Money and Misinformation

The book Merchants of Doubt explains how corporations use money, media, and experts with scientific credentials, to consistently misinform the American public on the health and environmental risks of tobacco smoke, DDT, agent orange, acid rain, ozone layer depletion, and now climate change.

Money and Misinformation
The Evolution of Fact Fighting

The book Merchants of Doubt explains how corporations use money, media, and experts with scientific credentials, to consistently misinform the American public on the health and environmental risks of tobacco smoke, DDT, agent orange, acid rain, ozone layer depletion, and now climate change. For each of the problems mentioned above, the scientific community had come to peer reviewed conclusions that there were significant enough health and environmental risks to merit regulation. Scientists published their work in peer review scientific journals that were not popular amongst the general public; this gave them an insurmountable disadvantage when trying to compete with the corporate funded think tanks, media outlets, and governmental bodies that knew the best way to reach their target audience. The tobacco industry was a pioneer in fact fighting, and they provided a handbook of how to most effectively misinform the public. “Bad Science, a resource book, was a how to handbook for fact fighters. It contained over two-hundred pages of snappy quotes, and re-printed editorials, articles, and op-ed pieces that challenged the authority and integrity of science, building to a crescendo in the attack on the EPA’s work on second hand smoke. It also included a list of experts with scientific credentials that were available to comment on any issue about which a think tank or corporation needed a negative sound bite” (Oreskes/Conway – Audible: 6.27.20). This quote is a small snippet of how corporations fought against regulation, and trained people at all levels of their companies to regurgitate misinformation. The tobacco industry was the pioneer of misinformation, but big oil, gas, coal, and car companies have perfected it.

Climate Change, the Perfect Example

The collective budgets of the oil, gas, coal, and auto industries have created an unprecedented pool of capital for merchandising doubt through think tanks and the media. We can see how successful these campaigns have been by looking at the following quote from the book Overheated: “In 2004, Naomi Oreskes, from The University of California San Diego went looking for climate change skepticism in the American scientific community; she was unable to find any. She examined more than nine hundred scientific articles about climate change published in peer-reviewed journals between 1992 and 2003. Of these, exactly zero disputed the notion that climate change was real and was caused by humans. This is a stunning result, especially when contrasted with the public debate about climate change” (Guzman – Audible: 3.14.41) This quote shows how effectively corporations with a vested interest in our current energy paradigm have been in fighting scientific consensus, and misinforming the public so that they can continue to operate without costly regulations or taxes that would incentivize investment in efficiency, renewables and clean technology. Thomas L. Friedman, author of: Hot, Flat, and Crowded explains that in 1950 our population was about 2.3 billion people, and the best estimates project that it will be at 9.3 billion by 2050. In only 100 years, human population will have grown by 7 billion, or by 390% and with the invention of the Internet, more people have the opportunity to create wealth than ever before. Pre-industrial CO2 levels were around 270 parts per million (ppm) and they are currently hovering around 400 ppm. The oceans have absorbed approximately 40% of all man made CO2 emissions, and when CO2 mixes with H2O, it forms carbonic acid. This mild acid prevents shellfish from forming their shells, and makes it difficult for coral to grow. “Half the world’s tropical and temperate forests are now gone, the rate of deforestation in the tropics continues at about an acre a second, about half the wetlands and a third of the mangroves are gone. An estimated 90% of the large predator fish are gone, 20% of the corals are gone, and another 20% severely threatened. Species are disappearing at rates about a thousand time faster than normal” (Friedman 2.107.38) To make things much worse, our energy and resource consumption is skyrocketing as our population continues to grow, and the Internet allows more people all over the world to live life in the way that American consumerism has glorified. The most sophisticated scientific estimates predict that by as early as 2020 and certainly by 2050, we will witness a drastic increase in droughts, famines, sea levels, global average temperatures, severe weather, and all of the conflict, disease, and instability that comes with them. And yet, all of this is rarely mentioned in the media, and in general, the citizens of the U.S. are unaware of the severity of these problems.

Ruled by Corporations, an in depth explanation

In the book So Damn Much Money, Robert Kaiser explores how our government came to rely so heavily on corporate funding, and how it is shaping the political and social structures of our society in the 21st century. He demonstrates how special interest groups and politicians have created a mutually beneficial and mutually reinforcing system that leaves serious national and global issues in the dark. Lobbyists are often lawyers and ex-policy makers who know the rules and the people to ensure that the companies who are most generous get the legislative help that they want. “Todays members of the House and Senate rarely legislate, they basically follow the money” (Kaiser – Audible: 1.50.3). This quote shows what Congress spends a majority of their time doing, and the following quote will show how lucrative their activities are: “tens of thousands of lobbyists worked the corridors of power, it was impossible to count them accurately. According to the filings that lobbyists and their clients had to make under the law, customers spent nearly 3 billion dollars to lobby the government in 2007, but that was a fraction of the real amount spent to try to influence decisions in Congress and the Executive branch” (12.50.30). There are 2,500 fossil fuel specific lobbyists on K-Street and Capitol Hill, ensuring that the policies we need to create a sustainable future beyond fossil fuels are as of now out of reach. Thomas Friedman and many others believe that we will look back at this time period right now, and it will not be 2014 current era (CE), but instead, we look back at the turn of the 21st century as the beginning of a new era. He thinks we will look back on 2014 CE and call it 14 ECE, which stands for energy climate era. Many of the threats facing us have never been seen before, and they have non-linear exponentially destructive consequences. If our government is to bureaucratic, corrupt, and misinformed to lead, then it is up to the private sector to drive innovation and implementation of clean-technology, renewable energy, waste reuse, biomimicry and all the other factors that will help us align business and society with the planet.

1. Guzman, Andrew T. Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2012. Audiobook.

 

2. Friedman, Thomas L. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution– and How It Can Renew America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Audiobook.

 

3. Kaiser, Robert G. So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government. New York: Knopf, 2009. Audiobook.

 

4. Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Audiobook.

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