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Sowing doubt and muddying the waters

Climate change deniers continue their political games

By Dennis Gruending

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers have appointed several task forces to propose ways in which Canada can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their concern is based on the work of scientists who comprise the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). More recently, the IPCC issued a series of ever more urgent reports about looming ecological catastrophe. That's if we don't mitigate human-induced climate change.

But wait. If you’re to believe a "guest column" published in the Sun newspaper chain recently, climate scientists, not to mention Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama, all belong to an elite group of "eco-activists" and "big-government" conspirators who are trying to sell a big lie. The column's author Tom Harris is described as executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC). In his article, Harris charges that Trudeau is "employing a strategy right out of 1984," referring to George Orwell's novel in which a totalitarian state exercises mind control on its people through its pervasive use of propaganda. He also challenges the climate science that Trudeau and almost all of the world's leaders now accept. "The surveys used to back up the [climate change] consensus are unconvincing," he writes. Harris, however, is not a scientist, much less a climate scientist. His column contains no science of its own, nor does it make reference to any specific scientific study. In fact, he’s described on his group's website as a mechanical engineer, who — for much of his career — has been involved in public relations and lobbying related to climate change.

According to the environmental organization DeSmog, ICSC has received money from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank that has been prominent in denying the scientific evidence for human-induced climate change. In the 1990s, Heartland also worked with the tobacco industry, questioning the science that deemed cigarettes to be hazardous and lobbying against governments’ public-health reforms.

DeSmog says that the Heartland Institute has received money from both ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, which is a big player in the Alberta tar sands. And there’s a ripe irony here: the state of New York is investigating Exxon Mobil for allegedly funding groups that deny climate change even while the company's in-house scientists warn executives about the negative consequences of those changes.

There’s a template that’s deliberately used by the tobacco — and now carbon — industries who want to avoid environmental regulation and taxation. Create upstart organizations and give them names that sound credible. Use them to attack scientists with whom you disagree, and label as incompetent or corrupt. And peddle conspiracy theories about political leaders who challenge your interests. The object isn’t to build a competing scientific theory; rather to sow doubt and muddy the waters. These professional deniers use public relations in an attempt to debunk sound, credible science. Indeed, it's a dark and dubious game.

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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