The Junkyard Dogs
Global Warming Is Good For You
excerpted from the book
Trust Us, We're Experts!
by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber
Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam Publisher, 2001, paper
The Junkyard Dogs
Major corporations and petty hustlers O alike use the mantle of
science to market all kinds of potions and remedies, many of which
have no demonstrable efficacy and some of which are harmful. The
history of psychiatry and the other social sciences is also riddled
with scientific-sounding explanations for human behavior, on the
basis of which innocent people have been sterilized, lobotomized,
drugged against their will, or imprisoned.
The concept of "junk science," however, is a particular
term coined by corporate attorneys, lobbyists, PR firms, and industry-funded
think tanks. It has very little to do with the quality of the
research in question. In the hotly contested terrain of regulatory
and liability law, "junk science" is the term that corporate
defenders apply to any research, no matter how rigorous, that
justifies regulations to protect the environment and public health.
The opposing term, "sound science," is used in reference
to any research, no matter how flawed, that can be used to challenge,
defeat, or reverse environmental and public health protections.
"Junk science" first emerged in the courtroom as
a disparaging term for the paid expert witnesses that attorneys
hire to testify on behalf of their clients. In many cases, of
course, an expert witness is unnecessary. If one person shoots
another in front of witnesses, you don't need a rocket scientist
to know who is responsible. During the twentieth century, however,
courts expanded the system of tort law under which personal-injury
lawsuits are filed in order to cover cases in which proof of causation
is somewhat more complicated. Many of these cases require a scientist's
testimony particularly when the injury in question comes from
environmental or toxic causes-for example, cancer in army veterans
subjected to radiation from atomic bomb tests; asbestos-related
mesothelioma; Reyes Syndrome caused by taking aspirin; or the
link between swine flu vaccinations and Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
By expanding the system of tort law, courts made it possible for
people injured through these sorts of causes to collect damages
from the companies responsible.
Tobacco Science Meets Junk Science
For big tobacco, the industry campaign against "junk
science" presented an interesting opportunity-a chance to
reposition itself as something other than a pariah in the scientific
Just as every action in the physical world begets an equal
and opposite reaction, every risk to public health seems to beget
an equal and opposite effort at denial from the industry whose
products are implicated. The tobacco industry, which U.S. Surgeons
General have cited since the 1 960s as "the greatest cause
of illness, disability and premature deaths in this country,"
helped invent the strategy of using scientists as third-party
advocates, and if Oscars were given for such campaigns, tobacco
would certainly win a lifetime achievement award. Prior to the
1950s, tobacco companies routinely advertised tobacco's alleged
health "benefits" with testimonials from doctors and
celebrities. When the first scientific studies documenting tobacco's
role in cancer and other fatal illnesses began to appear, the
industry was thrown into a panic. A 1953 report by Dr. Ernst L.
Wynder heralded to the scientific community a definitive link
between cigarette smoking and cancer, creating what internal memos
from the industry-funded Tobacco Institute refer to as the "
1954 emergency." Fighting for its economic life, the tobacco
industry launched what must be considered the costliest, longest-running,
and most successful PR crisis management campaign in history.
In the words of the industry itself, the campaign was aimed at
"promoting cigarettes and protecting them from these and
other attacks," by "creating doubt about the health
charge without actually denying it, and advocating the public's
right to smoke, without actually urging them to take up the practice."
For help, the tobacco industry turned in the 1950s to what
was then the world's largest PR firm, Hill & Knowlton, which
designed a brilliant and expensive campaign that was later described
as follows in a 1993 lawsuit, State of Mississippi vs. the Tobacco
As a result of these efforts, the Tobacco Institute Research
Committee (TIRC), an entity later known as The Council for Tobacco
Research (CTR), was formed.
The Tobacco Industry Research Committee immediately ran a
full-page promotion in more than 400 newspapers aimed at an estimated
43 million Americans . . . entitled "A Frank Statement to
Cigarette Smokers." . . . In this advertisement, the participating
tobacco companies recognized their "special responsibility"
to the public, and promised to learn the facts about smoking and
health. The participating tobacco companies promised to sponsor
independent research.... The participating tobacco companies also
promised to cooperate closely with public health officials....
