(Astro) Turf Wars: how industry funds denial

[Hat tip DeSmogBlog]  

(Astro) Turf Wars is the film that clearly illustrates the connection between industry funded think tanks and climate change denial:

“…In Summer 2009, something stirred in America. After Barack Obama and a Democratic congress swept to power promising a new era of hope and change, out of nowhere a citizens protest movement emerged that threatened to derail their agenda. Was this uprising the epitome of grassroots democracy? Or was it, as some said, an example of ‘astroturfing’? That is, the creation of fake grassroots (ie. Astroturf: get it?) groups, designed to put corporate messages in the mouths of seemingly independent citizens.”

It dissects the Tea Party movement in the US, clearly showing it was a movement founded and funded by industry.  

Their purpose: to stop legislative reform that would hurt company profits.  

Cap and trade in the sights of industry  

In addition to derailing Obama’s health care reform, these groups targeted the “cap-and-trade” bill:

“…From a senate briefing by renowned sceptic Dr Fred Singer to infiltrating a series of oil-funded Astroturf groups, Taki investigates (with insight from PR man and author of ‘Climate Cover Up’ Jim Hoggan) how the energy industry too is using front groups and ‘independent’ experts to defeat the cap and trade bill and deny the science of global warming.”

Just like Australia, this industry funded “grass roots” movement was successful in having having legislation “deferred”.  

What is astroturfing?  

Astroturfing is a tried and true propaganda technique used to create the impression of a “mass movement”:

“Astroturfing denotes political, advertising, or public relations campaigns that are formally planned by an organization, but are disguised as spontaneous, popular “grassroots” behaviour. The term refers to AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass.

The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual promoting a personal agenda, or highly organized professional groups with money from large corporations, unions, non-profits, or activist organizations. Very often, the efforts are conducted by political consultants who also specialize in opposition research. Beneficiaries are not “grass root” campaigners but distant organizations that orchestrate such campaigns.”

Evidence of Astroturf campaigns

In 2009 Greenpeace obtained a leaked document that conclusively demonstrated exactly how industry funds the denial machine:

“…A leaked email obtained by Greenpeace USA reveals that the American Petroleum Institute (API) is preparing a series of “Energy Citizen” rallies over the next few weeks, intended to heap pressure on key senators ahead of the crucial Senate vote in late September.

Greenpeace accused the API of engaging in “astroturfing” – the controversial tactic of creating the illusion of a largely spontaneous grassroots protest that has in fact been organised by corporate-backed groups. The practice has been widely accused of undermining President Obama’s efforts to pass universal healthcare legislation and environmentalists are increasingly concerned that his climate change programme could face a similar fate.

In the email, API president Jack Gerard urged the group’s member companies to encourage staff to attend the planned rallies and to also extend invites to ” all vendors, suppliers, contractors, retirees and others who have an interest in our success”.

He stresses that attendees will have to do little more than turn up, explaining that API will provide all the “up-front resources” and has appointed “a highly experienced events management company that has produced successful rallies for presidential campaigns, corporations and interest groups” to manage the events.

The email also calls on member companies to not disclose details of the planned events, urging them to “please treat this information as sensitive and ask those in your company to do so as well… we don’t want critics to know our game plan”.

Here is the original email.

The following quote makes it very clear that these “Energy Rallies” where conceived, organised and supported by the API:

“…To be clear, API will provide the up-front resources to ensure logistical issues do not become a problem. This includes contracting with a highly experienced events management company that has produced successful rallies for presidential campaigns, corporations and interest groups. It also includes coordination with the other interests who share our views on the issues, providing a field coordinator in each state, conducting a comprehensive communications and advocacy activation plan for each state, and serving as central manager for all events. We are asking all API members to assist in these August activities. The size of the company does not matter, and every participant adds to the strength of our collective voice. We need two actions from each participating company…”

Of course deniers will wave such evidence away, refusing to believe they could be duped by a massive industry funded PR campaign.

I’d challenge climate sceptics to read this document and reflect upon it’s meaning. 

However, I suspect they’d rather tear down the institution of science than admit to being taken for fools.

Climate change “sceptics” need to reflect upon the fact that these think tanks treat you with contempt: they are exploiting your fears, beliefs and intellects to further the agenda of the companies that fund them.

Who wins?

In the short term, the PR hacks and companies that pay them. They maintain their profits.

And yet in the end, we will all pay the price of denial.

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3 thoughts on “(Astro) Turf Wars: how industry funds denial

  1. […] Much has been made in discussions about climate denialism about the oil industries funding concerted attempts to discredit climate science. But within the oil companies themselves, there does seem to be a recognition that the party is over. Take, for example, this report produced by Shell earlier this month: Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050. The Shell report takes the climate science very seriously, and quotes from the Rockström et. al. paper on on planetary boundaries, along with the the work by Allen et. al. and Meinhausen et. al. on limits to cumulative emissions. There’s no mention from the Shell scenarios team of any doubt about climate change and peak oil – in fact they clearly state that “the longer the delay in climate policy action, the more likely shocks become” (p17). […]

  2. It’s nothing short of inhumane. The US movement against health reform had to be the most telling case here. It’s appalling.

    I like your challenge. Deniers are always challenging me to read grey literature (such as AirCon) or the discredited papers by unrelated scientists/Monckton etc.

    Who is most likely to be scamming people, industry with massive profits at risk in a low carbon market or a group of scientists (apparently for grants) who are under incredible scrutiny by related experts/peers?

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