Once upon a whim, I tossed a burning match into the clothes dryer. Nothing much happened. When I reached inside to retrieve the spent stick, a wisp of chemically stinky smoke coiled out. But that was it. On the whole, it was a non-event.
Or so I thought.
Later that morn, my mother summoned her delinquent horde. She loomed above us like a judge, one hand on hip, the other clutching a plastic lattice-thingy all drooping and blackened from exposure to heat - Exhibit A, the filter from her dryer. She wished to know whodunnit.
Each of us shook our heads, I thought with equal innocence. But soon all eyes converged upon me. Perhaps the shaking of my head had been less convincing than the trembling of my knees, or perhaps it was the stench of conscience steaming from my body and the expression of imminent puking upon my marble-white face.
Initially, Mum just wanted me to realize it had been dangerous and therefore dumb. But then I pushed the big red button.
It wasn’t me, I said. It wasn’t, it wasn’t, it wasn’t, it wasn’t.
A cataclysm materialized on the heels of those five boldfaced lies. As the truth erupted around me, I collapsed into a quivering rubble of tears.
And so, just as confrontation with the evidence exposed my guilt, confrontation with clarity exposes the theme of this article. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Best simply to own up and get on with life.
Back in 1953, confronted with evidence that its product was killing people, the tobacco industry hired a public relations firm. As they would. More than forty years on, the heads of big tobacco were still propagating the illusion that the science was inconclusive. Did smoking cause cancer? Well, would come the answer, we just don’t know…
The PR strategy was to manufacture doubt. It worked so well that other questionable industries began dipping into the same bag of tricks. Asbestos, Fire Retardants and Fossil Fuels have since deceived us in the same way, and with similar success.
One tried and tested dodge works just like the Three-card Monte. In this classic con, a dealer enlists apparently independent people called shills to convince a mark to bet. The shills appear to win, so the mark believes they can too. The appearance of legitimacy is key.
In terms of fossil fuels, it means that we encounter “expert” representatives of think tanks and “citizen groups” saying things like, “The scientific evidence does not support the notion that humans are causing a global warming crisis” or “There’s no scientific basis for alarm” or, irony of ironies, “Climate scientists have a political agenda and they’re using science to drive that agenda.”
The claim to expertise drives the deception. Doubt is the product. The goal is to delay action.
Is there any doubt among scientists? Well, no. An examination of every paper published between 1992 and 2002 which included “global climate change” as a keyword phrase revealed that all nine-hundred and twenty-eight agreed that global warming is a consequence of human activity.
Not one disagreed. That’s zilch. Diddly. And that was thirteen years ago.
The captains of carbon are wrong and they know it. They’re using shills to project the appearance of legitimacy while conning as much as they can from the marks.
They lack the maturity to own up. The question is what to do about it. Well, as magician Jamy Swiss points out, “a trick revealed is never concealed,” so find out how the illusion works and confront them.
Watch Merchants of Doubt: takepart.com/doubt.
Geir Lundestad was Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute from 1990 to 2014. Now he has a book to spruik, and he’s been doing the rounds of the media, serving up the publishing business’s equivalent of supermarket tastings. For me, it’s been a bit like shopping at Costco, which - American readers will be happily aware - is a canny route to a free lunch.
In 1994 the Nobel Peace Prize went to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. The situation could easily have deteriorated into farce, but, fortunately, the three men got along. The team on the award committee didn’t gel nearly so well, with one member taking his bat and ball and storming off in protest.
The evening of the award banquet, Mr Lundestad trooped over to the Arafats’ suite to escort the couple to the do. They weren’t quite ready, and Yasser’s wife, Suha, asked Geir to wait a few minutes as he’d caught them smack bang in the midst of their favorite activity.
So Geir went into the living room to bide his time, only to find Yasser chilling on the couch, watching an episode of Tom and Jerry, his favourite cartoon. “It was made very clear that they intended to watch until the end,” Lundestad says.
And so, just as Tom met the sharp edge of Jerry’s ingenuity, no doubt much to Yasser and Suha’s delight, we meet the theme of this article. People do the most surprising things.
I was certainly surprised to learn that Bryony Worthington, professional climate and energy analyst, formerly of Friends of the Earth and current UK shadow energy minister, supports the development of a fracking industry.
“We have to be realistic. We are going to be using gas for a long time because of the huge role it plays for heating homes and for industry,” she says. To be sure, she insists development should go ahead only if emissions are captured and stored.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the system of bagging-up carbon and forcing it into rocks underground. It’s the environmental equivalent of sweeping the dirt under the carpet, allowing the captains of carbon to go on trashing the house until they’ve wrung every last dollar from fossil fuels.
The way people talk about CCS, you’d think it a. works, b. is economically viable and c. cheaper than renewables, each of which d. ain’t true. Friends of the Earth’s director, Craig Bennett, says, “Betting everything on carbon capture and storage is highly risky… It’s increasingly looking like a pipe dream.”
I’m sure he’s right - but why should we believe him? Friends of the Earth have a serious credibility problem thanks to Bryony Worthington. Here’s a prominent environmentalist advocating massive public investment in a high-carbon future when the science is clear that most of the world’s fossil fuels must remain unburned if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. If anyone should be aware of the facts, it is the Baroness.
Is it coincidence that this is happening just as the UK government is cutting investment in renewable projects? I don’t know, but I suspect that the serious coal and gas dollars invested of late in lobbying US governments are being matched across the pond.
Perhaps the captains of carbon are playing the shadow minister for a fool, working the levers of power, discrediting the environmental movement in the process and laughing all the way to the Bahamas.
Is that paranoid? Maybe. But if Yasser Arafat would rather watch Tom and Jerry than attend the Nobel Prize banquet, I’d say pretty much anything is possible.