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Propaganda may very well have been invented by the Catholic Church in the year 1622. Yet it was transported into modernity by a man known as Poison Ivy and, more importantly, by Edward Bernays, who once said, The significant revolution of modern times is not industrial or economic or political but the revolution which is taking place in the art of creating consent among the governed.
Just as the Catholic Church tried to prevent stepping into modernity by fighting the Reformation, Poison Ivy fought modernity by combatting those who disliked capital. He fought an ideological public relations battle for Rockefeller but also advised Adolf Hitler.
Not only after the unsavoury beginnings of public relations, the true mastermind of PR, Bernays, had even bigger goals. With his help, propaganda became the art of creating consent among the governed. German philosopher Adorno called this the process of mass deception. Decades later, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky named virtually the same thing:manufacturing consent.
A piece of gigantic machinery had been set in motion to create mass consent in support of corporate capitalism. Today a large section of capitalism’s public relations machinery is fighting a new battle – the battle to preserve the profits of mineral extracting corporations and fossil fuel giants. This, of course, means fighting the awareness that global warming is killing our planet. Anti-global-warming PR seeks to fight knowledge like this:
There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which humankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels… There are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered.
At first glance, one is tempted to think some tree-hugging greeny said this. Yet it was none other than James F. Black, senior scientist of ExxonMobil. Even more astounding, this quote is from the 1970s. In other words, ExxonMobil has known about global warming for fifty years. As a consequence of what extraction companies know, they decided to fight a serious PR battle. One of the leading PR weapons remains to divert attention away from what is really important for global warming – the strategy of distraction.
The main drivers of the propaganda campaign – including their dark money – are the billionaire plutocrats, the Koch Brothers, the Mercers and Scaifes. Their PR apparatus operates with a well-proven 3D trajectory, which has been used for: DDT, smoking, guns, fast food, sugar, and now: global warming. The components of 3D are 1) deny, 2) distort, and 3) delay.
At the first stage of the PR battle, global warming is simply denied. The propaganda strategy is: global warming does not exist. When this is no longer possible or plausible, the second stage moves on to distortion, distraction and deception. Here global warming and the research and science behind global warming is distorted.
Once this is no longer possible, public relations move onto the third stage. At this stage, awareness of global warming is delayed as much as possible. Anti-global-warming PR focuses on “real answers”, “hands-on-solutions”, “start-at-home” initiatives, resilience, adaptation, etc., as well as a false solution like clean coal, coal-burning with carbon capture, geoengineering, etc. To combat this sort of propaganda, Michael Mann, for example, suggests a fourfold plan:
1) disregard the doomsayers – the world can be saved;
2) a child shall lead them – children are our future as they will suffer the most from “do nothing”;
3) education – an educational battle against anti-global-warming PR; and finally,
4) changing the system requires systemic change – changing your lights to LED might not be enough.
Set against these four strategies is an industrial size disinformation campaign that does not just use accidental misinformation but plenty of deliberately and purposefully created disinformation about global warming. It runs under the conviction “doubt is our product”.
Perhaps ever since Rachel Carson’s fight to create awareness of the dangers of DDT, we know that anti-environmental PR also works with character assassination. This runs with the motto: shoot the messenger. It also means: if you cannot attack the issue, attack the person. If you cannot play the ball, play the man. Sadly, and furnished with the means of the power of online platforms, such character assassination campaigns have gathered strength. Today, the fossil fuel industry’s PR henchmen can rely on ordinary people to megaphone their ideological battles and assassinate opponents.
An excellent example of how propaganda is used occurred during the 2011 visit to Australia by NASA’s James Hansen, a climate scientist. Almost simultaneous was the visit of Lord Monckton (a clown and global warming denier). Upon a closer look, media researchers uncovered a disparity of 47 to five appearances in Monckton’s favour on Australia’s state media outlet, the ABC. Worse, Hansen’s visit failed to rate a single mention on ABC TV.
Unlike Australia’s for-profit stations (channel 7, 9 & 10) that hold roughly 75% of the TV market, state-owned ABC is supposed to be neutral. Not so neutral is Rupert Murdoch‘s overwhelming propaganda machine that essentially defines news in Australia. Murdoch “owns” 70% of Australia’s national and metropolitan newspaper market. One man has 70%. In North Korea, one man holds 100%. One country is framed as open and democratic, while the other is framed as evil and dictatorial. Reaching way beyond the Hanson/Monckton example, Australia’s for-profit TV stations, often working in conjunction with Murdoch’s newspapers, make sure that Australia remains decades behind other OECD nations when it comes to protecting the environment.
