The Media Campaigns That Promote Dubious Science

(September 13, 2010) Over the past week we have looked at several very potent symbols that were misused by major media campaigns that pushed a political agenda to promote vigorous action to combat global warming.

We saw that they had to ignore basic arithmetic to paint polar bears as threatened, hyperventilate over GRACE findings that less than 0.5% of East Antarctic ice may have disappeared, and ignore IPCC scientists so they could insist that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035.

It would be very easy to write exactly the same type of story about the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and floods, the Amazon rainforest and African agriculture. In all cases, grey literature, a lack of perspective and some dubious research were packaged together to paint a widely disseminated but inaccurate portrait of danger posed by global warming.

But in this guest post I would like to talk about the media campaigns themselves. I have a bit of experience in this, as I have been advising companies on media strategies for almost 20 years now.

An organisation like Greenpeace, with a budget of $213 million for 2007, doesn’t say how much it spent on advertising, although they report spending over $3 million on media and communications. However, a source has told me that their combined media spend (and including that of their 27 country offices) comes to a bit over $50 million. The German branch of Greenpeace spent $2.5 million on advertising just by itself.

Greenpeace International spends its money on ‘campaigns’ such as Oceans, Forests and Trees. And of course, Climate and Energy, on which Greenpeace International spent $4.3 million. And much of the money spent on their campaigns is on advertising. (And of course, a lot is spent on fundraising, staff and things like maintaining the Rainbow Warrior.)

But I don’t want to pick on Greenpeace. Wikipedia has a list of about 500 environmental organisations here:
So let’s talk about what I think actually happens. Let’s say that the WWF commissions a scientific research project about, for example, the Amazonian rain forest. They identify a scientist who has demonstrated his commitment to ecological principles by working to save the Amazon for over 20 years–someone like Daniel Nepstad. They structure his research in line with his previous output, guaranteeing that the results will be in line with what they already know. The report comes out saying not just that rain forests like rain, but that even a slight decrease in precipitation can have disastrous effects on the rain forest.

WWF puts out a press release and targets some advertising to show the Amazon turned into a desert, or savannah. Another organisation pipes up with their own analysis of satellite photography of the Amazon that may lend support. Other environmental organisations piggy-back on the WWF’s work with their own press releases, advertising, op-ed contributions, letters to the editor and to politicians (Greenpeace alone has 2.8 million members), and it becomes big news. The fact that it is becoming big news stimulates a second round of media targeting, going after the mainstream media, getting columnists and broadcasters to cover the story–because the story now is the media campaign, not just the Amazon (which by itself is too remote to touch the flinty hearts of editors).

It gives the appearance of a well-coordinated campaign, thought up in the boardrooms of people that readers here have already indicated they distrust, like George Soros or Maurice Strong. But the odds are very good that it is not. It is quick reaction by sympathetic organisations taking advantage of an opportunity to reinforce messages that they have supported since they came into existence.

So I’m not suggesting a plot, or a worldwide conspiracy. As these organisations have grown, they have gotten rich enough to employ savvy media professionals, who do communicate with each other and are quick to spot the main chance. (Sort of like me being willing to help Anthony with a few guest posts, no matter how much I rile up the regulars.)

These people have calenders of relevant upcoming events, from local elections to Earth Day. They have rolodexes with each others’ names as well as all the journalists and politicians they can grab–and they share. They have a forward publishing schedule, so they often know what sister organisations are going to come out with, so they can coordinate similar releases.

It’s like the blogosphere, in a way–only with money. Lots of it. They have a lot of political and economic clout and they are determined to use it. If some mistakes are made along the way, they are willing to ride it out and persevere. The skeptics have nothing like this at their disposal, despite protestations from people like Naomi Oreskes. The think tanks are mostly marginally concerned about climate change, and there is nothing like a calendar or publishing schedule. Opposition to climate activisim is completely ad hoc, which is why it is so surprising that they have had some tactical successes.

This is a really tough time for these people. They staked a lot on getting a global agreement in Copenhagen, and it’s a real blow to them (and their egos) that it didn’t happen. Losing the US cap and trade battle was equally damaging to them. But taken as a very large group, they have money, organisation and a lot of professional skill.

It will take more than Climategate or the Hockey Stick to beat them. Readers of Watt’s Up With That should be aware of that.

But you should also put away the idea that this is some centrally directed conspiracy with an aim of global government. There is no need of a conspiracy theory to explain events of the past two decades.

Thomas Fuller

Thomas Fuller, Whatts Up With That? September 13, 2010

Read the original article here

Categories: Climategate

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