The Yes Men aren’t the only group accused of pulling off a hoax in the debate over climate change legislation. In August, the American Petroleum Institute — the oil industry’s top lobbying group — was found to have asked member oil companies to help recruit employees, retirees and contractors for anti-climate bill rallies around the country. Critics said the API was trying to fake a grassroots movement to give a false impression of widespread public opposition to tackling global warming. Our next guest, James Hoggan, has just published a new book on corporate efforts to mislead the public on human-driven climate change. It’s called Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. [includes rush transcript]
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The Yes Men aren’t the only group accused of pulling off a hoax in the debate over climate change legislation. In August, the American Petroleum Institute — the oil industry’s top lobbying group — was found to have asked member oil companies to help recruit employees, retirees and contractors for anti-climate bill rallies around the country. Critics said the API was trying to fake a grassroots movement to give a false impression of widespread public opposition to tackling global warming.
Well, as the Yes Men pulled off their hoax Monday, the American Petroleum Institute held its annual meeting in Austin, Texas. Chief executives from oil giants Exxon Mobil, BP America, ConocoPhillips and Chevron were all in attendance. The executives declined to speak to reporters, but American Petroleum Institute officials renewed their opposition to climate change legislation. API CEO Jack Gerard said the industry has, quote, “a lot of education to do” in convincing Americans to oppose mandatory emissions cuts.
AMY GOODMAN: Our next guest has just published a new book on corporate efforts to mislead the public on human-driven climate change. It’s called Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. Jim Hoggan is president of the award-winning PR firm Hoggan & Associates. He’s also chair of the Canada-based David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian chapter of Al Gore’s The Climate Project.
As you listened to what the Yes Men just did, posing as Chamber of Commerce spokespeople and the Chamber of Commerce saying they’d like law enforcement to look into these imposters, what are your thoughts about the corporate control of information and this whole issue of at least throwing some question into whether climate change is a real problem?
JAMES HOGGAN: You know, one of the things I would say is that the PR stunt wasn’t pulled off by the Yes Men; the PR stunt is basically being pulled off by the US Chamber of Commerce. And it’s been going on for decades.
Our book — I’m a PR guy of about thirty years, and I kind of stumbled across this campaign, what I would call a kind of confusion campaign, when I was doing some reading. And we’ve documented this two-decade-long campaign by industry and Canada and the United States, that the energy industry basically designed to confuse the public about climate change and give people the sense that there’s a debate about the science of climate change. And my reason for writing this book is that I don’t think that PR people and industry front groups should be determining what our policies are in Canada and the United States on solving climate change.
AMY GOODMAN: So, outline the strategy. What was the corporate strategy to do this? And name names.
JAMES HOGGAN: Well, the first thing was to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on everything from focus groups to very sophisticated messaging to setting up groups of pseudoscientists to confuse the public about — to create the impression that there was actually a debate, where there was none.
In the — two decades ago, there was a group called the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition that was put together by Philip Morris. They were having problems, as we know, with public credibility, so they decided to invite some friends to join this fight, what became a fight against scientists. And one of the first companies they invited was Exxon Mobil. And this was kind of the beginning of these front groups in this war on science that has evolved and continues today with front groups all over the United States.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And how did these lobbying groups or PR firms be so successful? Where was the media in all of this?
JAMES HOGGAN: Good question. I don’t know. That’s probably a better question for you than me. I think basically overworked and undereducated on science and easy to manipulate. And when you have a lot of money, like these people do, a lot more money than climate scientists have, they are out there all the time writing news releases, doing press conferences, creating, you know, phony studies and all these vehicles to basically manipulate people’s thinking on climate science.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you also write about the level of sophistication that these PR firms have, that they put stories in local regional papers, avoiding larger city newspapers where journalists may have a science reporter that is more focused and may be able to pick apart the argument better. Talk about some of the strategies that TASSC used that you write about.
JAMES HOGGAN: Yeah, well, I mean, one of the things that they did was they basically started to create this impression that there was a scientific debate. There was an enormous amount of research done in this area to — you know, they do these focus groups, and they find out that your average person thinks that there’s always a debate in science. So, rather than kind of fighting and saying climate change isn’t happening, let’s just say we don’t know if it’s happening. There’s a debate.
Now, that debate actually wasn’t taking place in the scientific community; it was actually taking place in the news media, in the mainstream news media. And just by repeating it, having enough money to repeat these kinds of messages over and over again, people start to become susceptible to this. The root of all this, this campaign, is the fact that corporations have less and less credibility as the years roll along, particularly over the past couple of decades.
AMY GOODMAN: But more and more money.
JAMES HOGGAN: More and more money and more and more interests to protect, but less and less credibility. So what they do is they actually hire fake groups of scientists, put together these, what we call “astroturf” groups to go out there and act and say things that these corporations couldn’t say themselves.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Jim Hoggan, we read in headlines today that in West Virginia activists opposed to mountaintop removal staged a sit-in in the governor’s office. Seven people were arrested. You write about “Little Coal: Salvaging a Future that’s Stuck in the Tar Sands.” People in the United States don’t know as much about the tar sands in Canada that they should, since a lot of our energy is coming from there. And you also talk about how the debate cripples public policy and paralyzes private action. Go from little coal to that.
JAMES HOGGAN: Well, let me give you an example. About a year ago, I was kind of shocked to find, reading a paper in Canada, that the premier of Alberta, where the tar sands are, decided that they were going to spend $25 million on a public relations campaign on the tar sands. And I was shocked because, well, this is the political year of the wealthiest province in Canada thinking that the tar sands was a public relations problem, not an environmental problem. And I think that’s where the problems start, but they get worse because of the massive amount of money. Twenty-five million dollars is an enormous amount of money. It just overwhelms the system. So you just — you’re able to hire the best researchers. You’re able to come up with the best messages. You’re able to hire the best PR firms. You can send out the most news releases. You can hire the best scientists for hire. And it’s just impossible for legitimate climate scientists to have a voice in these kinds of situations.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And we just have a minute left, but you write about how reading the book may affect your faith in humanity. What gives you hope about the whole climate so-called debate and future changes to legislation?
JAMES HOGGAN: The more we know about these kinds of groups and these kinds of efforts, the less they work. And I would just encourage journalists to ask these people whether or not they’re actually practicing climate science, whether they have — they are climate scientists, and who they’re taking money from. Start to ask these questions and shed light on these people, they’ll be far less effective.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Jim Hoggan, for being with us. The book is called Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming.