By the mid 1970s, global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions was being debated in the scientific community. Consensus was building that this was a serious concern. But, by the early 1980s, this apprehension had vanished from the public radar. How did that happen? Why has it taken 30 years to rekindle the debate? Is global warming really a problem?
The answer is relatively simple. But, many people do not wish to hear this information. If you read further, you may not like this story. However, it does explain the current confusion over greenhouse gasses and global warming.
After the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, conservatives were in disarray. The situation got worse as the public saw middle class kids returning from Vietnam in body bags, rivers that burned due to pollution, and people being beaten in the streets. The result was a liberal Congress that passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and a lot of other legislation that constrained corporate and government behavior. Things just kept getting worse.
The turning point occurred largely un-noticed on August 23, 1971. Lewis Powell wrote a letter to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shortly before President Nixon appointed him to the Supreme Court.
Powell said that the best and brightest graduating from college no longer considered business to be an honorable profession. To solve this problem, he called upon business leaders to fund think tanks, a kind of farm team for training conservative leaders. These think tanks would generate pro-corporate "myth" and language. He further urged the business community to assure that these images and ideas would be disseminated as widely and as often as possible.
In response, business has contributed more than three billion dollars since 1971 to create or expand 40 major conservative think tanks and many more minor ones. Today, a major think tank has an annual budget of ten million dollars or more. You know the names, The Brookings Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The Enterprise Institute, The Council on Foreign Relations, The Cato Institute, The Rand Corporation, The Hoover Institute, and so on.
Think tanks design language. For example, “clear skies” means more air pollution. “Healthy forests” means more clear-cutting. A more accurate name would be no tree left behind. Think tanks are where this kind of language originates. In addition to slogans, think tanks publish hundreds of "conservative" books on public policy every year. They write newspaper articles and editorials. They lobby Congress. They provide radio and television pundits. And so on. The corporate media then repeats this language, these myths, over and over until most people believe it.
In recent years, media ownership has concentrated. This makes it easier to spread “DIS-information” about global warminng. Five corporations now control more than half of all the myth-making apparatus in this country, more than half the newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, music, movies, videos, wire services, and photo agencies. Corporate news is not about to upset their major advertisers.
Ninety five percent of Americans get their news exclusively from five of the top six: 1) AOL Time Warner (CNN), 2) Disney (ABC), 3) Murdoch's News Corporation (Fox), 4) Bertelsmann of Germany (Random House, BMG music), 5) Viacom (formerly CBS), and 6) General Electric (NBC). These companies also have a massive presence on the Internet and are the dominant source for Internet news. What about the liberal bias in the news? That phrase popped out of a think tank and has been repeated endlessly by corporate media. Click here to visit the Columbia School of Journalism media ownership website.
So, what about Global Warming?
In January 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published an article listing 43 think tanks (below) that were paid a total of sixteen million dollars by Exxon/Mobile between 1998 and 2005 to confuse the public regarding global warming.
Click here to download the study.
This money was easy to find. Think tanks are proud when they get a grant. They put out press releases. The above money was for only eight of 36 years from 1971 to 2007. It is only part of what Exxon spent. Other energy companies also paid into this effort. The total spent to confuse the public about global warming most likely runs into the hundreds of millions. That kind of money can buy a lot of confusion.
If Exxon/Mobil had published this “junk science” themselves, we would have discounted it. But, if an “independent” think tank puts it out, we are more likely to believe them. And, if the same themes are repeated endlessly by the corporate media, that repetition makes it appear true.
The strategy to discredit global warming duplicated the very successful campaign by the cigarette industry to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer and other disease. Just as with cigarettes, the claim regarding global warming was that the science is not all in, that scientists disagree. Therefore, let’s not be hasty. We need to study the problem some more before acting. Unfortunately, most of the "science" that discounts global warming or claims that most of it comes from sources other than the burning of fossil fuels, that "science" was generated by think tanks paid handsomely by energy companies.
In addition, just as with cigarettes, scientists were pressured to change their results regarding global warming. Those who did not bow to this pressure often found themselves punished in the next round of grant applications. The energy companies are the 800-pound gorilla.
Yes, this strategy delayed taking action on global warming for 30 years. Now things are worse.
Why would Exxon and other energy companies do this?
If the public takes global warming seriously and reduces their emissions, we will burn less fossil fuel. Demand will fall. Prices will fall. Profits will fall. A few hundred million dollars spent over 35 years is a small price to pay to maximize multi-billion dollar annual profits from the sale of energy.
For example, if the AB-32 greenhouse gas reduction target is met, we will never build another oil or coal fired power plant. There will be no need. No need, no profit. It is that simple.