Saturday, June 24, 2017


Scores of foundations, NGO's and the United Nations Environmental Program have backed a multi-million dollar global effort to establish programs in  environmental journalism  and  climate  communication.
After TV Tobacco Ads Were  Banned  In 1969 Some
 Anti-Tobacco  PR Firms Turned  To  Planeteering

Yet  those PC  programs tend to be historically selective.  Few dare recall how some founders of Cold War era anti-nuclear movements transformed   themselves into postmodern  environmental activists and climate policy strategists. Those who do  invite denunciation by climate activists on the left, who resort to terms like 'anti- science' or ' this  is not  history  of  science', the words  authors Naomi  Oreskes and  Eric  Conway apply to political opponents who cannot sensibly be called "climate deniers" having always embraced CO2 driven anthropocene   global  warming as a 
 scientific paradigm, and  contributed to its progress with  peer-reviewed research  in such emblematic journals as Climatic Change

That  journal's founder,  the late  Steve Schneider  famously  observed that  climate science  is a contact sport,  but  what really brings out the brass knuckles  all the way from The Nation Institute, to the right hand side of K-Street is taking both sides to task when they indulge dubious historiography,  or try to  revive and renormalize  the bald propaganda of the Cold War era for the internet age.

Things can turn ironic fast when those doing the denouncing forget what high-profile  colleagues in the  climate  commmunications PR business may say if they wander off-script and into reminiscence elsewhere on TV:

An  Aeon essay  by former University of London social psychologist Alexandra Stein, whose ‘Terror, Love and  Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems’,  published  last year  by Routledge, focuses  on  the  seminal  work of  psychohistorian  Robert Jay Lifton, who knows a thing or two about communicating to the masses, having published  Thought  Reform and the Psychology of Totalism   in 1961. After  becoming   Carl Sagan's  sidekick on the Nuclear Winter lecture circuit, Lifton segued into a career of   global warming advocacy, most recently with  Mind and habitat:  Nuclear and climate threats, and the possibility of hope.

Stein digs deeper into history than Oreskes & Conway's Merchants Of Doubt , which  constructs a  narative  in  which  Republican  publicist Frank Luntz  takes  his  cues  on  climate denial from the  the tobacco industry's success in sowing doubt about smoking risks by hiring well credentialed shills  to  shift  opinion by calling  science  into question. The reality behind  this  haute vugarization  of  cultural  history  is far stranger :  Merchants Of Doubt  glides  across  thin  analytic ice  with barely a glance into the archival depths below.

When  Congress  banned  TV cigarette ads in 1969,  anti-tobacco Mad Men like Porter-Novelli principal William Novelli turned to Earth Day as the  Next Big Thing, and his firm's  Creative Department  was soon orchestrating ( and illustrating) environmental publicity campaigns for hot  tabloid science  topics like 'nuclear winter' and  acid rain, and this new  line  of  advertising expertise  prospered into the present century, and  branched  out  into  academe ,  witness  the  Green  Advertising Alliance  encompassing Ogilvy & Mather and Saatchi & Saatchi, or Edward Maibach  Ph.D,  former Porter-Novelli Worldwide  Director of  Social  Marketing, now directing The Center for Climate Change Communication at  George Mason  University,  and  coauthor  of the report  linked above.
It was  a  matter  of  entrepreneurial  survival.  K-Street  and  Madison Avenue's  greener denizens had a hard time persuading their corporate accounts  to bet  advertising  dollars on Captain Planet, and still had two decades  and  an  Energy Crisis  to kill before  The Climate Wars   began  in   earnest  as  an  advertising  cause celebre' , with  James Hansen's  warning   to  the  Congress that warming was on the way.

Oreskes is no stranger to TV, having long been an anchorwoman for Al  Gore's  annual  Climate Realty Project  telethon.  But  Stein  has discovered  that Merchants Of  Doubt  notwithstanding, the roots of Advertising 101 in  academic  psychology  reach  down  far  deeper than the Tobacco or the Climate Wars. She traces the idea that a single dissenter can create a debate to:
the  conformity experiments  of  the 1950s  by  the  social psychologist Solomon Asch, who demonstrated that, when faced with obviously incorrect information, 75 per cent of participants publicly denied clear evidence before their own eyes rather than buck the majority opinion. However, when just one other person disagreed with the majority and broke the unanimous bloc, the conformity effect almost entirely disappeared.
That is the central thesis of  both Luntz's infamous  memo, and Oreskes &  Conway's unoriginal book, and the made-for-TV movie of Merchants of Doubt   has  projected  it  into  the  realm of  cliche', alongside  black  and  white  images  of  cigarette selling  doctors anachonistically fast forwarded from the fifties, when they existed, into the Reagan era, when they did not. Stein arrives at a different conclusion without recourse to anachonism. One more resonant with the partisan selling and political discounting of global models by both postmodernist and Straussian polemicists that puts climate science's objectivity at risk today:
"Given the right circumstances, almost anyone is vulnerable to   the   psychological   and   situational   pressures  I  have discussed. The respected scholars in my field have repeated over  and over  again  that  the way  to  protect  ourselves is through knowledge. In 1952, Asch wrote:
‘The greater man’s ignorance of the principles of his social  surroundings, the more subject is he to their control;  and   the  greater  his  knowledge  of  their operations  and  of  their  necessary  consequences,     the  freer  he  can  become with  regard  to  them.'"