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James Hoggan's "Climate Cover-Up": A Summary Review

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"Climate Cover-Up”: A Review (10/30/09)

You’ve been lied to.

The first decade of the new millennium has been the warmest ever--yet you are being told that the world is cooling.

The greenhouse effect was discovered in 1824, and the role that carbon dioxide plays in it in 1860--yet you are being told that the science is too immature.

In 2005 Dr. Naomi Oreskes found not one of 928 published scientific papers taking exception to the scientific consensus on human-induced global climate change, and three years later Dr. Peter Doran found that 97% of active climate researchers agreed that human activity is warming the world’s climate--yet you are being told that there is a scientific “controversy.”


What actually does exist is a disinformation campaign—systematic, well-conceived, well-executed, and above all well-funded. Such is the message of Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade To Deny Global Warming, just published by Greystone Books.

Authors James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore know PR. The former is president of Hoggan and Associates, an award-winning public relations company in Vancouver, Canada, and the latter is a senior writer at the same firm. This insider perspective on the art—and on what should be the ethics—of public relations gives their book a poignant tone. Hoggan is torn between professional admiration on the tactical level, and ethical and professional disgust when he steps back to consider the bigger implications.

James Hoggan Explains Climate Denial "Astroturf"

Hoggan writes:

Public relations is the art of building good relationships. You do that most effectively by earning trust and goodwill among those who are important to you and your business. And in more than thirty years of public relations practice, I have learned that the best way to achieve those goals is to act with integrity and honesty and to make sure everybody know you are doing so.

Of course, lies are darned handy when the truth is something you dare not admit. . . when Exxon gives money to think tanks in support of programs that sow confusion about global warming, that isn’t public relations. It’s not an effort to build or maintain the quality of Exxon’s reputation. It is, rather, a direct interference in the public conversation in a way that serves Exxon’s interest at the expense of the public interest.

But here’s the part that bugs me the most: the people who are taking Exxon’s money are often in public relations. Or they are taking advantage of skills, tactics, and techniques that have been developed and refined in the shadier parts of the public relations industry.

Climate Cover-Up is a carefully researched, detailed, and thoroughly-documented account of the climate change disinformation campaign. Although there is a very brief summary of the relevant science history in Chapter 2, the book is not so much concerned with the science itself. (Instead, Hoggan and Littlemore urge the reader to educate him- or herself on that topic, and provide a few pointers to start.) But Climate Cover-Up does painstakingly trace the flow of money and ideas from Big Energy and friends to you, a member of the much-abused concerned public.

Aerial view of Syncrude's Mildred Lake Plant, Alberta Oil Sands.  The Oil Sands are Canada's beggest emitters of greenhouse gases.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Aerial view of Syncrude's Mildred Lake Plant, Alberta Oil Sands. The Oil Sands are Canada's beggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

It is not always easy to “follow the money”—quite often there is some effort made to launder it by involving legitimate institutions. A case in point, documented in Climate Cover-Up, is that of the “Friends of Science,” an anti-Kyoto Protocol group who solved their fund-raising problems by taking oil-patch money via the Calgary Foundation and a specially-created “Science Education Fund” at the University of Calgary. It was used primarily to fund the speaking and advocacy activities of denialist Tim Ball.

But despite such subterfuges, Hoggan and Littlemore document that Exxon has spent at least $20 million to counter what the scientific literature has to say about global warming since the signing of the Kyoto accord. This money has flowed, directly or indirectly, to a bewildering network of organizations, including the Science & Environment Policy Project, the Cato Institute, the American Council on Science and Health, the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Independent Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition.

Cato Institute, Washington, D.C.  Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Cato Institute, Washington, D.C. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

The potential for personal gain on the part of professional “deniers” is also suggested by the fact that all of the institutions just listed have employed—often concurrently--Dr. Fred S. Singer. (He is described by Hoggan as “a hard-working climate change denier who has done no obvious scientific work in the field for years.”) His career as a climate denialist is prototypical for many others who have followed his footsteps onto multiple payrolls.

