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 endofthelesson)
The Climate-Warriors, Part 5
The year is 2009. The Financial Crisis has hit media hard. Publishing houses and broadcasters downsize. Every third U.S. news-journalist loses his job. The few left don’t have the time to check facts. CNN disbands its science-unit. Weather forecast announcer Chad Meyers is the resident expert for climate change now. Meyers says: ‘It’s hubris to think we humans can affect global climate in such a way.’
endofthelesson: Klaus Kocks, the enfant terrible of the public relations-scene in Germany, coined the immortal phrase that the colourful flower of public relations grows out of the dung-heap of journalism (“Die bunte Blume der PR blueht auf dem Misthaufen des Journalismus”; ZAPP, 17.02.2010). Communication and media researchers in the Western democracies have repeatedly pointed out that the succession of ‘media crises’ during the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st hollowed out journalism to a dangerous degree. Journalism, in general, simply isn’t capable of doing the job the public somehow expects it to do anymore. But this is not just a post-democratic condition. Media crises are not a force of nature. There is a reason. And the reason, folks, is the simple fact that WE, the once-citizens and now-consumers, are not willing to pay. We’re not willing to pay the full price for quality journalism. Most of us, myself included, are not even willing to devote a decent amount of time and attention to quality journalism. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling to read about the rotten state of the world all the time. So I watch Prince Harry talking about flying the Apache gunship instead.
What is bad for readers and viewers is good for Marc Morano: Many editorial offices now pursue the strategy to neutralize every material statement with a counter-statement claiming the opposite. So, every statement by a climate researcher is counterbalanced by the statement of a climate-change denier – and that saves the press the trouble to provide an answer to the question who’s right and who’s wrong.
Marc Morano keeps a database of several thousand e-mail-addresses of journalists on his laptop. 19 different lists, sorted by categories such as ‘columnists’, ‘TV moderators’, ‘supra-regional science editors’ (‘not as accessible as the others’), ‘local newspaper’ (‘always take something’).
It’s November, 17, 2009. Michael Mann celebrates Thanksgiving with this family. At 9.57 pm a person with the pseudonym ‘FOIA’ blogs on a blog called Air Vent. FOIA reveals the address of a server from which one can download 1000 private e-mails of the most prominent climate researchers world-wide: Michael Mann included.
What happened? Unknown hackers accessed the server of the climate research unit of the University of East Anglia and downloaded private e-mails and documents. Everything stands ready for inspection in the net, just in time for the UN Climate Conference starting at the beginning of December 2009 in Copenhagen.
At that time, Marc Morano was sitting in the back of a rented car driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. His mobile phone rings. He is in California to agitate against a new environmental law. An acquaintance tells him about the hacked mails. Crazy stuff, some of it! In one e-mail, Michael Mann writes that he uses ‘a trick’ to conceal sinking temperatures.
A trick? That can only mean one thing: that the whole business of global warming is a gigantic fake.
Soon the seeming ‘scandal’ has a name: Climategate. Marc Morano puts a so-called feeder onto his webpage. The program alerts him to everything that is written about the researchers’ mails. He collects headlines and assembles them on his own page climatedepot.com – linked to 1,700 other pages. ‘The greatest scandal of modern science,’ he types. Other bloggers link his texts with other texts. These are then linked to others. Like a man possessed, Morano works through the night. Until Climategate has spread through the Google-Universe like a dense web. In only two weeks’ time, the story of the allegedly corrupt climate researchers spreads to 25 million internet pages all over the globe.
Few journalists have bothered to read the original e-mails, but nearly all gratefully accept Morano’s interpretation: ‘The last nail in global warming’s coffin.’ Fox News goes on day after day about the ‘Waterloo of global warming.’ The British newspaper Daily Telegraph warns its readers: ‘If you hold stock of renewable energy companies, divest NOW!’ Even the well-regarded magazine The Atlantic writes disgustedly: ‘The stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering’.
The World Climate Conference in Copenhagen ends inconclusively. No results. President Obama’s long-awaited climate protection act fails in the U.S. Senate. A couple of weeks later, in spring 2010, congressional investigation committees acquit the climate researchers fully and completely. The incriminating passages were taken out of context. The ‘trick’ Michael Mann wrote about pertains to the perfectly admissible solution of a statistical problem. The data contain no irregularities. This news, too, makes it into the media. But it is confined to the back pages.
Not even half of the U.S. population believes in global warming anymore.
‘Morano made a good job of it,’ Michael Mann says back in his office in autumn 2012. Morano has changed the narration of denial. It’s not just that climate researchers are wrong. They are criminals who consciously and deliberately lie to the public. Large parts of the public believe Morano’s version.
In August 2010, Mann opens a letter in his office. White powder trickles out. The police evacuate the building: suspicion of a chemical attack. The powder turns out to be flour. But Mann realizes that his life is never going to be the same again. The Commonwealth Foundation, a foundation from Philadelphia advocating ‘the free market’, demands that Pennsylvania State University should dismiss Mann. They organize demonstrations on campus, almost daily. A group financed by the coal industry calls for boycotts of Mann’s lectures. Videos with a ridiculous singing caricature of Mann circulate on YouTube – they are produced by a PR-firm of the Republican Party in Washington. When Mann holds a lecture, there are suddenly people in the audience holding up hangman’s nooses. Mann applies for a new telephone number. Later he admits to concealing most of the threatening letters from his wife.
