merchants-of-doubt-posterBy Peter Galuszka

A just-released documentary “Merchants of Doubt” seems tailor-made for the readers of Bacons Rebellion.

The film by Robert Kenner explores the profession of doubting climate change in which the energy industry quietly hires “scientists” to debunk the idea that carbon dioxide emissions are creating global warming that could have catastrophic consequences.

The strategy of confronting scientific evidence that is damaging to a particular industry has been around since at least the 1960s when the chemical industry tried to dismiss the idea that the insecticide DDT widely used to control mosquitoes could be deadly to wildlife for decades.

Big Tobacco took the concept to entirely new levels when scientific studies in the 1960s linked tobacco smoking to addictive nicotine, cancer and other bad things. Cigarette makers hauled out their own supposedly independent but payrolled “scientists” to raise doubt about the claims before congressional committees and to the general public.

The tobacco industry snowballed their phony science into yet another sphere. There had been complaints that people were being killed when they fell asleep on furniture while holding smoldering cigarettes.

The cigarette makers could have put in fire retardants in the smokes but they thought it would be too costly. So, they set up a scenario where furniture makers would load up sofas and chairs with fire retardants, which, unfortunately, proved carcinogenic or otherwise harmful. Then, of course, the chemical industry found its own “scientists” to claim the flame retardants they put in furniture were safe.

According to review so the film which I haven’t seen (it was just released March 6), Big Energy is using the very same tactics with help from the Koch Brothers and their network of paid think tanks (such as the “Heartland Institute”) to debunk the link between carbon and climate change. You may see some of those ideas popping up on this blog from time to time.

Kenner has won awards for such documentaries as “Food, Inc.” His latest film is based on a 2011 book with the same title by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. According to a review in The Washington Post, “What’s disheartening about “Merchants of Death” is that the strategy still works so effectively in a hyper-partisan, intellectually lazy, spin-addicted 24-7 news cycle.”

Can anyone guess which news channel fits the bill?

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13 responses to “Film Rips Climate Change Deniers”

  1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    No, come on, Peter. Everyone knows that climate change is a conspiracy by the loony left and those scientists who stand to get thousands in sweet grant money.

    The extraction and energy companies who make billions off the status quo have only the purest of intentions.

  2. In Peter World, you don’t have to actually engage in a debate with skeptics of apocalyptic global warming scenarios on the basis of the evidence. All you have to do is make repeated appeals to authority (97% of climate scientists believe in “global warming” — a nonsensical claim on its face, for “belief in global warming” is a meaningless term) and viciously attack skeptics as “deniers” in the pay of evil energy interests. That way, people who live in Peter World can ignore the fact that the real world refuses to conform to the predictions made by climate change apocalyptics and that their computer models are in serious need of adjustment.

    There is a strong authoritarian streak among GW alarmists that demonizes skeptics not only as wrong but essentially evil. Frustrated by their inability to rouse the public to an appropriate level of panic and alarm through an appeal to the evidence, they increasingly seek to de-legitimize and indeed to silence those who would disagree with them. Scary.

    As for the comparisons between GW skeptics and the tobacco industry, that’s simple guilt by association — another line of argumentation that ignores the evidence specific to climate change. Does anyone remember Robert Ehrlich, the Club of Rome and the early-’70s book “The Limits of Growth”? Ehrlich bemoaned the population explosion, predicted widespread raw material and food shortages, and mass starvation by 2000. Didn’t happen. The GW alarmists are direct descendants of that Malthusian train of thought. Perhaps skeptics should use the guilt-by-association tactic like Peter does: Someone similar to you was wrong, so that means you are wrong, too.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    “Peter World?” I didn’t make up this movie.

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Who was paying the flat earth crowd that mocked Columbus? What was the economic motivation behind the church’s persecution of Galileo? The motivations in these arguments can get complicated. Big Bucks are flowing in both directions on the issue of catastrophic climate change, and for one side to charge that the other is motivated by money is just laughable. Everybody’s motives are fair game for suspicion.