Science-for-hire is so accepted in the climate-denial world that at times it bubbles out into the open; in 2006, for instance, the American Enterprise Institute solicited scientists to critique the then-forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. Their offer? $10,000 plus expenses. Naturally, scientists need to be paid—but a broad hint as to employer expectations was offered in the cover letter, which stated:

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. . . the IPCC is susceptible to self-selection bias in its personnel, resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work of the complete Working Group reports.

Less generous was the 2008 offer from the Heartland Institute of $1000 plus an all-expenses-paid trip to New York to any scientist willing to help “generate international media attention to the fact that many scientists believe forecasts of rapid warming and catastrophic events are not supported by sound science, and that expensive campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not necessary or cost-effective.” Less generous, that is, until one considers that no actual scientific work was required. And besides, the Heartland Institute had to set some budget aside for the scholarships offered to elected officials who wished to attend the "International Conference on Climate Change."

New York Marriott Marquis, site of the 2008 "International Conference On Climate Change," organized by the Heartland Institute.

New York Marriott Marquis, site of the 2008 "International Conference On Climate Change," organized by the Heartland Institute.

Also documented in Climate Cover-Up are specific instances of very substantial payments to individuals for what one might term “climate denial services.” There is, for instance, the memo in which Intermountain Rural Electric Association general manager Stanley Lewandowski puts forward the IREA payment of $100,000 to denialist Pat Michaels--another featured speaker for the Heartland conference--as a model for other utilities to follow, saying, “We cannot allow the discussion to be monopolized by the alarmists.”

But the disinformation campaign has not been limited to advocacy; it has on several occasion used coercive tactics to silence, intimadate or punish critics. Both in the United States and Canada, officials friendly to the energy lobbies (who have been such reliable campaign donors) have made attempts—and quite often successful ones—to forbid or discourage government scientists from speaking out on what the science actually says. Figures as prominent as James Hansen and former director of the Center for Disease Control, Julie Gerberding, have been targets; in the latter case, Ms. Gerberding’s 2007 testimony to a Senate Committee was slashed in half by the White House, with references to negative effects of climate change almost entirely eliminated.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC--her Senatorial climate change testimony was severely censored by the White House.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC--her Senatorial climate change testimony was severely censored by the White House.

Another form of coercion is the so-called SLAPP. (The acronym stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”) Of course, it is difficult to be sure of the motives for a lawsuit, so it is equally hard to be sure whether a given lawsuit might qualify as a SLAPP. But Climate Cover-Up outlines three actual cases which serve to illustrate how the concept could work.

The plaintiffs were Fred Singer, Tim Ball, and Stuart Dimmock. The first two we have met; Mr. Dimmock received his fifteen minutes of fame for mounting a court challenge to the presentation in UK classrooms of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I don’t wish to anticipate the stories as they are told in Climate Cover-Up, but it may be said that in two of the three cases the plaintiff was able to derive considerable benefit from their suits. Singer was able to disarm a serious accusation by threatening financial ruin to a young scientist and gained a full decade of PR advantage; Ball, confronted with a determined opponent, “bailed without comment.”

Winner or loser in the Dimmock case?

Winner or loser in the Dimmock case?

Most interesting of all, perhaps, was the Dimmock case. The ruling in the case was somewhat complex, but Dimmock’s two main goals were denied: An Inconvenient Truth was allowed to be shown in UK classrooms, and without the “balancing” film Dimmock proposed, The Great Global Warming Swindle--which the judge likened to presenting a theory that “the moon is made of green cheese.” Yet, though An Inconvenient Truth was adjudged to be “substantially founded upon scientific research and fact,” judicial note was made of nine specific “exaggerations.”

If you have read of this case, did you read that Dimmock actually lost, and that AIT was substantially vindicated? Or did you read stories detailing the “inconvenient errors?” And have you read that, five months after the judgement, it was revealed that the whole effort was conceived by denialist Christopher Walter, also known as “Lord Monckton”--or that it was funded by gravel magnate Robert Durward, founder of the anti-environmental group U.K. Scientific Alliance?

