“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.