|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.'"