Monckton told the story on the March 4, 2008 Glenn Beck show on CNN--though he appeared to think that the judge had in fact ordered the screening of Swindle.  His stated purpose was to solicit funds for a similar challenge to American showings of the film. He suggested that $2 million ought to do the job; as of now, no such challenge has materialized.

Perhaps none of this would matter so much, were it not that the disregard for truth and accuracy so prevalent amongst the “think tanks” and “junk scientists” who people the pages of Climate Cover-up may really be damaging public discourse.  Sometimes the exaggerations, stretches and fabrications can be comical, as in the Lordly and Nobel Laureate pretensions displayed by Monckton, or as in Tim Ball’s inability to remember just how long he was employed by the University of Manitoba, or in what capacity. Sometimes they seem inconsequential, or sloppy.

But often it seems quite characteristic, even intentional. One thing that Climate Cover-Up makes quite clear is that the goal of the denialist community is not to win a scientific debate. Never mind the nearly total lack of peer-reviewed papers actually challenging the mainstream science; if the goal was scientific, the focus would be on research, not public relations. Instead, we find sums expended on lobbyists—currently Congressional energy lobbyists number roughly four per Congressman. We find expensive PR campaigns, like those mounted by Big Coal during the 2008 Presidential elections—one triumphant memo said, “We nearly turned candidate events into clean coal rallies,” and it is true that they put the words “clean coal” onto every candidate’s lips, including those of President Obama. We find pet “junk scientists” on retainer who have Masters degrees in Health Statistics, or undergraduate degrees in journalism and classics, or doctorates in geography or sociology. We find funding for petitions, but not for laboratories.

The CleanCoal Bus in Denver during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The CleanCoal Bus in Denver during the 2008 presidential campaign.

These choices can only be explained if the goal is to sway public opinion. And it is not necessary to win the public to a positive stance for or against; it is only necessary to create confusion and delay. So there is no advantage for the denialists to check facts, or acknowledge “inconvenient truths.”

And largely, they don’t—Senator Inhofe, for instance, months after the criticism of the Oreskes study had been shown to be false, presented it, entirely intact, as if nothing had happened, on the floor of the US Senate. Fred Singer does everything he can to deny that he ever worked to deny the science showing that tobacco was harmful. Tim Ball said that he “made a point of not trying to find out who pays me,” and perhaps not so coincidentally says also, “to my knowledge, I have never received a nickel from the oil and gas companies.”

The result, Climate Cover-Up tells us, is twofold. We have a dangerous paralysis of the public will to take action on a clear and present danger; and we have a serious degradation of the public discourse itself.  Setting forth the results of a number of polls evaluating public perceptions of trustworthiness, the book continues:

Together, all these polls seem to indicate the following: people don’t trust business; they don’t trust government; and on issues of sustainability at least, half the people don’t even trust one another. No wonder so few people are struggling to make a large personal contribution in the battle to limit the effects of climate change: nobody wants to be a chump. . . Nobody wants to give up their car, change their diet, or limit their consumption if their efforts will be rendered irrelevant by the consumption patterns of those around them.

Mall scene in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Image courtesy Jonathan McIntosh and Wikipedia.

Mall scene in Jakarta, Indonesia. Image courtesy Jonathan McIntosh and Wikipedia.

But all is not doom and gloom. Fixing climate—to borrow the title of the Kunzig and Broeker book on climate change—is not a trivial challenge, but there is reason to think it is much more manageable than denialists of the Bjorn Lomborg school would have us believe:

. . . a June, 2008 report by the McKinsey Global Institute. . . estimates that the macroeconomic costs of what it calls the “carbon revolution” would be between 0.6 and 1.4 percent of GDP by 2030. McKinsey adds, “To put this figure in perspective, if one were to view this spending as a form of insurance against potential damage due to climate change, it might be relevant to compare it to global spending on insurance, which was 3.3 percent of GDP in 2005.”

