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The Playbook Series: Global Warming

This is a follow on post to “Keep on scammin’ on: The evil brilliance, success and recurrence of The Playbook.” The strategies from The Playbook have been employed by industries that are under threat of losing profits when scientific evidence proves that their product causes significant harm to the public, society or planet in some shape or form. The scientific threat of Global Warming has forced the carbon based fuel industry (coal, gas, oil) to fight back with the Playbook strategies that were initiated and successfully executed by the Tobacco Industry.

Once again, it is interesting to note that in most industry campaigns, and especially Climate Change, employing The Playbook was never really about science or facts.  It was in actuality a political debate about the role of government, and the threat that governmental control of the economy posed to free enterprise and a liberal democracy. These strategies and tactics have kept the carbon based fuel industry protected from the reality of the deadly impact of global warming for decades.

The trigger: In 1988, climate scientist, Dr Hansen, presents to Congress his research from NASA around the greenhouse effect and carbon dioxide emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels and global warming. After the colossal amounts of media coverage, there was a general agreement on governmental responsibility and climate change. Then the fossil fuel industry fought back.

The oil and coal industry successfully argued against acid rain, risks to the ozone layer, greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and climate change for years by employing strategies from The Playbook.

The petroleum industry’s first position was classic: there is no scientific evidence, we do not know enough about it, we need more proof (a delay tactic), and, of course, there is no consensus (surprisingly still used today).

The scientific community responded with “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” by Naomi Oreskes in Science 03 Dec 2004. It analysed existing scientific literature from 928 abstracts published in referenced scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 with the keywords “climate change”. It illustrated that there was indeed a strong consensus among experts regarding the very real existence of anthropogenic global climate change (NASA). Despite the allegations made by some groups that no valid evidence proving that Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities, the scientific community is in overwhelming agreement that the evidence is clear and persuasive.

The petroleum industry’s response was once again classic: they attacked the scientists. Environmental concerns were considered as perceived and presented as new venues for socialism and communism. Environmental scientists were described as creeping communists or watermelons: green on the outside and red on the inside.  These scare tactics became easy ways to draw in more paranoid and nationalistic supporters.

The petroleum industry also employed independent think tanks and supposed subject matter experts to argue against the scientific position. The Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Marshall Institute promoted business interests, “free market” economic policies, and the rollback of environmental, health, safety, and labor protections (Oreskes & Conway, p. 125, 2010).

Various positions and narratives were developed and aggressively marketed by these group including:

  • The earth is not warming.
  • The earth is warming, but it is not due to humans.
  • The earth is warming, and it is due to humans, but it is actually good for the earth (greening of planet earth, good for plants).
  • The earth is warming, and it is due to humans, but the cost to deal with this is prohibitive and would destroy the world economy.

Such dueling think tank “experts” con the media quite frequently. In 1995, the IPCC presented a major paper that supported the scientists’ anthropogenic global warming position.  The lead convening author Ben Santer wrote, “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”. The industry reaction was to mock and ridicule these scientists and release their contact information to the public which led them to receive eventual death threats.In 1997, the Kyoto negotiations gave the appearance of scientific progress and acceptance but were countered by the Oregon Petition presented in 1998, and again in 2007. 31,000 US “scientists” signed off on the following:

We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.

Curiously, these “scientists” included Spice Girls, Michael J. Fox, Charles Darwin, and fictional characters from the film Star Wars.  The National Academy publicly disavowed the position… yet it is still surprisingly referred to as a credible source.

In 2006, the film An Inconvenient Truth was released and really helped bolster global warming awareness.  It was a major blow to the fossil fuel industry and it was a precursor to the 2009 Copenhagen Summit and agreement where it seemed as though the United States was on board.  However, some stolen emails were released out of context, referring to the scientists as part of a “Climategate” scandal.  After three independent investigations, there was no evidence of impropriety found.

In 2015, COP 21 in Paris was a success. At this landmark climate conference in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal and legally-binding global climate deal.

Despite this milestone, we saw this a couple of months later:

       

 

At this juncture the carbon based fuel industry has, just like the tobacco industry, started to run out of options with using the playbook.

“A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous and then dismissed as trivial, until finally, it becomes what everybody knows.” William James, 1879

As the US is one of the more interesting case studies for popular perception of global warming, the following Gallup poll provided interesting results:

  • Partisan gaps across global-warming measures slightly wider than in 2017
  • Democrats view global warming seriously; Republicans view it skeptically
  • 69% of Republicans, 4% Democrats say global warming is exaggerated

Majorities of Americans overall say most scientists think global warming is occurring (66%), it is caused by human activities (64%) and its effects have begun (60%). Yet, the net effect of increased political polarization over the past year is that opinions on each of these measures have edged down slightly.

