Thursday, September 21, 2006

The big businesses who fund the denial of climate change

Environmental Economists have typically believed that industrial activity affects pollution emissions through 3 mechanisms; the scale of economic activity; the make-up of the economy (heavy industry v. services for instance) and the pollution emitted per unit of output from each industry. But it appears there's another link between industrial activity and climate change emissions which many econometric models would find very difficult to incorporate;

Guardian columnist and writer George Monbiot has unearthed overwhelming evidence that oil companies such as ExxonMobil are heavily funding the coalition of 'institutes' and 'action groups' whose sole aim is to discredit the science behind climate change. ExxonMobil's rationale for doing this is simple. They make most of their profits from selling oil and want to continue doing so for as long as possible. Hence they go out of their way to keep the climate change skeptics in the public eye and at the forefront of the media debate, thereby giving the impression that such skeptics represent a considerable body of scientific opinion.

By funding a large number of organisations, Exxon helps to create the impression that doubt about climate change is widespread. For those who do not understand that scientific findings cannot be trusted if they have not appeared in peer-reviewed journals, the names of these institutes help to suggest that serious researchers are challenging the consensus.

Monbiot goes on to reveal that at the heart of this variety of organisations and think tanks lie just a handful of individuals, ably supported by generous donations from big business.

However the most remarkable revelation is that Philip Morris tobacco is also a generous supporter of institutes prepared to take a stand against climate change. What's the link between tobacco and climate change you may ask. Well, fearful of lawsuits alleging a link between passive smoking and poor health, Philip Morris embarked on a documented campaign to discredit the US Environmental Protection Agency (who were responsible for a well publicised report showing the link between health and passive smoking). But they knew the public wouldn't believe any tobacco-related claims from Philip Morris. They therefore realised these claims needed to appear to be from other individuals and also to be associated with other topics. They hired a public relations company, APCO, to devise a plan;

Philip Morris, APCO said, needed to create the impression of a "grassroots" movement - one that had been formed spontaneously by concerned citizens to fight "overregulation". It should portray the danger of tobacco smoke as just one "unfounded fear" among others, such as concerns about pesticides and cellphones. APCO proposed to set up "a national coalition intended to educate the media, public officials and the public about the dangers of 'junk science'. Coalition will address credibility of government's scientific studies, risk-assessment techniques and misuse of tax dollars ... Upon formation of Coalition, key leaders will begin media outreach, eg editorial board tours, opinion articles, and brief elected officials in selected states."

The result was the creation of the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (ASSC) which has lobbied hard against climate change in the media and via its website. But guess who else has funded the ASSC. That's right, ExxonMobil. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Monbiot summarises the actions of ExxonMobil and Philip Morris as follows;

While they have been most effective in the United States, the impacts of the climate-change deniers sponsored by Exxon and Philip Morris have been felt all over the world. I have seen their arguments endlessly repeated in Australia, Canada, India, Russia and the UK. By dominating the media debate on climate change during seven or eight critical years in which urgent international talks should have been taking place, by constantly seeding doubt about the science just as it should have been most persuasive, they have justified the money their sponsors have spent on them many times over. It is fair to say that the professional denial industry has delayed effective global action on climate change by years, just as it helped to delay action against the tobacco companies.

Anyone with an interest in economics and the environment should read this powerful article in full. It is fascinating and deeply depressing in equal measure.,,1875762,00.html

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