Summary by Inday Ransom
Late nineteenth century scientist, Thomas Stockmann, discovered his town’s water supply was being polluted by chemicals from a local tannery. When Stockmann alerted the public, he was only met with scrutiny. He and his family were treated as outcasts, even as far as being threatened.
An Enemy of the People tells us a cautionary story of the fight between industries and scientists. It serves as a prime example for the climate wars.
Moving forward to the twentieth century, we find the founder of modern industry disinformation campaigns. Started by tobacco executives in order to hide evidence of addictive and harmful effects of their products. Internal documents show that tobacco companies’ own scientists knew about the negative health impact as early as the 1960s.
The leading attack being Frederick Seitz, former head of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Sietz was hired by tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, who payed him half a million dollars to use his scientific standing to shut down any evidence linking tobacco use to health problems, “The original science-denier-for-hire.”
Later on, the Pesticide Industry would use the Tobacco Industry’s tactics, after Rachel Carson announced the danger of the chemical DDT, in the 1960s. Eventually the U.S. banned DDT, but only until 1972. By then Carson experienced a smear campaign by industry groups. They labeled her as “communist,” “radical,” and “hysterical.”
In the 1970s, acid rain became an all too familiar phenomenon, especially in the United States. Gene Likens, and many others, discovered that the culprit for acid rain in North America was by midwestern coal-fired power plants producing sulfur dioxide. The coal industry offered half a million dollars to anyone who could discredit Likens.
Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, discovered in the late 1800s that burning fossil fuels and increasing greenhouse gasses would warm the planet. Exxon’s own scientists knew in 1982 that increasing carbon dioxide emissions would result in global warming, and the coal industry knew as far back as the 1960s.
By 1991, George H.W. Bush announced that he would sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. However, many people in his administration disapproved. Including his own Chief of Staff, John Sununu—and climate change denier.
Several fossil fuel companies would join together to create the Global Climate Coalition in 1989, to challenge the science behind climate change. They would argue that the data models were unreliable, too short or too error-ridden.
By late November 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would hold its final meeting. The consensus was moving towards acceptance of climate change. However, this didn’t come without its challenges. Nearly two days were dedicated to rewording in the “Summary for Policy Makers.”
In November of 2009, would mark the newest scandal, nicknamed “Climategate.” In the weeks leading up to the United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, thousands of emails between climate scientists were stolen. The emails were rearranged and taken out of context by climate-deniers to discredit the science. This led to Saudi climate-change negotiator, Mohammad al-Sabban, asserting that there is no connection between human activity and climate change.
“Vested interests have often employed what’s known as a deflection campaign in their efforts to defeat policies they perceive as disadvantageous to their cause. Deflection campaigns seek to divert attention from—and dampen enthusiasm for—calls for regulatory reforms to rein in bad industry behavior posing threats to consumers and the environment.” (pg. 47). There are many notable deflection campaigns in U.S. history.
One Notable deflection campaign would be used by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which created the slogan, “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People.” Its purpose is to divert attention away from the problem of easily accessible assault weapons toward other contributions, such as mental illness. Which worked—57 percent of people in a recent poll said that mass shootings reflect mental health problems. While only 28 percent said it was because of lenient gun laws.
Similarly, the tobacco industry blamed cigarette-initiated house fires on “flammable furniture.” This led to the use of flame retardant in everyday furniture. Unfortunately, flame retardants are toxic and build up in the body. It has now been banned in many states. Deflection campaigns always need a scapegoat.
One of the most influencing campaigns came from the early 1970s, called “The Crying Indian.” It depicts a Native American paddling his canoe through a river covered in flotsam and jetsam. As he makes his way onto land, it shows litter placed everywhere. He makes his way to the edge of the highway, when someone rolls down their window and throws out more garbage. It goes on to say: “People start pollution, people can stop it.” This sparked many people to join the environment movement. Which led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act.
The problem with cleaning pollution is finding who will be responsible for funding it. One solution by Ralph Nader, would be to place a deposit on bottles and cans (between five and ten cents) that would be refunded to consumers once returned. This solution was named the Bottle Bill. Oregon became the first state to enact the bill in 1971. Many states soon followed.
