oil-producing states. Inhofe has received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Big Oil and Big Coal. In 2003, he said in a speech on the Senate floor that “manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
This choice line, reminiscent of the pot calling the kettle black, has been used in a rhetorical technique of indoctrination by repetition. Inhofe and other Republicans, including some from Missouri, routinely repeat it verbatim, much as Trump keeps repeating “witch hunt” and “total hoax” as propaganda to undermine the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion and Russian meddling.
Third, in the “Outrageously Faulty Generalization” category, is the Heartland Institute’s May 2012 Chicago billboard caper. Heartland officials placed a billboard advertisement along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway with a picture of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber. Next to the picture were these words: “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” The billboard, which also featured the institute’s web address, was soon removed.
In a news release, Heartland said it had planned similar billboards showing mass murder Charles Manson and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
“What these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the “mainstream” media, and liberal politicians say about global warming,” the institute said.
What would you expect from a so-called think tank given $736,500 by Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2006, plus other funds from the Koch brothers and other denizens of the “dark money” world? Heartland was only one of the many front groups, websites, bloggers, op-ed letter writers, media commentators, and scientists in the Big-Oil and Big-Coal denier circus.
The hits like these keep on coming, folks. A sucker is born every minute, but you don’t have to be one of them. Keep an eye out for the propaganda, especially over the next few months, as more hoaxers try to win election and go to Washington to “serve” at the side of the Hoaxer-in-Chief and his Big Oil and Big Coal administration.
As you approach the ballot box, consider the urgent need for more politicians who will move forward us on climate. Ask yourself: will he or she help us figure out how to get off carbon?
Talk about family values. Your family’s lives are at stake.
William Allen is a 25-year veteran of professional journalism, including 13 years covering science for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He also spent 2004-2017 teaching science, agricultural and environmental journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He currently is an assistant professor emeritus and still teaches part-time at the university.