Earlier today the BBC posted a ‘news item’ on its web page which was actually nothing more than an advert for its series Big Oil v The World. Of its own programme, the BBC says:

“Drawing on thousands of newly discovered documents, this three-part film charts how the oil industry mounted a campaign to sow doubt about the science of climate change, the consequences of which we are living through today.”

Despite what is said regarding newly discovered documents, there is, of course, nothing original regarding this claim – it’s the tired old Merchants of Doubt trope, yet again. It’s just a conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory. As the introduction to the article states:

“Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting – between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.”

Normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to all this talk of ‘little-known’ meetings and campaigns of persuasion, but on this occasion the irony of an audacious PR plot running with tales of an audacious PR plot just got the better of me. There are just too many pots here, too many kettles and too much black.

I will set aside for one moment the scandal of 28Gate in which the BBC secretly colluded with various NGOs, activists and environmental interest groups to ensure that the UK’s state broadcaster would fall in line fully behind green politics, thereby making a mockery of its own charter. Although this is certainly a germane incident ‘the consequences of which are all around us’, I wish Instead to concentrate upon how today’s BBC article illustrates just how the victors of a war subsequently get to specify who the war criminals were, and how this is just as true with a PR campaign as it is with any other.

The story, as told by the victors, starts with:

“On an early autumn day in 1992, E Bruce Harrison, a man widely acknowledged as the father of environmental PR, stood up in a room full of business leaders and delivered a pitch like no other.”

Just how it was like no other is not properly explained. However, the purpose of the pitch is made clear:

At stake was a contract worth half a million dollars a year – about £850,000 in today’s money. The prospective client, the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) – which represented the oil, coal, auto, utilities, steel, and rail industries – was looking for a communications partner to change the narrative on climate change.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the details. Suffice it to say, the article goes on to talk about ‘tactics’ and ‘playbooks’ as if they were the sole province of the Big Oil lobbyists. The narrative is one of science versus propaganda and of industrial interests versus those of the little people who only ever wanted to protect Mother Earth and our children’s future. Admittedly, the GCC was indeed ‘looking for a communications partner to change the narrative on climate change’ but it wasn’t the only group seeking to control the narrative. The GCC was already up against a group that had similar ambitions, a group that was ultimately so successful that they have now established the narrative that the GCC was on its own in its nefarious narrative-controlling intent. I speak, of course, of the Green Blob in all of its manifestations from intergovernmental panels to state broadcasters. In fact, since I mention intergovernmental panels, I might as well draw attention to the fact that the formation of the IPCC pre-dated that ‘early autumn day’ meeting of 1992 by nearly four years. But you wouldn’t think so after reading the BBC’s take on history. According to the BBC:

“Though scientists were making rapid progress in understanding climate change, and it was growing in salience as a political issue, in its first years the Coalition [the GCC] saw little cause for alarm…But all that changed in 1992. In June, the international community created a framework for climate action…”

The GCC was formed in 1989, a year after the IPCC. The idea that the GCC had been in operation for three years before the international community finally created a framework for climate action is errant nonsense. That international framework for action was the IPCC, and the GCC was a response to that. The BBC would have you believe that the IPCC was only ever concerned with “making rapid progress in understanding climate change” but that was never the case. It was the brainchild of Sweden’s Bert Bolin who wanted “an organ that provided an international meeting place for scientists and politicians”. Whether that was to be an opportunity for scientists to meet with politicians to decide what the policy should be, or for politicians to meet with scientists to decide what the science should be, is a moot point. Maybe the answer to that question lies in the secret machinations of the little-known, two one-week workshops, held in Villach and Lake Como prior to the IPCC’s initiation, in order to establish its policy responses to climate change.

What is not in doubt, however, is that the IPCC was set up from the outset to be an audacious PR plot that seeded consensus about climate change. And let us be under no illusions; the IPCC was indeed always intended to be a Merchant of Consensus. In its own ‘Procedures Guiding IPCC Work’, paragraph 10 states:

“In taking decisions, and approving, adopting and accepting reports, the Panel, its Working Groups and any Task Forces shall use all best endeavors to reach consensus.”

Best endeavours (whether they be to reach consensus or challenge consensus) can get very ugly, and I am not here to defend the PR employed by the GCC. However, I am here to point out that a storyline that portrays the GCC as the only coalition of vested interests that was seeking to control the narrative does the truth no favours whatsoever. This is a narrative that can only have been written by the party that finally came out on top; the one that succeeded in co-opting the media, the education system, the politicians, the courts, the financiers and now even the big bad energy sector into pursuing its own vision of a post-industrial utopia. So I really do think it ill-behoves the BBC to be telling us all what was audacious and who was ‘devastatingly successful’ in their strategies.

14 Comments

  1. The rest of the very long BBC article suggests that one or more of the PR people involved in creating Climate Denialism out of thin air has recanted. I can’t see the programme outside the UK soI’m looking forward to a full account. I’m sure it’ll be hours of thrills.

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  2. “Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem.”

    Presumably, Aunty has forgotten its very own 28-Gate affair?

    Sixteen years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was a problem.

    Unfortunately:

    “FOlA judges: Secret 28 who made the BBC Green will not be named”

    An excellent article by Andrew Orlowski

    https://www.theregister.com/2012/11/09/bbc_beats_blogger_/

    Then, Andrew’s follow-up: “How can the BBC be saved from itself without destroying it?
    A decade of daftness leaves unique feature of British life on the brink”

    https://www.theregister.com/2012/11/19/the_virus_that_ate_the_bbc/

    Capped by:

    “SECRET 28 ‘scientific experts’ who Greened the BBC – Revealed!”