Many states, however, did not enact the bill. The reason being that the Bottle Bill would damper the beverage industry. They advertised campaigns saying the bills would be costly for consumers and bad for local business. Again, deflection. Any sustainable solution needs to be implemented by both individuals and industries.
The idea of “carbon footprint” was created by the oil company BP to blame consumer lifestyles for climate change. “Contrary to popular belief, fossil fuel companies are actually all too happy to talk about the environment. They just want to keep the conversation around individual responsibility, not systemic change or corporate culpability.” (pg. 64).
Many notable news organizations, such as Times, have published many articles blaming climate change on lifestyles, such as what we eat and how we travel. The reason why this deflection campaign works is because people love feeling morally above others. Systemic change and individual actions are both necessary to combat climate change.
The fossil fuel industry has been given permission to throw out its waste into the atmosphere with no consequences. One solution to this would be the selling of emissions permits known as cap and trade, in which the government sells limited permits to pollute and the polluters can buy and sell these permits. Another solution is the carbon tax, wherein a tax is placed on fossil fuels. Carbon credits can be given for the involvement in burying and storing carbon emissions.
When George H.W. Bush signed a cap-and-trade amendment to the Clean Air Act in 1990, sulfur emissions from coal-fired plants fell 36 percent by 2004, and power input increased 25 percent. The nine-million-ton sulfur emissions from 2007 dropped to 5 million tons in 2010. Many ecosystems recovered because of this. However, the GOP disowned their own success. But environmental groups favored explicit tax over tradable permits.
Fossil fuel companies spent $354 million in campaign contribution and lobbying. The American legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Heartland Institute have been sabotaging renewable energy campaigns. ALEC promoted legislation to financially penalize those installing solar panels on their own homes, specifically a surtax. Even undermining electric vehicles by creating a “highway user fee.” Furthermore deflecting wind turbines by saying they damage bird populations and cause a 75 percent decrease in property value. None of these are backed by evidence.
Inactivists have also announced to the public that renewable energy would create “energy poverty.” Arguing that developing countries only have access to fossil fuels. Also creating job losses in the fossil fuel industry, when in reality job losses are caused by mechanization.
Inactivists promoted the illusion of “bridge fuels,” “clean coal,” and “adaptation” as a means to combat climate change. The bridge fuels concept emphasizes that using natural gas is a sustainable solution. Natural gas reservoirs are readily available around the world. The rationale is that natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal per watt. Being tied to a 16 percent decrease in carbon emissions in the power sector between 2007 to 2014.
However, natural gas is still a fossil fuel and a greenhouse gas. In reality, methane is one hundred times more potent than carbon dioxide in a twenty-year period. The process of obtaining natural gas is especially destructive (i.e fracking and hydraulic fracturing, and lets methane escape).
Clean coal is the idea of using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). scientists project they could bury an estimated 1.4 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, nearly 90 percent of carbon emitted from coal use. But it’s simply impossible to bury so much carbon pollution.
Planting trees on a large scale is an option. There are .9 billion hectares available for this purpose. Nearly billions of trees that could harness over 200 billion tons of carbon over the next couple decades. But massive scale planting would have negative impacts on wildlife, and the process of planting so many trees would create more carbon emission, says the BBC.
“Doomism is a form of ‘crypto-denialism,’ or, if you like, ‘climate nihilism.’” (pg. 183). Doomism plays an integral role in inaction. It is a tool to depress people to the point that they disengage. It essentially argues that we cannot prevent climate change catastrophes. It undermines support for climate change actions.
The climate wars are “…nominally about air pollution. It’s about mind pollution.” (pg. 228). Fortunately, many policy makers are distancing themselves from climate denial. The war on action is now starting.
We have seen climate change action taking place today. In April 2020, a group of state officials declared a new coalition dedicated to 100 percent clean energy. New York State created a COVID-19 recycle plan with renewable energy as its basis. The majority of voters in the U.K. now support climate change action. Climate denial is now phasing out. “It is all the things we have talked about—behavioral change, incentivised by appropriate government policy, intergovernmental agreements, and technological innovation—that will lead us forward on climate. It is not one of these things, but all of them working together, at this unique moment in history, that provides true reason for hope” (pg. 267).