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Climate Deniers Taking a Page Out of Big Tobacco Playbook

17 Jul 2014  |   James Silberstein

Tags: Climate Change

In a May 11 interview with ABC, Florida Senator and possible 2016 GOP Presidential candidate Marco Rubio stated the following: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it… and I do not believe that the laws that they propose to pass will do anything about it.” 

The scariest part of Rubio’s comments is in the phrase “these scientists.” “These scientists” derides a scientific consensus and casts what is a clear non-debate, as an open forum. 

“These scientists” to whom Rubio refers, make up a 97% majority within the climate science community. As the US Global Change Research Program, which conducted the most recent National Climate Assessment, puts it: “Evidence collected by scientists and engineers from around the world…tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming and over the last half-century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity.” In fact scientists are now as certain that human activity is causing climate change, as they are that smoking cigarettes causes cancer. The example is not a random one. The climate denialism campaign is being spearheaded by a vocal and obstinate minority set on replicating the techniques of the pro-tobacco lobby of the past.

It would be cute to say that climate change deniers have learned the art of blowing smoke, but the fuller narrative is more simple, and more compelling. Big Oil hasn’t just adopted the self-interested, smoke-and-mirrors techniques of Big Tobacco, they’re using some of the exact same fringe spinsters to manufacture data, blindfold the public and sow uncertainty where there should be none. 

Richard Berman, aka “Dr. Evil,” has a long history of using his DC Public Relations firm to establish front groups that attack people like animal rights activists and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Melanie Sloane is the executive director for the non-profit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. Of Berman she said, “(he) makes his money as a corporate hired gun, setting up front groups to denigrate public interest organizations that threaten his clients’ bottom lines.” 

In 1995, Berman launched the Guest Choice Network as a front group for Philip Morris, the wealthiest tobacco company in the United States. Over the next two years Philip Morris issued Guest Choice Network and Berman hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks to lobby against smoking bans in restaurants. Berman even misrepresented a World Health Organization study to dispute the growing scientific consensus of there being a link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer. 

Now Berman is back, doing Big Oil’s bidding under a front group called the ‘Environmental Policy Alliance.’ James Gerken of the Huffington Post writes that the organization’s website “suggests that the correlation between gas emissions and warming temperatures is ‘still unclear’ despite the fact that scientists have a solid understanding of the correlation.” Berman also created a website to attack the Environmental Protection Agency, relaying climate denying reports by the Heartland Institute and George C. Marshall Institute.

Big Oil is also funding climate-denying public officials like Senator Rubio. In 2010 his Senate campaign received more money from the oil-billionaire Koch Brothers’ Koch Industries, than any other federal candidate outside of Kansas (Charles Koch’s home state). Leaders like Senator Rubio are taking money hand-over-fist from the oil and gas industry while Big Oil continues to deny climate science and fund climate change denial. They’re spurning accepted science and the interests of their constituents in favor of doing the bidding of the polluting special interest that fund their campaigns. Like an ostrich with its head in the tar sands.

(Photograph by arbyreed)

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