Meanwhile, one of anti-global-warming PR’s favourite methods is to tell us that global warming lies in the future and that research on it is just a prediction. Well, as the Nobel laureate, Niels Bohr, who told us about atomic structure and quantum theory, once said, a “prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future!” Well, that is precisely what senior scientist of ExxonMobil James F. Black did in the 1970s. He predicted that global warming was coming in the not so distant future.
Today, those who create anti-global-warming PR also use the strategies of US propaganda expert Frank Luntz. Luntz used to be the propaganda strategist for George Bush. Frank Luntz believes in words that work. By this, he means not the spoken words but the way a listener receives the words. It is not what you say that matters but what people hear!
In part, Luntz is also responsible for renaming global warming into simple climate change. For Luntz, global warming sounded so much more dangerous than climate change. Climate change sounds a bit like air conditioning. You can change the climate by turning a button. Climate change is relatively harmless.
As long as non-serious climate change replaces global warming, anti-global-warming PR might be on a winning ticket. Yet, those who broadcast harmless climate change are not just the media empires of Rupert Murdoch in the USA, the UK, and Australia but are also conspiracy fantasy inventors like the Drudge Report, Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, etc. who have supported Donald Trump. Trump once claimed that the 2020 fires in California were not because of global warming but because of mismanagement and because people did not rake the forest.
Besides blaming wildfires on forest mismanagement, anti-global-warming PR still likes to rely on diverting attention. One way of doing this is by seeking to focus on a personal carbon footprint. This is something even oil companies promote. Focusing on an individual’s carbon footprint is a useful mechanism that diverts attention away from the worldwide impact of global warming. Anti-global-warming PR often means deflecting global warming by re-locating the issue onto side issues. It prefers to blame global warming on individuals rather than corporate behaviour. Even companies like Chevron like to blame global warming – called climate change – on people. Chevron argues that it is the way people are living their lives that is driving climate change.
Typical for diverting attention are campaigns that rhetorically and most importantly, ideologically asks, does environmentalist XYZ’s lifestyle equal climate denial?. Such campaigns blame those who highlight the impact of global warming by focusing on the messenger. This sort of PR spotlights individuals, and at times it centres on their air travel. This is done even though air travel causes about 3% of global carbon emission. Still, the key is to blame individuals and divert attention away from global warming. Anti-global-warming PR wins any time people focus on individual behaviour rather than on global warming.
Murdoch’s PR machine attacked Al Gore, the creator of The Inconvenient Truth, blaming him for using electricity and having too many rooms in his house. Murdoch’s media even blamed Al Gore’s weight. Anything will do as long as it diverts attention away from global warming and blames the messenger because it cannot blame the message that is based on solid science.
Another anti-global-warming PR strategy relied on the use of hoax photos. One hoax photo was promoted on Facebook by a faked Astroturf organization called Australian Youth Coal Coalition. The photo claimed to show trash littered by climate rally attendants in Sydney’s Hyde Park. The caption read to the photo read, look at the mess today’s climate protesters left behind in beautiful Hyde Park. So much plastic. So much landfill. So sad.
The group’s Facebook post was shared 19.000 times within twelve hours and thousands of more times by others. It appeared on Facebook and other online media platforms. The problem was that the image that blamed global warming demonstrators wasn’t from the climate protesters. In fact, it wasn’t even from Australia. The photo was taken in April 2019 at London’s Hyde Park following a marijuana festival.
In another case of anti-global-warming propaganda, Murdoch’s press hammered the mayor of Sydney. During the long-running battle of Murdoch’s propaganda machine to discredit Clover Moore, she too was blamed for flying. Clover Moore countered Murdoch’s propaganda by saying, what Murdoch did isn’t about flights at all. It was about climate science. It is about the propagandistic deflection away from the real issue by Murdoch’s press. Those who run such PR campaigns deny global warming. Today, their PR tactics have matured. They no longer simply deny that global warming exists. Today, they prefer to deflect public attention away from global warming.
Murdoch is by no means alone. Forbes magazine once suggested that Greta Thunberg’s lifestyle may be one reason for global warming. No evidence was presented to support this claim. Focusing on lifestyle is, of course, an indication of the propagandistic method of deflection. Perhaps a schoolgirl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg’s fearless speeches and steadfast demand that policymakers support systemic changes rattled the cage of the powerful.
