A whole-world problem—and the key to solving it is to get everyone to acknowledge it. But of course some people, some businesses, have more to lose once it is universally acknowledged than others. When concern about global warming was new, it was understandable that fossil fuel companies would be hold-outs longer than other sectors, even that the US, with its economy so dependent on oil, would be the last to come around. Something new and disturbing is happening today though. Industry channels millions of dollars into PR firms and so-called think tanks like Cato, and when any one person first makes the decision to invest in this kind of commercial and ideological “research” he or she must realize that the “findings” will be highly dubious, not to mention intentionally deceptive. But then somewhere along the line the industry as a whole decides to take the talking points seriously—to treat them as if they were real science. Soon the initial step of hiring the PR firms and commissioning the think tanks is forgotten altogether, and it’s a matter of “Our knowledge is as a good as your knowledge,” a shoppers’ paradise of ideas, a postmodern nightmare.
Maybe it’s not so remarkable that industries can so effectively delude themselves since, after all, individuals do it every day. What is remarkable, though, is how effectively they’ve enlisted so many people who aren’t even part of those industries to trumpet their patently contrived talking points—and to do it with such zeal. In past entries, I’ve hinted at some possible explanations for how this conversion and near-radicalization of ordinary citizens is accomplished. But I like to point out that, though it’s part of the denialists litany of canards that global warming is religion, it seems to me what the PR people have exploited in so many conservatives is their own cherished beliefs in the omnipotence and benevolence of the invisible hand of the free market and in the omnipotence and benevolence of America. Aren’t these beliefs much closer to a religion than the belief that carbon dioxide is rapidly accumulating in the troposphere (measurable, measured, verified), trapping heat from the sun (measurable, measured, verified), and causing the global average temperature to increase (amen?).