"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, April 24, 2009

Revkin's Coin Comes Up Shiny Today

Revkin in the Times today:

“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.
It is good that the press addresses whom the opposition is. I think that is key. And I suppose that a "smoking gun" like this gives the news media the "newsy" hook to hang stories off. So this is great, and go for it, but it's really not news to me.

While I am happy that the shiny side came up last time Revkin flipped his coin, and while this is certainly useful, I am a bit bemused, to put it charitably, that anyone is surprised. I certainly recall thinking at the time that it was odd that glossy magazines would print such brazen lies.

What surprises me is that it worked so well. I expected backlashes, apologies and hasty retreats, since the GCC ads were so brazenly misleading, but I saw nothing of the sort.

It's possible, I think, that the failure of civil society to reject this cynical manipulation of factual information may turn out to be the single most salient historical fact of our time. It certainly deserves a lot more attention than it's gotten so far, and the sooner the better.

Update: More early reaction: Nick Anthis and Will Bunch. (yet another hat tip to @BoraZ) Bunch is great on this. He quotes George Monbiot via Revkin:

George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.

“They didn’t have to win the argument to succeed,” Mr. Monbiot said, “only to cause as much confusion as possible.”

and concludes:

Except this is one case where the "media norms" may prove catastrophic, maybe not for me but for my children and eventual grandchildren. Several media critics -- but most notably journalism guru Jay Rosen from NYU -- have been focusing on the dangers of a kind of mindless "he said, she said" journalism that rules inside-the-Beltway reporting, sometimes to trivial effect but sometimes with great consequence, on topics like the financial crisis. But climate change may be the textbook study here.

Journalists have to weigh many things in striving for the truth -- but the ultimate mile marker must always be objective facts where they exist, and not a juggling act of talking heads, especially when one of the heads doesn't even believe its own baloney it's putting out there.
And this on a newspaper site! Alas, probably too little, too late.


Anonymous said...

I am a bit bemused, to put it charitably, that anyone is surprised.How many people aware of the science were surprised by the eventual public release of the tobacco documents? Not many, I'd wager. However the impact on public opinion would be hard to overstate.

There are other lawsuits pending, and if the past is any indicator of the future, we can expect more in this vein as their discovery phases progress.

Remember, the public loves to be lied to, but it hates to be publicly made a fool of.

EliRabett said...

The important thing is who wrote the technical report. Eli's money is on S. Fred.