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.