As perhaps has already become clear, Climate Cover-Up is an important contribution to the ongoing public debate about climate change. The writing is breezy, but the facts are solid. And if those facts are at times depressing, disgusting, dispiriting, or enraging, the book as a whole remains hopeful. Hoggan and Littlemore believe that “There can be a good future if we make it so.” To get there, they encourage us to educate ourselves—not to accept blindly any assertions, including theirs, but to verify facts and credentials. And they encourage action:

If our current politicians won’t take responsibility for dealing with climate change, then we have to find some who will. . . We have to get informed, and we have to get active. Because if we don’t. . . the punishment will be visited on our children and on their children through a world that is unrecognizable, perhaps uninhabitable. . .

So please, be bold. Be courageous. Be positive. Act and demand action. . . . . for this bears repeating: the world is worth saving.

James Hoggan.

James Hoggan.

"Dark Money" Study

Update: 12/24/13

Apparently two things have changed since the publication of Climate Coverup, according to a new paper published in the journal Climatic Change.

First, the money involved has gotten much, much bigger. And second, that money is now being laundered through third-party groups, so that its origin is obscured. For example, historically Exxon-Mobil was a primary donor to the climate cover-up. But since 2007, it has stopped making direct donations to this effort. Have they changed their view, or just started 'laundering' the donations? We don't know.

Here's what the press report has to say:

Organizations that actively block efforts to address climate change are funded by a large network of conservative donors to the tune of nearly $1 billion a year, according to the first in-depth study into the dark money that fuels the denial effort.

The study, published Friday in the journal Climatic Change, analyzed the income of 91 think tanks, advocacy groups, and industry associations, funded by 140 different foundations, that work to oppose action on climate change. The study’s author, Robert Brulle, refers to these organizations as the climate change counter-movement, and concludes that their outsized influence “has not only played a major role in confounding public understanding of climate science, but also successfully delayed meaningful government policy actions to address the issue.”

“It is not just a couple of rogue individuals doing this,” Brulle told the Guardian. “This is a large-scale political effort.”

Brulle goes on to describe this effort as an assault on democracy, since accountability becomes difficult.

I would ask a question: what does it say about the funders, and about the view they are propounding, that they are unwilling to take public responsibility for the 'free speech' which their money buys?

Let me give the last word to the Brulle study--specifically, its concluding paragraph:

With delay and obfuscation as their goals, the U.S. CCCM has been quite successful in recent decades. However, the key actors in this cultural and political conflict are not just the expertswho appear in the media spotlight. The roots of climate-change denial go deeper, because individualsefforts have been bankrolled and directed by organizations that receive sustained support from foundations and funders known for their overall commitments to conservative causes. Thus to fully understand the opposition to climate change legislation, we need to focus on the institutionalized efforts that have built and maintain this organized campaign. Just as in a theatrical show, there are stars in the spotlight. In the drama of climate change, these are often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians, such as Senator James Inhofe. However, they are only the most visible and transparent parts of a larger production. Supporting this effort are directors, script writers, and, most importantly, a series of producers, in the form of conservative foundations. Clarifying the institutional dynamics of the CCCM can aid our understanding of how anthropogenic climate change has been turned into a controversy rather than a scientific fact in the U.S.

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Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on May 11, 2019:

Yes, I've seen this.

But you'll notice that, contrary to the headline provided (from where?), the abstract says nothing whatever about impact on overall temperature records--not surprising, since possible biases due to urban encroachment have been recognized and compensated for since the days of Guy Callendar:

As Callendar put it:

"It is well known that temperatures, especially the night minimum, are a little higher near the centre of a large town than they are in the surrounding country districts; if, therefore, a large number of buildings have accumulated in the vicinity of a station during the period under consideration, the departures at that station would be influenced thereby and a rising trend would be expected.

"To examine this point I have divided the observations into three classes, as follows:—