Public relations firms are expensive, but for big corporations doing bad stuff to the public, PR is a good investment.
For more than half a century, PR guys have been smart in shielding their corporate clients from harm, earning their fees many times over by helping keep profits high for corporate poisoners and corporate polluters.
Take cigarettes, for example. In the 1980s and 1990s, after everyone accepted that smoking caused cancer, the tobacco industry continued to fight back — this time, on the issue of second-hand smoke.
Tobacco companies paid PR guys to nitpick scientific studies on the dangers of inhaling somebody else’s smoke, casting doubt on the validity of the science. Why? They wanted to fend off new limits on smoking in public. And for a couple decades, it worked.
And now PR agencies are at it again to protect a new generation of corporate bad guys from an angry public.
Just listen to David Michaels, a safety and health official with Obama administration, who’s an old hand at dealing with companies that want to deflect criticism of the dangers of their products, especially pharmaceuticals. In his 2008 book Doubt Is Their Product, Michaels writes:
Industry has learned that debating the science is much easier and more effective than debating the policy. In field after field, year after year, conclusions that might support regulation are always disputed. Animal data are deemed not relevant, human data not representative, and exposure data not reliable.
Michaels may be talking primarily about pharma industry PR flacks who try to discredit studies saying that certain drugs aren’t safe. But his analysis applies equally well to the scoundrels paid to deny climate science in the face of obvious facts — weird weather worldwide, melting ice caps and overall global climate catastrophe.
No stinkin’ badge
And every time a new report comes out from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, deniers offer study after study from professional nitpickers pointing out alleged flaws in the IPCC’s data.
Of course, in the denier world, you don’t need to be a climate scientist to argue about climate science. Attorneys, engineers and, of course, PR guys, are not shy about trying to poke holes in peer-reviewed science published in academic journals by PhD climatologists.
For evidence, sometimes deniers refer to the work of the 2-3% of real climatologists who are doubters, ignoring the other 97% of climate scientists who accept the prevailing consensus.
If that’s not enough, weathercasters are a rich source of fake expert opinion against climate science. But in a pinch, for a denier in the middle of an argument, any elderly white guy with some kind of background in science (physics!) or even math (finance!) will do as an “authority.”
They want you to be “open minded”
PR flacks and the free-market fools who believe their lies don’t need to convince anybody that climate change isn’t real or that it isn’t caused by human activity. They just need to spread enough doubt to keep people uncertain.
Deniers don’t need to show that climate science is wrong. They just need to demonstrate that there’s a “debate.”
“Wow, this climate change stuff is confusing,” deniers want you to say. “There are good arguments on both sides. Maybe we should just wait until all the evidence is in before we do anything serious. After all, this cutting-carbon stuff could be pretty expensive. It could cost jobs!”
Well, don’t you fall for it. And don’t let your friends fall for it. Lies are still dies when they have a small bit of irrelevant truth mixed in. Indeed, such lies are all the more damnable.
There are not good arguments on both sides.
The good arguments are only on one side — that of every major academy of science on earth, from the US to the UK and France to Russia and China. They all agree that climate change is happening right now, that it’s dangerous to human life and that our economy is the main cause.
So, when your conservative friends on Facebook try to argue about science, don’t fall for the trick. Instead, why not force them to talk about policy?
It’s like a poker game. And for my part, the next time a science-denier plays the Solyndra card, I’ll see them a proposal to cut all oil subsidies. Then I’ll raise them a carbon tax.
— Erik Curren, Transition Voice