    “However science writer Maurizio Morabito has unearthed a list (embedded lnk) – once hosted on the IBT’s website and now stored in the Wayback Machine’s cache of the internet.”

    https://www.theregister.com/2012/11/13/climate28_named_wtf/

    Maurizio Morabito blogs as “Valerius Ander (MM)” – @Omnologos

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  3. Geoff,

    This is one that I will not be watching. I did my bit by watching and reporting upon the execrable The Trick. I like to think that I am now exempt from jury service for life.

    By the way, in my last paragraph of co-opted institutions I forgot to mention the Vatican, and by implication, God.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Joe Public,

    Thanks for that. I had intended to only mention 28-Gate in passing, but it is so germane, by all means fill your boots. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Editorial Guidelines
    Guidance: Impartiality”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidance/impartiality

    “In one sense defining impartiality is easy. It means reflecting all sides of arguments and not favouring any side.

    But putting impartiality in practice is more difficult. The Editorial Guidelines set out the BBC’s fundamental approach to impartiality. They are more demanding than the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, reflecting the audience and stakeholder expectations of the BBC. Both codes require due impartiality, which means that the demands of impartiality can vary: “The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation”. (Editorial Guidelines 2019: 4.1) The Guidelines say “News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality…” (Editorial Guidelines 2019: 4.3.10). And the BBC Guidelines demand the highest level of impartiality in News and Current Affairs and factual journalism (including sport) and reflect the Ofcom Code’s requirements in relation to controversial subjects* and major matters.** But the impartiality due will vary in other forms of output: it is not expected, for example, that the same requirement will apply to comedy or drama or a range of other output.

    Impartiality should never been seen as a restriction, or as an inconvenience or anachronism. Accuracy, evidence, facts, transparency and informed judgements are constituent parts of an impartial approach. They define a professional discipline which helps journalists make difficult judgements and sets the BBC apart from polarised debate and the current oversupply of opinion and comment. Impartiality properly understood can support those confronted with difficult editorial judgements which can be particularly complex when dealing with causes which drive towards moral judgements.

    The Guidelines allow senior journalists to provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but they make clear that the audience should not be able to tell, from BBC output, “…the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.” (Editorial Guidelines 2019: 4.3.11). The BBC does not allow the expression of personal views by its news and current affairs presenters and reporters and journalists other than in exceptional and defined circumstances. But views or opinions expressed elsewhere, on social media or in articles or books, can also give the impression of bias or prejudice and must also be avoided. In general nothing should be said publicly by BBC journalists that could not be said on air or on BBC platforms.

    Personal views are not the same as eyewitness accounts, evidence based assessments or professional judgements.

    * Controversial subjects may be a matter of public policy or political or industrial controversy. It may also be a controversy within religion, science, finance, culture or ethics or any other matter.

    ** Major matters are usually matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy that are of national or international importance, or of a similar significance in a smaller coverage area.”

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  6. The BBC ‘news item’ is now saying ’22 hours ago’. I spotted it when it was ‘8 hours ago’, sighed after a very few sentences and went onto something else. To say you read it so that I didn’t have to is I’m afraid false John. I would never have read it. But a very good post all the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As an aside to Joe Public: Maurizio Morabito was, like Barry Woods, a founder member of the Cliscep team in June 2015. In other words, he got an invite from me via WordPress.com to join us and I think he did accept. But he never posted or, I think, commented. Whereas Barry also never posted but has commented. Last year, on or shortly after 1st May 2021, I removed both their names from the new right hand panel ‘Authors and Posts’ and from the slightly longer list on our About Page. But no hard feelings. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As a relative newbie here, I’m unaware of the history of contributors / old posts etc. Thanks for filling me in Richard.

    I well remember the 28-Gate story unfolding at the time. And the Climategates too. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It looks like Merlyn and Marco have nothing better to do:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-61844299

    It’s the ‘how to talk to a climate change denier’ condescension — again!

    I do get fed up of people assuming that my scepticism is a result of my not having thought about things properly. I mention this here because the BBC article I am lampooning above is cited by Merlyn and Marco in ‘More about this story’.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for giving some context and background to this, especially with regard to launch of the IPCC.
    Aiui, there was a very sneaky little bit of goal-post positioning right at the start in that the IPCC was set up to concentrate on human-induced climate change. That set the objectives for all that followed. To be scientifically objective, its focus should have been all climate change so as to inform the world of what to prepare for, irrespective of its attribution.

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  11. Yes, Mike, I believe that somewhere along the line, ‘climate change’ was redefined to mean exclusively human-induced change, and that definition has now stuck. As a result, the question as to how much climate change is human induced is now actually quite moot — by definition, it all is!

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  12. John: Yep, I skirted over this when I said ‘I believe climate change is real’ in beautiful agreement with Marco Silva and the whole BBC climate disinformation hierarchy on Jit’s follow-on thread to yours. I mean that I believe the greenhouse effect is real, based on the radiative-convective explanation developed by Manabe and Wetherald in the 1970s. Obviously Marco would know exactly what I mean. But how damaging is that ‘fact’? Or well-founded speculation, let’s call it. Hardly at all, by my lights. Any negatives seem to be outweighed by the benefits of global greening. Which isn’t of course exactly part of climate change. But it is the most well-founded effect of our CO2 emissions. And climate can of course change for all kinds of other reasons.

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