Misinformation Campaigns



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Sunday January 27, 2018 – Misinformation Campaigns – I just read an interesting article by Graham Readfearn on Desmogblog that warned about underestimating the power of the ongoing misinformation campaign being funded by elements in the fossil fuel industry.  It was based on a paper by Yale University Professors Justin Farrell and Kathryn McConnell, together with Brown University’s Professor Robert Brulle in the journal Nature Climate Change. 


It has long been known that a misinformation campaign has been waged to shed doubt on the idea of global warming by the fossil fuel industry.  The fossil fuel industry itself has mostly now admitted that burning fossil fuels is the major cause of the warming that has been happening since the start of the industrial revolution but they are still funding groups that spread disinformation about global warming.  The reason is not hard to fathom, trillions of dollars worth of assets will have to be left in the ground if we stop burning fossil fuels.


Such misinformation campaigns didn't start with the fossil fuel industry.  Back in the 1980s it was becoming very apparent that smoking was a leading cause of cancer and a whole lot of other issues.  The government was moving to stop smoking and that would cause major issues for the tobacco industry.  In 1984 the Heartland Institute was founded and, with major contributions from the tobacco industry, began a campaign to shed doubt on the research that showed a link between smoking and cancer.  This campaign was so successful that millions of Americans still smoke and many younger Americans start smoking each day. 


In the 1990s they started the same sort of disinformation campaign aimed at global warming.  Their stance has varied over time but has generally been that two thirds of global warming was due to natural causes.  They also contended that global warming stopped in 1998 and that the predicted effects are the result of shoddy science.  They had a small group of scientists who would produce reports, give presentations at events hosted by the Hartland Institute, and write op-ed pieces in national newspapers.  Closer inspection usually showed that their conclusions were based on cherry picked data.  Information leaked in 2012 showed that major contributions to the Heartland Institute's funding came from the fossil fuel industry.


Heartland Institute is not alone in using such strategies to try and shed doubt on global warming.  There are many other groups such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the UK.  They are often backed by right wing media outlets like the Daily Caller who often publish the misinformation coming from these groups.


The main thrust of the paper being reported on was the ways that this misinformation could be countered.  The article itself had a table at the bottom that listed the facts we know about global warming, the myths used in the disinformation campaign, and the fallacy that this myth represents. 


I have to say that I had a little bit of a problem with some of the facts as they were written.  For example the "Human emissions are responsible for all of the increase in CO2 in the air over the past two centuries."  While this is close to accurate it has to be acknowledged that a small part of the rise can be attributable to volcanic eruptions.  Carbon Isotope analysis does show that most of the increase is caused by burning fossil fuels though.  The disinformation is that volcanoes account for most of the increase in greenhouse gases and in the Fallacy they do say that the amount attributed to volcanoes over the last 200 years "are too small to account for the observed changes". 


The final answer here is not to take one of these articles that attempt to show that global warming is not happening at face value, but to do your own research.  That is especially true when the author is associated with one of the groups like Heartland Institute.  Sites like Desmog Blog and Skeptical Science will often highlight such articles and show where the fallacy or cherry picked data was used


One of the worst things in my opinion is that many of these sites, including Heartland Institute, are set up as non-profits so contributions to them are tax deductible.  Since such groups just push out propaganda, and don't do anything to help the less fortunate, I think that the rules for charitable contributions need to be seriously modified.  To me it is totally unacceptable that my tax dollars are going to people who fund organizations that are not helping anyone except those making the contributions.


The stakes are high here.  We are not talking about a few people who keep smoking because they don't want to believe that it has negative health effects, even though this costs millions of dollars in healthcare costs.  The last time that CO2 levels rose as quickly as they are at the moment led to the End Permian Extinction.  A repeat of this situation would be the end of the human race and most life on this planet.  We can't afford to let that happen.


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