In collaboration with other climate researchers, Mann now runs his own website: www. realclimate.org. They counter every accusation levelled against them, but they are hopelessly outgunned. The scientists have to prove whatever they say. Their opponents just claim whatever. The scientists are forced to proceed with academic thoroughness; their antagonists just need an internet connection. And that is how a small group of radicals forces the international scientific community on the defensive. The climate deniers are an illusionary giant, inflated to gigantic proportions by newspapers and broadcasters – and they have help from the legal system.
endofthelesson: Once again, the same argument. Yes, you can blame Morano in the first place, the media in the second. But let’s just face up to the fact that the No. 1 reason why Mr. Morano’s stuff works is that we want to believe The oil industry is playing for time, and so are a lot of us. The older we are, the more so probably. If radical changes have to be made, please postpone them till I’ve paid back my mortgage, till I’m safely pensioned off on old-industrial-world-terms – or till I’m dead. Let future generations save the planet, please.
In 2010, Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general of Virginia, starts legal proceedings in order to see whether Mann can be stripped of his academic titles. Cuccinelli, a Republican, demands that the University of Virginia, Mann’s erstwhile employer, discloses all e-mails, documents and data related to Mann. Only in March 2012 a court decides in Mann’s favour.
Three months later, on June, 4, 2012, Michael Mann stands in a blue TV studio of MSNBC. The show is called Now with Alex Wagner. Mann leans against a standing desk, highly concentrated. ‘For several years now, radical groups financed by heavy industry have been trying to discredit me. They have only one goal: to forestall political action.’ Since the beginning of the year, Mann tours TV shows and universities. He is interviewed by radio and newspapers. He has turned his story into a book: The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. Small radio shows, small newspapers – those are the only ones who are interested. He doesn’t produce frontline news, but he formulates precisely and clearly.
endofthelesson: The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines is practically the long-version of this article, told from Michael Mann’s perspective. It not only contains an easily-read account of man-made climate change by one of the planet’s foremost climate researchers but is required reading for everyone who needs to learn about the array of tricks employed in strategic communication of the dirtiest kind. Definitely disturbing and unsettling – and probably Chuck-Norris-approved. Merchants of Doubt, by historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway, widens the perspective to a couple of other strategic communication initatives where doubt was the product.
The book contains a lucid analysis of the issue in a nutshell – an analysis which should have come from a strategic communications-scholar.
“In the 1990s, as the scientific evidence for human-caused global warming grew stronger and calls for action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions grew louder, fossil fuel industry executives made a critical decision. Rather than concede the potential threat climate change posed and the necessity of ultimately reducing fossil fuel use, they would instead engage in a massive, media-savvy public relations campaign. The strategy was simple: While presenting a seemingly forward-thinking, pro-environmental public face, oil companies and allied economic and political interests would, behind the scenes, use various means to sow doubt about the validity of the underlying science on climate change. It was a finely tuned balancing act intended to forestall any governmental policy action to regulate greenhouse gas emissions while seeking to maintain a positive corporate image.”
Mann, Michael (2012-01-24). The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (p. 59). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.
Now here’s a thought: Could it be that this is what educated people outside the subject really think about public relations? Could it be that thinking folks don’t buy the stuff about Corporate Social Responsibility anymore? Could it be that we are the only ones still buying it? Think about it next time you open a textbook extolling the virtues of CSR.
Mann has stepped on stage in order to beat Marc Morano at his own game: communication.
Mann is still shy. On camera he stiffens up. But he is determined to strike back. Recently he received another anonymous mail. It read: ‘You and your colleagues should be shot, quartered and fed to the pigs – together with your damned families.’ When Mann makes public appearances he is protected by police. Several of his colleagues had their offices relocated to high-security tracts – behind doors which can be only opened with secret codes.
Why does he go through this? Mann tells about his seven-year-old-daughter. ‘For her’, he says. ‘For her this fight has to be taken on. For her and for her children.’
Mann’s enemies also think about the children. The Heartland Institute paid an advisor of the US Department of Energy 100,000 dollars to produce an alternative curriculum that makes it clear to kids that climate change is by no means proven.
In the meanwhile, Marc Morano devotes his energies to the fight against renewable energy. ‘Global warming is through in Washington,’ he says. Doha is the first Climate Conference he does not bother to attend. He deems the war won.
endofthelesson: I can’t resist bringing in Marc Morano again. Here he is in a debate with Michael Brune from the Sierra Club. Note that Michael Brune, the guy from the Sierra Club, pursues a very different strategy from those treehuggers simply demanding: WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING! He portrays green technology and green economy as the way into the future – WHICH CREATES JOBS! Hence the oil industry, and Brune makes clear to the audience that Morano is financed by the oil industry, is portrayed as clinging to the old world and impeding progress.
End of Part V. Stay tuned for the final part.