Action needed to stop ‘climate deniers’ from winning the information war

May 27, 2013

Action needed to stop ‘climate deniers’ from winning the information war

By Nick Fillmore

The global warming deniers are at it again, and it is high time that the environmental movement in Canada and the United States launched an organized campaign to expose these scientific community charlatans.

The mainstream business media, which bows to corporate interests in both countries, is quick to publish interviews and opinion articles by the tiny percentage of scientists who deny that global warming exists. Some say that it has not been proven that human activity damages the environment. Some bizarrely claim that emissions of carbon dioxide are beneficial to the planet. “No Need to Panic About Global Warming”, was the headline for an opinion article that appeared on May 19 in The Wall Street Journal, the business newspaper most trusted by the business community.

“Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize’ the world's economy,” said the opinion piece.

The most telling point about the article is that the group behind its’ publication could get only 16 scientists and academics from around the world to sign it.

These kinds of denials, which appear in all of North America’s business publications, are a message to the corporate community that “the jury is still out” on global warming. They believe it is perfectly okay for them to continue to carry on business as usual, despite the protests of “environmental nuts.”

The business community has overwhelming power and influence in both countries, and we may not see truly effective action concerning climate change until many more business executives are convinced the changes are hurting both business and society.

Articles like the one in the Journal appear in mainstream media daily and go unchallenged. The Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a western Canadian neo-liberal lobby organization, published the first of five articles about Canada’s nice and clean environment.

The series, which the Foundation trots out and slightly updates every two years, says that Canada has become “cleaner and greener.” The subliminal-like message of the series is that Canada’s tar sands mining is not a major polluter. This is exactly the kind of propaganda the energy industry and Canada’s Conservative government want to see.

The series is sent out free to media organizations and reached a large potential audience when it was picked up by the National Post’s George Jonas, sporting the headline: “The environmentalists need to stop crying wolf.” Part one also showed up on some small Canadian sites, including Troy Media , and the Calgary Beacon on-line news site, and the home site of the Ontario Libertarian Party.

On the weekend, The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business correspondent in Europe, Eric Reguly, indicated that he believed in climate change, but admitted he has no idea of the causes: “We can argue until we turn blue in the face whether anthropomorphic carbon dioxide emissions are to blame for rapid climate change . . . .” “Arguing about the precise causes of climate changes – angry gods, CO2, water vapour, sun spots, terrorist plots – is becoming a waste of time when it is apparent to any sentient human that the climate is changing fast and dangerously.”

The truth is that analysis of hundreds of research studies clearly shows that the number of research papers rejecting AGW (anthropogenic global warming) is “a miniscule proportion of the published research . . . .” An overwhelming percentage – 97 per cent – endorse the scientific consensus on AGW.

Yet, the environmental movement is seriously losing the battle with the climate change deniers. According to an April poll by Pew research, only 33 per cent of Americans say that global warming is a very serious problem. Only 42 per cent agreed that the warming was mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels.

Lies appearing in mainstream media about the science surrounding climate change must be stopped! This unfounded propaganda, much of it funded by the energy industry, is a major reason why not enough progress is being made in attacking the causes of global warming.

Thousands of environmental networks and organizations need to divert some of their attention away from their normal work and focus more on winning the information war.

The movement has many effective communications systems that could be used to combat disinformation as well as help journalists better understand the realities of global warming.

A small number of effective yet not costly activities could be developed. For instance, networks or groups could be organized so that, when significantly damaging and unfounded articles appear in media, they are challenged within hours with emails, phone calls or visits from environmental advocates.

Among other possible activities, some acting as either “good cop or bad cop,” could include:

* After particularly damaging articles appear, demand equal space for rebuttal,

* Conduct content analysis of some news organizations and write about the findings,

* Provide media houses with a list of organizations known to provide misleading information,

* Meet with editorial boards to discuss the findings and point out the facts,

* Develop allies in influential media organizations and trade organizations who will join your campaigns,

* Identify and widely praise news organizations that do not publish irresponsible materials,

Until the environmental movement wins the information war, it is unlikely it will win the most important war: Slowing and defeating global warming.

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and social activist. His work at the CBC over more than 30 years included the broadcast of several investigative documentaries, some concerning key environmental issues. Feedback appreciated: Blog: