|Book Review: Climate
James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Greystone Books (29 Sep 2009)
In the last few weeks, during the lead-up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference, the activity level within the anti-climate science sector has been cranked up by a couple of gears, including the now notorious hacking of the email server at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (which some people honestly appear to believe is responsible for all climate-related policy worldwide - ho hum!).
The general public and the scientific community are as different as chalk and cheese. The public have information communicated to them via the media, which is state-owned or privately-owned depending on where one lives in the world. That such information is often biased according to the leanings of the government or the owner of the controlling corporation is something we live with. The scientific community circulates information via the publication in journals of peer-reviewed papers that are subject to hard scrutiny by other workers in each specialised discipline. Bad papers do get published, but they get pretty thoroughly taken apart post-publication. Often, the papers that are published in the peer-reviewed journals are technically inaccessible except to those scientists working in that specialised field. To you or me, they are unintelligible - OK as a geologist with a speciality in minerals I can understand geological papers but I soon run into problems with ones about particle physics!
The tricky bit is the bridge between the public and scientific worlds. Here, there exists the opportunity to inform, in a precise manner, what the latest science is saying, whether it is climatology or epidemiology that is in the news. However, there also exists the opportunity to distort, deliberately mislead and create public confusion. It is that aspect which this fascinating book takes up.
Climate Cover-up was written by a partner in a Canadian PR firm, James Hoggan. This is an important point. Here, we have a PR insider looking at a part of his own industry. And this is rather apt, for as the book reveals, the "crusade to deny global warming" is something that exists on an industrial scale.
If you deny something, you assert that it is not true. Deniers have been around for centuries before the word got tagged to people who see fit to assert that the Holocaust did not happen. It is an ancient human trait - and quite understandable given that if one goes along believing that all is well, when clearly it isn't, one tends to suffer less worry and stress. Blissful ignorance is another very old term that describes this state of being quite neatly.
The book charts the emergence during the 1990s of organised, industrial-scale climate change denial, the PR machines that drove this industry and the huge corporate giants and their megabucks behind it. It sets out in detail their campaign plans and follows the history of the groups that were created to steer and promote the campaign.
Organised denial and manipulation of public opinion are as old as the hills, of course. During the emergence of science that found links between smoking and severe health problems, the tobacco industry went on the anti-science offensive with campaigns involving several prominent names. Interesting now to see some of the same people cropping up in connection with climate change denial. The book explores the details of some of the organisations created with the specific mission of sowing public and political confusion over climate science - including their "mission statements", which might, if you have formed an opinion on climate change based on what you have seen in the media, make you sit up and realise you've been had over big style!
The use of "experts" is well-charted - in some cases supposed scientists who turn out to have no relevant qualifications, in others people who are scientists but are from totally unrelated disciplines. It should be understood that scientists from one discipline are typically unlikely to have much in-depth knowledge of another - i.e. a geologist is unlikely to know much molecular biology unless there is some very specific reason why their specialisation within geology overlaps with biology - as in palaeontology, the study of fossils. To finish with, I will quote a very useful piece of advice from towards the end of the book that should be implemented in future when anybody is cited as "an expert":
1) Does this "expert" have relevant credentials? For example, have they trained in an area of science that is at the very least connected to climatology or atmospheric physics?
2) If an "expert" is talking about science, are they still practicing science? Are they still conducting research and publishing in legitimate peer-reviewed journals? Or are all of their 'scientific" pronouncements appearing on newspaper opinion pages, edited by people who think it's just great to provoke debate?
3) Is this "expert"taking money from vested interests or is he or she associated with ideological think tanks - the people who rely for their employment on promoting the agenda of their major funders?
I can wholeheartedly recommend this book as essential reading in order to understand what is going on in the often turbulent world of climate change politics. Some people seem to think that climate change is a conspiracy dreamed up between left-wing governments and scientists in order to raise taxes (a pretty impressive achievement to bring about on a country-by-country basis globally, one might think). But conspiracy theorists need not worry. There IS a conspiracy for them after all, and this book spells it out.
John Mason, 29/11/2009