After thus beginning to lull the public into a false sense
of security concerning smoking and health, the Tobacco Industry
Research Committee continued to act as a front for tobacco industry
interests. Despite the initial public statements and posturing,
and the repeated assertions that they were committed to full disclosure
and vitally concerned, the TIRC did not make the public health
a primary concern.... In fact, there was a coordinated, industry-wide
strategy designed actively to mislead and confuse the public about
the true dangers associated with smoking cigarettes. Rather than
work for the good of the public health as it had promised, and
sponsor independent research, the tobacco companies and consultants,
acting through the tobacco trade association, refuted, undermined,
and neutralized information coming from the scientific and medical
The absence of real standards for distinguishing between junk
science and sound science allows corporate apologists to use the
term with confidence, while simultaneously managing to amicably
disagree about an issue as fundamental and important as tobacco.
The concept of junk science serves as a convenient way of reconciling
their pro-corporate bias with pretensions of scientific superiority,
while simultaneously glossing over ethical conflicts of interest.
Equally disturbing is the sheer amount of rhetorical venom
and bile that the junkyard dogs of science have injected into
public policy discussions, polarizing debates and lowering rather
than elevating the tone of public scientific discourse. Some of
the most respected voices in public life have been targeted for
attack. Since its founding in 1936, Consumers Union and its monthly
publication, Consumer Reports, have been icons of integrity, offering
impartial scientific testing of consumer products and also serving
as advocates for real consumer protection. None of this matters
to "Junkman" Steven Milloy. In l999 he launched a second
website, called "Consumer Distorts" (www.consumerdistorts.com),
which accuses Consumer Reports of socialism, sensationalism, and
"scaring consumers away from products." ACSH has also
gone to war repeatedly with Consumers Union, accusing it of "irresponsible
fear-mongering" for its reports on health threats represented
by pesticides and other chemicals found in foods and common household
The failure of the self-proclaimed "sound science"
movement to provide a sound methodology is doubly disappointing
because, in the end, the critics of junk science have a certain
amount of truth on their side. There is indeed a great deal of
bad science in the news media and in courtrooms, and not all of
it comes from corporations. Over the years, both business marketers
and advocacy groups have become highly skilled at inventing and
exaggerating fears, dealing in dubious statistics and using emotional
appeals to sell products or mobilize public support for causes.
The time constraints and visual nature of television make simple
messages stand out more easily than complex ones, and marketers
have learned to exploit this reality of the modern mass media.
In addition to the political goals that underlie these appeals,
sometimes there are commercial motives as well. Great profits
can be made by selling overhyped "natural" food supplements
like shark cartilage and melatonin.
Global Warming Is Good For You
Automobile exhausts, coal-burning power plants, factory smoke
stacks, and other vented wastes of the industrial age now pump
six billion tons of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse
gases" into the earth's atmosphere each year. They are called
greenhouse gases because they trap radiant energy from the sun
that would otherwise be reflected back into space. The fact that
a natural greenhouse effect occurs is well-known and is not debated.
Without it, in fact, temperatures would drop so low that oceans
would freeze and life as we know it would be impossible. What
climatologists are concerned about, however, is that increased
levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are causing more
heat to be trapped. Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere are currently at their highest level in 420,000 years.
"The basic science of global warming has not changed
since the topic was raised earlier in this century," notes
a December 1999 open letter by the directors of the U.S. National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British Meteorological
Office. "Furthermore, the consensus of opinion has been growing,
within both the scientific and the business communities. Our new
data and understanding now point to the critical situation we
face: to slow future change, we must start taking action soon.
At the same time, because of our past and ongoing activities,
we must start to learn to live with the likely consequences-more
extreme weather, rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns,
ecological and agricultural dislocations, and the increased spread
of human disease.... Ignoring climate change will surely be the
most costly of all possible choices, for us and our children."
"There is no debate among statured scientists of what
is happening," says James McCarthy, who chairs the Advisory
Committee on the Environment of the International Committee of
Scientific Unions. "The only debate is the rate at which
it's happening." Between 1987 and 1993, McCarthy oversaw
the work of the leading climate scientists from 60 nations as
they developed the IPCC's landmark 1995 report.
