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Merchants of Doubt: Sowing the (Tobacco) Seeds of Denial

Climate change and the war of communication

Doctors recommend cigarettes even as the science exposes the health risks of smoking cigarettes From the introduction of snow balls on the floor of the Senate as “scientific evidence” that global warming isn’t happening to smear campaigns aimed at actual climate scientists, the real battle over climate change is one of narrative, not science.

“The one thing we’ve learned,”says Robert Kenner, director of the upcoming documentary Merchants of Doubt, “is that when you explain science to people, it hardens those who don’t believe in the science.”

“I didn’t think that we’d have a chance of getting anyone to go to the theater to see a film about climate change,”says Kenner. Merchants of Doubt isn’t a film like Al Gore’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth, trying to convince its audience on the science of global warming. Instead, it is a “film about doubters and how people are able to stop us from believing inconvenient science.”

The communication war around climate change is rooted in the 1950’s, when “Big Tobacco” realized they had a potential PR nightmare on their hands. The objective then is the same now: confuse the issue and delay or stop action. Business-as-usual is the only profitable path forward.

Which cigarette does your doctor recommend?

The documentary is based on the book by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway, following the development of the tobacco industry’s public relations campaign to confuse the public, and scientists themselves, sowing doubt as the poisonous nature of their products came to light.

From television commercials featuring doctors recommending their favorite brand of cigarette to tobacco CEO’s swearing on the honor of their word that “nicotine is not addictive,” the strategy was as masterful in its execution as it was deceitful of its intent.

In the end, however, Big Tobacco may have won the initial battle, but it ultimately will lose the war. So it is with climate change and energy policy. The problem is that, for global warming, the stakes are even higher than the damage and loss of human lives from cigarettes and tobacco.

Senators with snowballs

We are quickly running out of time to effectively deal with the transition to a new, sustainable, energy economy or avert the global impacts from climate change, already underway.

As long as people pay any credence to senior senators offering snow balls as proof that climate change isn’t happening, the merchants of doubt win the battle.

 

 

Image credit: Classic Film, courtesy flickr

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