For years, fossil fuel lobbying, neoliberal and right-wing anti-regulation plutocrats have preferred pro-business re-regulation rather than outright anti- or de-regulation. This is quite apart from their preferred de-regulation ideology. Whenever one hears the word “de-regulation”, it translates into pro-business re-regulation. In any case, they have been fighting a relatively successful information war against people seeking to prevent, for example, any legislation aimed at pricing carbon emissions.
Yet, in the USA, none other than the former Republican president George HW Bush signed a cap-and-trade amendment to the USA’s Clean Air Act in 1990. This regulation required coal-fired power plants to scrub sulfur emissions before they exited smokestacks. Today’s Republican party does not want to be reminded of this. Worse for the Republicans, Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman also argues that a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade policy will achieve the needed reductions in carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, on the PR battleground, the Koch brothers remain active. A few years ago, the Kochs readied themselves to serve notice to any Republican legislators who might think about supporting climate legislation. They made an example of Republican Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC), who had made the mistake of supporting a carbon tax bill. In 2010, Koch Industries stopped funding his campaign. Inglis lost the re-election, and his defeat sent a very clear message to Republicans: Koch’s ideological obsession with global warming regulation can never be violated. Again, the Kochs’ efforts were successful – dark money rules.
Serving the coal industry and its own right-wing ideology, Murdoch engineered pretty much the same in Australia. With the media power of Rupert Murdoch in the back, it was relatively easy for the Liberal party’s pro-fossil-fuel lobbyist and climate-change denier, Tony Abbott, to win a general election (2013). In the Australian context, the Liberal party means staunchly conservative, beholden to Australia’s mighty coal interest and in Abbott’s case, all this is turbo-charged by religious fundamentalism. Furnished with a win, Abbott quickly revoked Australia’s Emission Trading Scheme or ETS.
Before that, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (a more moderate conservative) was relentlessly attacked by the Murdoch press. In an internal mini coup d’état, Turnbull was ousted from office primarily because he supported carbon pricing. Some of the very people who voted for Turnbull and global warming denier, Tony Abbott – the people in rural Australia – suffered severe consequences not much later. In a never before seen, record hot, arid and bush fire plagued summer of 2019/2020, vast areas of Australia morphed into a Dante-like hell on earth mirroring scenes from Mad Max– an Australian apocalyptic movie.
Decades before that, none other than Thomas Edison said We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind, and tide. Yet, the resource industry is doing exactly the opposite. And they are still supported by neoliberal economist telling them fairytales of endless economic growth on a non-endless planet.
To support such economic madness, fossil fuel corporations engage not only in lobbying but also have established what is known as a “corporate bill mill.” This mill churns out pro-business legislation. The ingenious system works like this: there are corporations needing favourable pro-business laws; there are politicians needing campaign financing; and there are media corporations needing advertising dollars. The system works to the benefit of all, except ordinary people and the environment.
Typical of all this is Republican senator John Barrasso of Wyoming. He was not just the third-highest recipient of Koch brothers dollars during the 2018 election cycle, and he was also the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Some say we have the best politicians money can buy.
A rather crafty way of diverting attention away from global warming is the idea that wind turbines kill birds – one of the favourites themes of the anti-environmental propaganda machine. The death of birds is set against green energy and in favour of pollution even though house cats alone kill more birds than wind turbines. Not far away from the wind-mills-kill-birds theme is Donald Trump. Trump also thinks that wind turbines cause cancer – a prevalent scare tactic of anti-global-warming propaganda.
Yet, very occasionally, even the refined propaganda apparatus of Rupert Murdoch acknowledges global warming. Here is the story. Not known of their strong support for measures to fight global warming, a World Bank study (2015) concluded that global warming could push 100 million people worldwide into even deeper poverty by 2030. Even Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News was forced to report it. It did so to maintain the appearance of being “balanced” and pretend to “listen to both sides”. Even though “we are fair and balanced” claims are part of the overall Fox ideology.
Finally, one of Fox News hosts once asked a carefully selected and invited global warming denier why solar power was so much more successful in Germany than in the United States? The invited propagandist answered roughly the following: they are just a smaller country, making it more feasible. And they’ve got lots of sun. Right. They’ve got a lot more sun than we do.
Yet the entire continental United States gets more sun on average than even the most sun-laden regions of Germany. What’s the real reason German’s solar industry is doing so much better than the solar industry in the United States? Simple: It doesn’t have Fox News, the rest of the Murdoch media, the Koch brothers, and fossil fuel interests all joining forces to destroy it, to destroy knowledge of global warming and to destroy our planet.