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Climate change deniers

New industry springs up to deflect public concern.

Dateline: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

by Ole Hendrickson, Ottawa River Institute

If you care about your well-being, the fate of your children and the environment, please read James Hoggan's new book, Climate Cover-Up.

Hoggan owns a successful Vancouver public relations company. He chairs the Board of Directors of the David Suzuki Foundation and is a trustee of the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education. He founded a website "DeSmogBlog" to, in his words, identify unethical public relations tactics and expose the public relations people who are trying to confuse the public about climate change.


Retooling to a zero-carbon society would disrupt powerful and profitable industry sectors.

At a recent University of Ottawa talk, Hoggan noted that public relations experts know far more about how you think than you do. He documents all the tricks they, and other climate change deniers use to induce you to deny the reality of climate change.

The basic strategy of the deniers is to create doubt about the scientific facts. Some falsely pose as climate scientists, misrepresenting their research and teaching backgrounds. They speak about areas outside their fields of expertise. They accept money from oil and coal companies. They sow doubt, mistrust, confusion, and delay.

These false climate scientists are backed up by an army of public relations specialists and corporate lobbyists, representing companies whose profits are tied to fossil fuels. Hoggan says there are four climate change lobbyists for every elected official in Washington D.C.

I thought that after the Nobel Prize was awarded to the thousands of scientists who write the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change deniers would slink away with their tails between their legs.

I was wrong. The deniers are more active, and better funded, than ever.

Why do so many of us continue to deny climate change, when the scientific evidence is so strong, and the risks are so high?

Some answers are simple. We don't want to change our lifestyle. Retooling to a zero-carbon society would disrupt powerful and profitable industry sectors and require significant government intervention in the economy. If apparently credible spokespersons tell us there is scientific doubt about the reality of climate change, we are only too happy to believe them.

Deniers aim their propaganda at smaller media outlets where reporters lack the resources to check their facts, sources, and credentials.

They take advantage of the fact that climate change is complex. We agreed to ban ozone- destroying substances because it's easy to understand the dangers of a hole in the ozone layer that lets in harmful radiation. But how can scientists communicate the dangers of climate change?

I'm a professional ecologist. I've published peer-reviewed scientific articles on the carbon cycle. Part of my work involves reading studies of how climate change is impacting life on the land and in the seas. Every peer-reviewed scientific study on climate change published in the past decade has confirmed that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are warming and destabilizing our fragile atmosphere, and causing significant damage to living systems.

The world is headed, faster and faster, for climate disaster. If we fail to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, hundreds of millions of people will abandon the world's coastal areas during this century, never to return.

Even worse scenarios involving total melting of the icecaps and stoppage of ocean currents are possible. These could leave oceans devoid of oxygen, covered with purple bacteria, filling the atmosphere with poisonous green clouds of hydrogen sulphide. Earth has experienced such episodes, but not for hundreds of millions of years. Most species would perish ­ certainly all humans.

Avoiding these catastrophic scenarios will require strong measures and leadership. Consider a global ban on fossil fuels. Could people live happily in a zero-carbon society? Absolutely. As caretakers of the planet, and each other, we would lead full and meaningful lives.

If we lead, politicians will follow.

Ole Hendrickson is President of the Ottawa River Institute, a non-profit, charitable organization based in the Upper Ottawa Valley. For more information please visit the address below.

Ole Hendrickson is a member of the Ottawa River Institute, a non-profit, charitable organization aimed at fostering sustainable communities and ecological integrity in the Upper Ottawa Valley.


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