intheloop/endofthelesson. This the second part of a new mini-series (Part I here) which touches upon a couple of issues in StratCom. Firstly, dirty tricks. We’ll point out some of the time-honoured ploys that are frequently em-ployed in StratCom when actors run out of arguments – predominantly on the tactical level. This is for emancipatory and educational purposes only, of course: Kids, don’t try this at home. Second, we’ll talk about strategy – something that strikes us as not unimportant in the context of strategic communication. Expect to meet good ol’ Clausewitz, but since it’s hard to discuss strategy in abstracto, we’ve decided to do it in concreto, i.e. by commenting on a case: The Climate Warriors. The idea here is, moreover, that StratCom-scholars and students can make a tiny tiny contribution. Not by refuting the arguments, but by pointing out the too-familiar tricks. Believe it or not: practitioners have made their contribution already: http://www.desmogblog.com, run amongst others by PR practitioner Jim Hoggan, was voted into the Top 25 of TIME magazine’s best blogs of 2011. Third, we’ll address the concerted attack on the credibility of science. It is worrying, we believe, that powerful forces in society are actively undermining the credibility of scientific knowledge by means of more or less cleverly crafted StratCom. And we’re not talking about the credibility of postmodernist literature theory here, but about largely uncontroversial or undisputed results in the natural sciences. Climate change denial, our fourth issue, is the prime example, but there are others: the rise of religious fundamentalism and its denial of evolutionary theory; the fact that research on what makes humans happy and content (e.g. more equal societies) is constantly ignored by policy-makers; the way economics has declared itself value-free and has at the same time become highly ideological, etc.
Enuff talk. Here’s the case. The following is our translation from German weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, Nov, 22, 2012 – you can read the original here. We have asked to acquire the copyright for the purpose of this blog.
The Climate Warriors
How industry-financed PR managers trick the world into believing that global warming is a fake. Chronology of an organized lie.
By Anita Blasberg und Kerstin Kohlenberg (translated by intheloop)
(read Part I here)
The year is 1998. Mann is 33 years old. A young researcher who dreams of explaining oscillations in global climate. Together with two colleagues he starts to collate temperature data from thousands of years, analyzing ice core samples, tree barks and probes of corals. The researchers are astonished as they finally see the results in a graph. Until the year 1850 earth’s temperature curve runs almost horizontal. But from the moment humankind begins to burn coal, oil and gas, the curve skyrockets.
A strange chart, Mann thinks: It looks like a lying hockey stick, with a long straight shaft and an upright standing scoop. Mann and his colleagues publish their findings in the journal Nature: ‘The hockey stick’, as their chart is known from now on, catapults them onto the front page of Time Magazine. Michael Mann, shy and unprepared, features in the most important news broadcasts of the country.
The hockey stick proved that climate change is human-made. In the beginning it convinces the conservatives, too. The influential republican senator John McCain and democrat Joseph Lieberman cooperate to draft a bill in order to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. They call it Climate Stewardship Act, a bill for climate responsibility.
The National Academy of Sciences, Americas’ most prestigious academic society, confirms the findings of Mann’s study. 928 climate change-related papers published between 1993 and 2003 arrive at the same conclusion: global warming is caused by humans. The editor in chief of the renowned journal Science calls it the most remarkable consensus in the history of science.
‘The hockey stick’, says Mann, ‘was the worst that could happen to heavy industry.’
And maybe that is the reason why in the year of 2002 a PR-consultant of former president George W. Bush authors the script for a massive counterstrike. In a strategy paper for the White House he writes: ‘Environment maybe constitutes the issue where the Republican Party – and president Bush, in particular – is most vulnerable.’ It was time, therefore, to attack scientists head-on, to sow doubt into voters’ minds and undermine science’s credibility. The debate is almost over, the report concludes, ‘not in our favour.’ But there was still time to find experts, who ‘sympathize with our views.’