At the same time, the 45% who think global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime is the highest percentage recorded for this measure since Gallup first asked the question in 1997. This is the only issue that saw increased concern among both major party groups.

However, a new advocate in politics (possibly fueled by lobbyists) has helped due to the extreme political perspective about the role of government, and the threat that governmental control of the economy posed to free enterprise and a liberal democracy:

President Donald Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax,” may have contributed to this widening divide by reversing a number of government actions to address the issue. These included the announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, the removal of climate change from the list of top U.S. national security threats and the elimination of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” from U.S. government websites and lexicons.

REFERENCES

Bad Science: A Resource Book, 26 March 1993, BN: 2074143969, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library.  https://industrydocuments.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/docs/#id=qmcj0065

Barnes, R., & Mufson, S. (2015). Supreme Court freezes Obama plan to limit carbon emissions. Retrieved February 10, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-freezes-obama-plan-to-limit-carbon-emissions/2016/02/09/ac9dfad8-cf85-11e5-abc9-ea152f0b9561_story.html

Bell, L. (2012). That Scientific Global Warming Consensus…Not! Retrieved February 14, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2012/07/17/that-scientific-global-warming-consensus-not/#32e39d0c1690

Brenan, Megan & Saad, Lydia (March 28, 2018). Global Warming Concern Steady Despite Some Partisan Shifts. Gallup. https://news.gallup.com/poll/231530/global-warming-concern-steady-despite-partisan-shifts.aspx

Brownell, K. D., & Warner, K. E. (2009). The perils of ignoring history: Big Tobacco played dirty and millions died. How similar is Big Food? The Milbank Quarterly, 87(1), 259–94. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2009.00555.x. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2879177/

Carrington, D. (2014). “Climategate” had only fleeting effect on global warming scepticism. Retrieved February 15, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/20/climategate-longterm-level-climate-change-scepticism

Chomsky, N. (2011). Noam Chomsky: How Climate Change Became a “Liberal Hoax.” Retrieved February 11, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJUA4cm0Rck

Gottesdiener, L. (2012). 10 Brilliant Quotes by Noam Chomsky on How Media Really Operates in America – Chomsky’s observations about propaganda and corporate media are always useful to keep in mind. Retrieved February 10, 2016, from http://www.alternet.org/media/10-brilliant-quotes-noam-chomsky-how-media-really-operates-america

Grandia, K. (2011). The 30,000 Global Warming Petition Is Easily-Debunked Propaganda. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-grandia/the-30000-global-warming_b_243092.html

LIPTAK, A., & DAVENPORT, C. (2015). Supreme Court Deals Blow to Obama’s Efforts to Regulate Coal Emissions. Retrieved February 10, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/10/us/politics/supreme-court-blocks-obama-epa-coal-emissions-regulations.html?emc=edit_na_20160209&nlid=71380912&ref=headline

Michaels, D. (2008). Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from http://www.amazon.com/Doubt-Their-Product-Industrys-Threatens-ebook/dp/B0058C6FI6/ref=mt_kindle?_encoding=UTF8&me=

Moyers, B. (2014). The Relentless Attack on Climate Scientist Ben Santer. Retrieved February 12, 2016, from http://billmoyers.com/2014/05/16/the-relentless-attack-of-climate-scientist-ben-santer/

No Author (April 18, 2015). “Follow the money”: the finances of global warming, vaccines, and GMOs. The Logic of Science. https://thelogicofscience.com/2015/04/18/follow-the-money-the-finances-of-global-warming-vaccines-and-gmos/

Nuccitelli, D. (2015). Fossil fuel industry caught taking a page out of the tobacco playbook. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/mar/02/fossil-fuel-industry-caught-taking-a-page-out-of-the-tobacco-playbook

Oreskes, Naomi; Conway, Erik M. (2010). Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition. http://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Obscured/dp/1608193942/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1455072048&sr=8-1&keywords=Merchants+of+Doubt%3A+How+a+Handful+of+Scientists+Obscured+the+Truth+on+Issues+from+Tobacco+Smoke+to+Global+Warming

Oreskes, N. (2004). Beyond the ivory tower. The scientific consensus on climate change. Science (New York, N.Y.), 306(5702), 1686. doi:10.1126/science.1103618. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full

Poynter Institute. (2014). Merchants of Doubt – College Study Guide. Retrieved February 10, 2016, from http://www.takepart.com/sites/default/files/2014-03-06 Merchants of Doubt – College Study Guide.pdf

Readfearn, G. (2014). Australia’s renewables adviser scrapes the bottom of the climate denialist barrel. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2014/feb/24/climate-change-dick-warburton-sceptic-australia-renewable-energy-target-review

Seccombe, M. (2015). Tobacco industry playbook used to kill renewables. Retrieved February 10, 2016, from https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2015/06/27/tobacco-industry-playbook-used-kill-renewables/14353272002054

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Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

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