    Thirty years ago everybody with a brain understood that tobacco was a killer, yet my mother kept smoking. The cause and effect relationship between the neighborhood coal plant and sufficient ocean rise to swamp San Francisco is not quite as well established as the link between smoking and lung cancer. Nor is it quite as clear that replacing that plant with some windmills (which only work on windy days) will save the coastline, whereas it is well established that if you quit smoking, your lungs will recover.

    I for one rather resent being compared to the tobacco companies and their apologists because I remain a skeptic about global warming. I’m more worried, as I’ve said before, about the chemical changes in the ocean with rising CO2 levels. And I’m glad to see a steady move away from coal. But nobody has persuaded me that changes in temperature, to extent you can even trust the measurements, don’t have a half a dozen possible explanations including just normal random variations. The earth has seen radical climate changes multiple times over billions and years and none of the previous hot or cold spells could be blamed on human activity. Why this one?

  5. I’m amused when there is worldwide consensus among scientists it’s labeled first as a conspiracy and then an “appeal to authority”.

    So I guess when 50 weather forecasters say a hurricane is going to hit Norfolk and each of their models is not dead on the money – it’s a conspiracy or an appeal to authority.

    and after calling consensus a conspiracy or appeal to authority – they claim they claim an authoritarian “streak”.

    jesus h keeeerist.

    1. Darrell Avatar

      Oh come on, Larry! No one thinks it’s a conspiracy when 50 weather guessers say a hurricane is coming. The evidence is pretty easy to verify in a few days.

      But when those same 50 weather guessers claim 20 hurricanes are coming and none show up, well that’s when people start to question their methods and models. And whether they own stock in Home Depot or Farm Fresh.

  6. re: the “not strong” link

    forget climate change.

    tell me that coal does not emit toxins like mercury that harm the elderly, the young and those with compromised immune systems?

    so we can’t put standards on coal plants – because even though they harm health – the ADDITIONAL concern about a climate – just makes the whole thing null and void?

    come on… virtually every water body in Va as well as much of the Tuna in the ocean now have mercury levels that make them not safe to eat and we still deny this is not worth pollution reduction?

    do you guys remember the leaded gas issue and how the industry with it’s paid scientists continued to run an aggressive campaign against unleaded fuel?

    How about the Ozone Holes? Do you think the “link” for that was “weak” also?

    what’s changed between when we knew the cigarette companies were lying, the leaded fuel people were lying and the ozone hole deniers were lying?

    no – we believe the liars…

  7. Blackbird Fly Avatar
    Blackbird Fly

    Conservatives don’t need, nor do they deal in, scientific findings/consensus to make their conclusions–all they need is Glen Beck or Bill O’reilly to tell them climate change is a hoax. The energy industry ought to reach out to conservative media rather than producing the adulterated “scientific findings”.

    Another great read in this arena is “A Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” by a true scientist Carl Sagan.

  8. Nothing amongst the comments on Peter’s entry causes more dismay than the response from Jim, who is otherwise so sound and thoughtful. I, of course, well remember Paul Erlich’s book, and the “Limits to Growth” work, as I’d become engaged with environmental issues in the mid 60s. Many of us in that professional world decried both Erlich and Limits, as baseless alarmism. Very different from the global warming evidence today.

  9. Global warming is to liberals what health care reform is to conservatives. In both cases there is substantial evidence of a problem that needs to be addressed. Yet, conservatives have no practical answer to the health care problem and liberals have no practical answer to the climate change issue.

    LarryG (among others) is quite correct in saying that burning coal for electricity and oil for transportation puts toxins in the air whether or not those activities also create global climate change. However, that fact is a far cry from a specific remedy to the problem. So, instead of intelligently discussing what might be done we waste our time railing against the Koch Brothers and Fox News. Meanwhile, much closer to home, the Commonwealth of Virginia has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Dominion Resources. Whether you are a clime change “denier” or “alarmist” it certainly can’t be good public policy to let a regulated monopoly (and major polluter) also be the biggest contributor to state politicians.