Shortly afterwards, Bush assembles a group of advisors staffed by the most powerful representatives of the oil industry. The Republican Party appoints Senator James Inhofe chairman of what becomes the Environment Committee. Inhofe is a 70 year old Republican from Oklahoma. He denounces the Environment Protection Agency, an independent government organization tasked with the implementation of environmental laws, as ‘gestapo-bureaucracy’. Energy companies finance his campaigns. Soon he hires a new PR-strategist: Marc Morano.
intheloop: To turn the tide the counterparty begins with coalition building and re-framing the issue. Why is that? Well, you need somebody who is arguing for your cause in public without being under suspicion to be compromised. And re-framing is essential to disembed an issue from the context where it made sense in the first place. That’s what Edward Bernays did when he labeled cigarettes for women to be torches of freedom.
Bureaucracy in the United States is almost the total opposite of the pure American virtue of freedom. And hey, everybody knows that the Nazis are the worst guys ever. So environmental issues must be part of some Nazi-plot to ruin America. Take up arms, folks…
Inhofe introduces a novelty to Senate proceedings: He chairs so-called Scientific Integrity Hearings. He turns the Senate into a courtroom in which to judge the integrity of scientists. In effect, he puts renowned researchers on trial – researchers whose findings were proven correct and accurate by peer-review more than a hundred times. The prosecutors Inhofe summons, in contrast, are laypersons. Laypersons such as the fiction author Michael Crichton whose latest novel happens to feature corrupt climate change researchers who bring the world to the edge of abyss.
Whether global warming happens or not isn’t supposed to be a matter of facts anymore. The idea is to make it look like an article of faith.
intheloop: Here is another crucial point. You cannot argue about facts. Since human-made climate change was and is a fact proven countless times, denying it was pointless, as it would be pointless to say: ‘The sun won’t rise tomorrow.’ But turning climate change into an article of faith reframed the issue. And doing so on the public stage of a senate hearing gives your cause the needed credibility to make your claim. Furthermore we have to realize, that it was by far not only a question to raise doubt on human authorship of climate change but to strategically deny the existence of climate change at all. Because even if we deny being responsible for it, we could nevertheless reason that it would be wise to do something against it.
Shortly before the senate votes on McCain and Lieberman’s bill on emission trade, Inhofe summons Michael Mann to testify. Inhofe confronts Mann with Willie Soon and David Legates, researchers who took money from industry on several occasions. Up to today Soon has received more than a million dollars by ExxonMobil and other corporations. In a controversial study co-financed by the American Petroleum Institute, he held that Mann’s data are erroneous.
‘In many ways’, Inhofe begins, ‘this study alters the known paradigm.’
‘The climate of the 20th century is neither unusual nor extreme’, Soon testifies.
Then Inhofe asks the attendees whether they agree that increasing emission of carbon dioxide could be advantageous for flora and fauna.
‘I agree’, Soon states.
“I see very few evidence supporting this idea’, says Mann.
‘I tend to agree’, says Legates.
The television broadcast of this tribunal speaks a simple language. One researcher considers global warming a fact, two researchers doubt it. What the TV screen does not show is that the one scientist represents global scientific consensus. The two others are not taken seriously by the scientific community.
intheloop: At this point anyone can do the math: One hesitant guy for global warming, two unhesitant guys against. And hey, even Michael Crichton says so! Staging the debate in the Senate is like killing two birds with one stone. You can drag wavering senators on your side and convince the public that global warming is just some liberal bugaboo. It is Michael Crichton against Michael Mann. And remember that the people want to believe that we can go on without inconvenient change.
You can see U.S. senator Inhofe in action here. You can check who sponsored senator Inhofe’s run for the senate here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Inhofe
55 nay to 43 yea. That is how the vote on the bill turned out in the Senate on October, 30, 2003. The Climate Stewardship Act has failed.
Finally, a short interview with Michael Mann.
End of Part II. Stay tuned.