There are, of course, areas of considerable outstanding dispute
and genuine scientific uncertainty. No one knows how rapid or
drastic global warming will turn out to be, or how severely it
will affect food production, ocean levels, or the spread of disease.
There is also debate over the extent to which global warming has
already contributed to droughts, intense hurricanes, and environmental
degradation such as coral bleaching. Given these uncertainties,
it is difficult to talk of a "worst-case scenario,"
but the scenarios that are plausible include many that are dire
... For the oil, coal, auto, and manufacturing industries,
warnings of the sort involve another kind of high stakes. Any
measures to control emissions of greenhouse gases threaten their
long-standing habits of doing business.
They view scientists' conclusions about global warming with
the same interest-driven hostility that the tobacco industry shows
toward scientists who study lung cancer. Like the tobacco industry,
they have pumped millions of dollars into efforts to debunk the
science they hate. They have found little support, however, among
the "statured scientists" to whom McCarthy refers-the
people who are actually involved in relevant research and whose
work has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
The global warming consensus among these scientists is so strong
that the oil and auto industries have been forced far afield in
their search for voices willing to join in their denial. What
is remarkable, given this fact, is the extent to which industry
PR has been successful in creating the illusion that global warming
is some kind of controversial, hotly disputed theory.
Lobbying for Lethargy
In 1989, not long after James Hansen's highly publicized testimony
before Congress and shortly after the first meeting of the UN's
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Burson-Marsteller
PR firm created the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). Chaired by
William O'Keefe, an executive for the American Petroleum Institute,
the GCC operated until 1997 out of the offices of the National
Association of Manufacturers. Its members have included the American
Automobile Manufacturers Association, Amoco, the American Forest
& Paper Association, American Petroleum Institute, Chevron,
Chrysler, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Dow Chemical, Exxon, Ford,
General Motors, Mobil, Shell, Texaco, Union Carbide, and more
than 40 other corporations and trade associations. The GCC has
also used "Junkman" Steven Milloy's former employer,
the EOP Group, as well as the E. Bruce Harrison Company, a subsidiary
of the giant Ruder Finn PR firm. Within the public relations industry,
Harrison is an almost legendary figure who is ironically considered
"the founder of green PR" because of his work for the
pesticide industry in the 1960s, when he helped lead the attack
on author Rachel Carson and her environmental classic Silent Spring.
GCC has group in the United States battling reductions in
greenhouse gas emissions. Its activities have included publication
of glossy reports, aggressive lobbying at international climate
negotiation meetings, and raising concern about unemployment that
it claims would result from emissions regulations. Since 1994
GCC alone has spent more than $63 million to combat any progress
toward addressing the climate crisis. Its efforts are coordinated
with separate campaigns by many of its members, such as the National
Coal Association, which spent more than $700,000 on the global
climate issue in 1992 and 1993, and the American Petroleum Institute,
which paid the Burson-Marsteller PR firm $1.8 million in 1993
for a successful computer-driven "grassroots" letter
and phone-in campaign to stop a proposed tax on fossil fuels.
These numbers may not seem huge compared to the billions that
corporations spend on advertising. The Coca-Cola company alone,
for example, spends nearly $300 million per year on soft drink
advertisements. But the Global Climate Coalition is not advertising
a product. Its propaganda budget serves solely to influence the
news media and government policymakers on a single issue and comes
on top of the marketing, lobbying, and campaign contributions
that industry already spends in the regular course of doing business.
In 1998, the oil and gas industries alone spent $58 million lobbying
the U.S. Congress. For comparison's sake, environmental groups
spent a relatively puny total of $4.7 million-on all is- a sues
combined, not just global warming.
Industry's PR strategy with regard to the global warming issue
is also eminently practical, with limited, realistic goals. Opinion
polls for the past decade have consistently shown that the public
would like to see something done about the global warming problem,
along with many other environmental issues. Industry's PR strategy
is not aimed at reversing the tide of public opinion, which may
in any case be impossible. Its goal is simply to stop people from
mobilizing to do anything about the problem, to create sufficient
doubt in their minds about the seriousness of global warming that
they will remain locked in debate and indecision. Friends of the
Earth International describes this strategy as "lobbying
"People generally do not favor action on a non-alarming
situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and
there is a clear doubt," explains Phil Lesly, author of Lesly's
Handbook of Public Relations and Communications, a leading PR
textbook. In order for the status quo to prevail, therefore, corporations
have a simple task: "The weight of impressions on the public
must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation
to take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing
information into the stream from sources that the public will
find credible. There is no need for a clear-cut' victory.' ...
Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut
situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary."
Hot Talk, Slow Walk
During the 1 990s, Clinton-bashing was a common theme in industry's
appeals to conservatives, using the argument that the global warming
issue was a liberal attempt to replace private property with "socialism,"
"bureaucracy," and "big government." Particularly
strong criticisms were leveled at then-Vice President Al Gore,
who has spoken with occasional eloquence about the greenhouse
effect and wrote about it in his book Earth in the Balance. Ironically,
industry's attacks on Clinton and Gore helped conceal the Clinton
administration's own complicity in the effort to prevent any effective
regulations on greenhouse emissions.
On the eve of Earth Day in April 1993, Clinton announced his
intention to sign a treaty on global warming, only to spend the
rest of his two terms in office waffling and backpedaling. His
"Climate Change Action Plan" of October 1993 turned
out to be a "voluntary effort," depending entirely on
the goodwill of industry for implementation. By early 1996, he
was forced to admit that the plan was off track and would not
even come close to meeting its goal for greenhouse gas reductions
by the year 2000.
In June 1997, Clinton addressed the United Nations Earth Summit
and pledged a sustained U.S. commitment to stop global warming.
Painting a near-apocalyptic picture of encroaching seas and killer
heat, he acknowledged that America's record over the past five
years was "not sufficient.... We must do better and we will."
Four months later, however, he announced that realistic targets
and timetables for cutting greenhouse gas emissions should be
put off for 20 years, prompting Australian environmental writer
Sharon Beder to comment that "champagne corks are popping
in the boardrooms of BP, Shell, Esso, Mobil, Ford, General Motors,
and the coal, steel and aluminum corporations of the US, Australia
and Europe.... The new limits are so weak, compared with even
the most pessimistic predictions of what the US would offer in
the current negotiations, that two years of hard work by 150 countries
towards reaching an agreement in December are now irrelevant."
During negotiations in Kyoto, the United States lobbied heavily
and successfully to weaken the treaty's actual provisions for
limiting greenhouse gases. The resulting treaty proposed a reduction
of only 7 percent in global greenhouse emissions by the year 2012,
far below the 20 percent cut proposed by the IPCC and European
nations or the 30 percent reduction demanded by low-lying island
nations that fear massive flooding as melting polar ice leads
to rising sea levels. The United States also successfully won
a provision that will allow countries to exceed their emission
targets by buying right-to-pollute credits from nations that achieve
Greenpeace called the resulting Kyoto treaty "a tragedy
and a farce." It was condemned as "too extreme"
by U.S. industry, declared dead on arrival by Senate Republicans,
and praised by some environmental groups; and it provided all
the political wiggle room that the Clinton administration needed
to have its cake and eat it too. Clinton embraced the agreement
but simultaneously said he would not submit it to the Senate until
impoverished Third World nations agreed to their own cutbacks
in greenhouse gas emissions.
There is a method to this madness that is well understood
in Washington lobbying circles, although it is rarely discussed
in public. By talking tough about the environment while sitting
on the Kyoto treaty, Clinton and Gore were able to preserve their
"green credentials" for political purposes while blaming
the treaty's demise on anti-environmental Republicans and an apathetic
public. For Democrats, it was a "win-win situation."
They could stay on the campaign-funding gravy train by doing what
their corporate donors wanted, while giving lip service to solving
the problem. The December 12,1997 New York Times reported that
Clinton was "in the risk-free position of being able to make
a strong pro-environmental political pitch while not having to
face a damaging vote in the Senate.... One senior White House
official . . . said it was possible that the treaty would not
be ready for submission . . . during the remainder of Mr. Clinton's
term in office." And indeed, this prediction proved correct.
