Will Mainstream Media Be Duped in 2018 by Climate Denial Spin Doctors?

Will 2018 be the year that mainstream media is not duped by professional spin doctors and fake experts paid to downplay and deny the realities of climate change?

Call me cynical, but after more than a decade of research and writing into the role big fossil fuel companies have played in sponsoring coordinated attacks on climate science with public relations spin, I remain unconvinced we won’t see a resurgence in climate denial.

Later this year, a major update on the state of climate change research — the impacts, solutions, scientific underpinnings, etc. — will be released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the past, these IPCC reports have turned into a lightning rod for attacks by organizations like the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who claim to tout freedom and liberty as their cause, but enjoy big dollar sponsorship from coal and oil companies like Koch Industries, Murray Energy, and ExxonMobil.

IPCC climate reports are the Spin Olympics for these fossil-funded groups, with the winner reaping the rewards of notoriety and ultimately more funding to continue their disinformation campaigns.

As in the past, whether an attack on the IPCC climate change report is successful is almost entirely contingent on whether opinion leaders in the media are duped again.

Much of the spin doctoring and public opinion shaping strategies undertaken by the climate science attack dogs relies on getting their message out past their “audience bubble.” In order for them to win the day the story needs to go mainstream.

It is not good enough to get their story published in the ideological bubble of an outlet like Brietbart News or the conspiracy theory echo chamber over at InfoWars. The story can start in these outlets, but it ultimately needs to reach past these audiences, and that is where mainstream media outlets become very important to the climate denial cause.

If the attack can leap to the pages of outlets with more credibility with larger audience segments (think New York Times and CNN), then the fossil-funded climate cabal wins the gold medal.

Fortunately we have a thing called history.

Like big tobacco companies who paid pretend scientists to make up pretend research to fight back against the scientific body of evidence linking tobacco smoke to cancer, there is now a well-documented history of coal and oil companies paying unqualified experts to attack climate science research with the goal of stalling climate change policies that would impact their bottom lines.

In fact, right now Attorneys General in multiple states have active investigations into what ExxonMobil knew and when about the scientific research on climate change and whether the company actively worked to undermine what they knew to be true.

Tobacco companies paid dearly in the end for artificially manufacturing doubt about the link between cigarettes and cancer and other health effects, and ExxonMobil and these other big fossil fuel companies will likely pay dearly for their misdeeds some day.

But someday is not today, and while there have been massive leaps in renewable energy technology and major policy initiatives like the Paris Climate Accord, we also know that we are getting close to past the point of complacency on climate change.

Ignoring the mountains of evidence showing that the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels is causing unnatural levels of heat trapping gas in our atmosphere seems insane at this point, and we know that those who do are likely driven by ideology, their bank account or an overly active conspiratorial mind.

And any journalists who ignores the similarly larger mountains of evidence documenting the decades long multi-million dollar public relations campaign to prop up fake experts and create doubt about the realities of climate change falls into the same boat or is just naive at best.

The IPCC releases their updated report later this year, leaving more than enough time for any journalists covering climate change, energy and environmental issues to get up to speed.

To leave no room for excuses, here’s plenty of the well-documented history about how the fossil fuel industry paid to manufacture doubt about climate change:

2009 book, Climate Cover-Up

2011 book, Merchants of Doubt

2014 documentary, Merchants of Doubt

DeSmogBlog Climate Disinformation Database

2013 Greenpeace Report: Dealing in Doubt

2017 Harvard paper: Assessing ExxonMobil's climate change communications (1977–2014)

Inside Climate News Investigation into Exxon: the Road Not Taken

Get Weekly News Updates