    Where is the demand of our state legislators to pass laws (as many other states have done) limiting corporate political campaign contributions in state and local elections?

    Wouldn’t that be a decent first step in knocking down some of the excessive power wielded by Virginia’s biggest carbon polluter?

  10. I am writing my own book (which may never see the light of day) entitled Why we Hate the Oil Companies (Really). Mine is a take-off on John Hofmeister’s prior book of the same title, which has been criticized for not clearly explaining some Americans really hate the oil (and gas) companies.

    My hypothesis is that the climate change debate in America is really a political “war” against the U.S. fossil fuel industry, and maybe even the entire chemical industry, for many reasons other than, or in addition to, climate change.

    I have concerns that this “war” may not be leading to a stronger America. However, whatever approach leads to a strong America, is the correct approach.

  11. re: scientists and computer models. No model every built is dead on 100% accurate as evidenced by the ones used for hurricanes.. tornadoes, volcanoes , earthquakes, and ozone holes.

    but the point is when a strong majority of scientists say a hurricane is going to hit – we spend millions on evacuation.. we evacuate towns when they say an earthquake or volcano may blow.. we explain weather with El Nino. We spend billions of dollars to remove CFCs..

    we do this –

    re: pollution – Don – none of the deniers -not one of them are suggested scaling back and dealing only with pollution.. not one

    we now deny it all.. it’s called a total scam by the deniers.. they ignore the pollution issue all together.

    there’s a reason why. these are the same folks who argued against pollution restriction in prior history.

    they opposed the EPA and pollution restrictions – they argued that it would seriously damage the economy. these folks are no where to be found when we talk about superfund sites either.. or kepone in the James or for that
    matter mercury in sufficient quantity in rivers and water bodies to merit warnings against eating the fish.

    so the deniers come from a long line of pollution deniers also.

    and NO.. I do NOT “hate” DOminion or the oil companies or any of the fossil fuel folks – they provide what has given us civilization in large part – but that does not relieve any of them and any of us from being stupid about impacts.

    Conservation – saves money and it saves pollution impacts. If we had to burn coal or oil at our homes to power our homes – we’d be choking and dying.. no question.. so we hide it.. we pretend when we put it up a smokestack 100 miles from where we live , it has no impacts – despite ample evidence to the contrary.

    when the EPA says thousands of people are sickened and even die from coal pollution – where are the deniers? they’re AWOL. They simply deny it.

    The movie that Peter writes about – identifies may of the “deniers” and guess what – you can count on one hand – the number of them who are legitimate credentialed scientists – much less climate scientists much less climate scientists who do not get money from the industries opposed to regulation.

    it’s only a “hoax” if you want to be willfully ignorant.. and we seem to have lots of folks willing to be that way these days – and it’s not just about this – there are “other” conspiracies also…

  12. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    The FCC’s net neutrality order properly chastises Verizon and others for arguing the opposite position several years ago. The switch in position goes to credibility.

    40 years ago, “climate scientists” argued the globe was cooling rapidly and heading for a new ice age. Why doesn’t the switch in position go to credibility? It would if I were taking a deposition.

    I think it is possible carbon emissions are affecting the climate. And affordable and renewable energy makes sense. But I struggle with the 180 degree switch in position in 40 years, along with the lack of explanation of the much warmer middle ages and the much cooler renaissance – both of which happened sans carbon emissions. If other factors beyond carbon can change climate earlier, why can’t they do so today?

    Uncle Sam just pulled back its warning against eating foods with cholesterol. Why are we so damn sure we know the cause of changes in temperature? Could it be because federal funding is involved?

    I’d have more faith in the concept of global warming if scientists were challenging themselves and their findings, instead of everyone nodding. As the Science Channel says “Challenge everything.”

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