Truth, Spin And Money
Richard Littlemore lays out the climate liars’ anti-science smear job
by Paul Dechene
It’s been a bad few months for climate science. The COP15 summit in Copenhagen was supposed to renew the fight against global warming — instead, it became a lightning rod for boneheads, blowhards and the business-bribed bastards who argue climate change isn’t happening or that people aren’t causing it.
They pulled out all the stops in advance of Copenhagen, launching a well-funded and expertly coordinated public relations campaign to undermine the conference.
As the dust settles, the climate deniers have won the day.
Ironically, while the science that says the earth is getting warmer and we’re the cause is stronger than ever, those of us who accept those facts are apparently in smaller company these days.
But on Wednesday Feb. 3, Richard Littlemore came to Regina. And for a couple of hours you could kid yourself that our numbers aren’t dwindling.
His evening talk, sponsored by Clean Green Regina and the Regina Public Interest Research Group, was held at Selam restaurant and he packed the place. (Earlier in the day he spoke at the University of Regina before a respectable if not quite standing-room-only crowd.)
Littlemore is co-author with James Hoggan of Climate Cover-Up (prairie dog interviewed Hoggan for our popular “How the Climate Liars Fucked the Future” feature in November). The book, released in 2009, is an exposé of the efforts by a group of right-wing think tanks and commentators — largely oil- and coal-industry backed — to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.
Littlemore is also an experienced journalist who’s the senior editor of DeSmogBlog (www.desmogblog.com), a news and research database that fights to clear the public relations smog the deniers belch out.
“Our fondest desire is that we would work ourselves out of a job,” says Littlemore. “And I frankly hoped that would happen in a year or two of when we started. I was completely wrong.”
Instead of wilting in the face of mounting evidence that human-caused climate change is real, the deniers’ arguments against it have become more aggressive, says Littlemore.
“I think the next couple years will be more critical than ever,” says Littlemore. “It’s going to get worse.
“The necessity for somebody — and somebody really belligerent — to be in the argument is serious.”
It’s an argument that Littlemore and his DeSmogBlog cohorts have been involved in since 2006. The site has helped expose such dirty secrets as the Friends of Science’s connections to the oil industry, the questionable credentials of climate-change-denying climatologist Tim Ball and the Republican Party memo drafted by Frank Luntz on how to shift public opinion away from the consensus on climate change.
And yet, despite the PR savvy of Littlemore and Hoggan, climate science has been hammered of late by a pair of scandals.
Most recently, it was discovered that a passing reference in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report to the Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035 was inaccurate and yet it slipped past the IPCC’s peer review.
More damaging, just before Copenhagen, several thousand e-mails were stolen off the servers of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
The e-mails didn’t undermine climate change science at all. But in places they did show the CRU scientists in a bad light — perhaps even being willing to withhold their research from an access to information request.
Making matters worse, instead of facing the controversy head-on, the CRU scientists and the university administration turtled-up and hoped the controversy would blow over. This gave the professional deniers, right-wing pundits and the blogosphere days in which to go hog wild. And pig-out they did, framing the scandal as proof that climate science is unreliable and turning a PR problem into a PR disaster.
Littlemore explains that things went so horribly awry because no one at East Anglia had the experience or the training to cope with a communications problem of this magnitude.
He says despite the contributions of sympathetic PR professionals like himself, a lack of media savvy has been a constant problem for climate scientists.
“Their PR is terrible and there really aren’t enough of us at their service to protect them,” says Littlemore. “And when we try to protect them, they’re not very helpful.
“And that should be okay because the media, as gatekeepers, should be doing a better job of paying attention to who it is who has integrity and who has not,” he says.
Meanwhile, scientists have to face the savage and cynical assault of a deeply self-interested industry of denial. Their only PR tools are reams of boring data and a commitment to doubting every conclusion and qualifying every response.
It’s rather like bringing a plastic picnic knife to a gun fight.
“We don’t even have a knife,” says Littlemore, “because it wouldn’t be nice to have a knife.”
But what about those tales of a “Big Green” conspiracy of scientists who are cooking the books to protect their massive government grants?
“I just love that one,” says Littlemore, laughing it off. “What kind of an idiot would get into science to get rich? Second, what kind of idiot, during eight years of the George Bush administration, would pursue climate change research in order to get rich?
“If you’re just looking to make money, then be Bjørn Lomborg [author of the famed denier screed, The Skeptical Environmentalist]. Say whatever the money wants you to say, and lap up the cash.”
These accusations of greed among scientists, says Littlemore, are just evidence of the denial industry’s guilty conscience. He says that because a key motivator for climate deniers is the money and notoriety they earn by spreading misinformation, they assume the scientists they’re attacking must have the same motivations.
It’s a way of projecting their sins onto others, then?
“It’s completely projection,” says Littlemore. “It’s so maddening sometimes, and it’s so bewildering.
“And the bewildering part is, it’s so stupid.”