Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Denial Industry

When I was a kid both my parents smoked. I used to get a buzz from the second-hand smoke from my dad's Export-A's but I never took up smoking myself. In the sixties we started hearing about the damage that smoking caused: lung cancer, asthma, emphysema...
At some point my parents quit. Then we started hearing about the dangers of second-hand smoke - how one person smoking could cause innocent bystanders like one's children or one's co-workers to also get cancer and asthma, and COPD.
It's only been in the last ten to fifteen years that governments have gotten serious about banning smoking from workplaces and public places. But why is that? Were governments insensitive to the needs of the people? Was the information just not available? No, the fact is that tobacco companies hired public relations people and those people advised the tobacco companies to create a new product. This new product was called, "doubt". Companies like Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds created this new product by hiring academics and writers who would work full time attacking the science implicating tobacco, calling it "junk science" in order to create a controversy and sew doubt in the minds of the public.
Wouldn't this deception be obvious to everyone? Not if the people and organizations being funded by the tobacco companies had the appearance of operating independently. So, the "citizens group", The Advancement for Sound Science Coalition, or TASSC was created and funded by Philip Morris. A whole series of "grassroots" organizations were created and smoking bans were delayed and tobacco continued to be hugely profitable.
But smoking is banned in most indoor public places, so didn't we win? Many of the same people and organizations decided to broaden their horizons back in the late nineties. This time they landed grants and funding from Exxon and other big oil companies. The Advancement for Sound Science Coalition got money from Exxon and dove into the global warming denial industry. It created a website called, which,of course, called global warming "junk science." These organizations are still around, still duping people, even though the corporations that sponsored them now claim that they've seen the light and agree that we are causing climate change.
Exxon, the most profitable company in the world funds 124 different organizations with names like: The Heritage Foundation, The Competitive Enterprise Institute, The Free Enterprise Action Institute, The Cato Institute, The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change -- none of which sound like they have anything to do with the oil industry -- but they all have one thing in common. Their publications all deny global warming. The tens of millions that the oil companies invested in global warming denial has paid them many times over in profits.
But now, in 2007 didn't the environmentalists win? Everybody agrees that we're causing global warming, the corporations and politicians have come on side. But all those institutes with "free enterprise" in the title haven't gone away. Their still being supported by the oil and coal industry. And they're still sewing doubt and deception wherever they go. The next time you see an argument about the benefits of carbon-dioxide, or the catastrophic economic effects of reducing carbon dioxide emissions you can bet that it will have originated from big oil.

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