Robyn Williams: Climate change science: the evidence is clear

with 115 comments: one referred us to Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore. Sounds interesting. There’s an extended interview with the author here.

JAMES HOGGAN:  … Our book—I’m a PR guy of about thirty years, and I kind of stumbled across this campaign, what I would call a kind of confusion campaign, when I was doing some reading. And we’ve documented this two-decade-long campaign by industry and Canada and the United States, that the energy industry basically designed to confuse the public about climate change and give people the sense that there’s a debate about the science of climate change. And my reason for writing this book is that I don’t think that PR people and industry front groups should be determining what our policies are in Canada and the United States on solving climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: So, outline the strategy. What was the corporate strategy to do this? And name names.

JAMES HOGGAN: Well, the first thing was to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on everything from focus groups to very sophisticated messaging to setting up groups of pseudoscientists to confuse the public about—to create the impression that there was actually a debate, where there was none.

In the—two decades ago, there was a group called the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition that was put together by Philip Morris. They were having problems, as we know, with public credibility, so they decided to invite some friends to join this fight, what became a fight against scientists. And one of the first companies they invited was Exxon Mobil. And this was kind of the beginning of these front groups in this war on science that has evolved and continues today with front groups all over the United States…

JAMES HOGGAN: Yeah, well, I mean, one of the things that they did was they basically started to create this impression that there was a scientific debate. There was an enormous amount of research done in this area to—you know, they do these focus groups, and they find out that your average person thinks that there’s always a debate in science. So, rather than kind of fighting and saying climate change isn’t happening, let’s just say we don’t know if it’s happening. There’s a debate.

Now, that debate actually wasn’t taking place in the scientific community; it was actually taking place in the news media, in the mainstream news media. And just by repeating it, having enough money to repeat these kinds of messages over and over again, people start to become susceptible to this. The root of all this, this campaign, is the fact that corporations have less and less credibility as the years roll along, particularly over the past couple of decades…

The more we know about these kinds of groups and these kinds of efforts, the less they work. And I would just encourage journalists to ask these people whether or not they’re actually practicing climate science, whether they have—they are climate scientists, and who they’re taking money from. Start to ask these questions and shed light on these people, they’ll be far less effective…

As Robyn Williams concludes:

…why does the opposite seem to prevail? Three reasons, I suggest.

One is that the scientists themselves have been naive, even lazy. When I asked Tim Flannery and Philip Campbell, editor of the journal Nature, their opinion of so called deniers like Ian Plimer, or the incongruous toff Lord Monkton, they just shrugged and said "the climate debate has moved on." Well, it hasn’t. It’s gone backwards. Not least because the scientists, in the main, have been passive, restrained and much too polite. And after Climategate – too much mea culpa. It’s time for them to get their skates on. To be aggressive in the cause of truth.

After the Climategate debacle and theft of the personal emails of climatologists going back over 10 years the journal Nature finally tackled the smear that science was faking its data.

"This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country’s much needed climate bill. Nothing in the emails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real – or that human activities are almost certainly the cause."

The paradox is that allowing this chaos to continue is likely to delay, catastrophically, any moves to combat climate change itself.

Another reason we hear the voices of the extreme the loudest is that the new media allow many citizens to occupy their own nether world where they need never come across an opinion that conflicts with their own.

A third reason extremists seem to dominate has been the powerful use of lobby groups. Now, it so happens that we keep well away from lobbyists in our science broadcasting, left or right, green or brown, because they are unstoppable, often shameless and rarely alter their messages, despite the evidence.

We go by published research results, in top journals and commentators with a reputation for probity … the evidence is clear. We need to change policy and to do so urgently.

Robyn Williams has been hosting the ABC Radio National Science Show for yonks…

Update 11 March

See Climate change is a fact, says China. Wade through the discussion thread as well.