Industry's "lobbyists for lethargy" had succeeded.
While Nero fiddles, the burning of Rome is proceeding and
even appears to be occurring faster than some climatologists expected.
The twelve warmest years in recorded history have all occurred
since 1983. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) and the World Meteorological Association concurred that
1997 was the hottest year ever, only to be surpassed by 1998,
which was in turn surpassed by 1999. In January 2000, the National
Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences Fred Seitz's
former stomping grounds issued a major report concluding that
global warming is an "undoubtedly real" problem and
is in fact occurring 30 percent faster than the rate estimated
just five years earlier ...
A series of extreme weather events also seemed to corroborate
the IPCC's predictions. In 1998, a January ice storm caused widespread
power outages in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.
In February, Florida was hit by the deadliest tornado outbreak
in its history. April through June was the driest period in 104
years of record in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico,
and May through June was the warmest period on record. Heat and
dry weather caused devastating fires in central and eastern Russia,
Indonesia, Brazil, Central America, and Florida. Massive floods
hit Argentina, Peru, Bangladesh, India, and China, where the flooding
of the Yangtze River killed more than 3,000 people and caused
$30 billion in losses. Droughts plagued Guyana, Papua New Guinea,
Pakistan, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and southern Russia. On October
4, 1998, Oklahoma was hit by 20 tornadoes, setting a national
record for the most twisters ever during a single day. Three hurricanes
and four tropical storms caused billions of dollars of damage
to the United States. In late September, Hurricane Georges devastated
the northern Caribbean, causing $4 billion in damages. A month
later, Central America was devastated by Hurricane Mitch, Central
America's worst natural disaster in 218 years, which killed more
than 11,000 people and displaced another 2.4 million. In the Pacific,
October's Super typhoon Zeb inundated the northern Philippines,
Taiwan, and Japan. Only eight days later, Super typhoon Babs struck
the Philippines, submerging parts of Manila.
In 1999, farmers in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic regions
of the United States suffered through a record drought. A prolonged
heat wave killed 271 people in the Midwest and Northeast. Hurricane
Floyd battered North Carolina, inflicting more than a billion
dollars in damages, while Boston marked a record 304 consecutive
days without snow. In India, a supercyclone killed some 10,000
people. Torrential rains and mudslides killed 15,000 in Venezuela.
Hurricane-force windstorms destroyed trees, buildings, and monuments
in France, leaving more than $4 billion in damages. The South
Pacific islands of Tebua Tarawa and Abunuea in the nation of Vanuato
disappeared beneath the ocean, the first victims of the global
rise in sea levels. The wave of catastrophes continued in 2000,
with a prolonged drought in Kenya while wet, warm weather spawned
billions of crop-threatening locusts in Australia and drought
driven fires devastated Los Alamos. The melting and fissuring
of Antarctica's ice shelf, which first became dramatically evident
in 1995, led in l May 2000 to the calving of three enormous icebergs
with a combined surface area slightly smaller than the state of
"You can't stop climate change given what we're doing right
now,'' said Michael MacCracken in February 2000. MacCracken is
director of the National Assessment Coordination Office of the
U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, which was launched
by President Bush in 1989. It is already too late to stop global
warming, he said, due to the accumulated carbon-dioxide emissions
that have already entered the atmosphere. The best that can be
hoped for is to minimize the problem and adapt to the changes.
In the United States, necessary measures will include changing
the way water supplies are managed in the western United States,
beefing up public health programs, building higher bridges, and
rethinking massive environmental restoration projects.
For years, the PR apparatus of big coal and big oil persuaded
many key decision-makers that global warming was a phantom-that
it was not even happening. As the scientific data proving otherwise
has accumulated, the contrarian line of argument has also shifted.
Industry voices have begun to admit that the industrial greenhouse
effect is real, and some are attempting to argue, like Arthur
Robinson of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, that
it is actually a good thing-that it will enhance plant growth
or that it will be of no consequence because the anticipated temperature
changes will be relatively slight. Other voices are stepping forward
with industry's standard lament, claiming that even if global
warming is a bad thing, fixing the problem is impossible because
it will cost trillions of dollars, ruin the economy, and eliminate
Us, We're Experts!