Hello. This is Alex Smith from Radio Ecoshock. This week I received a remarkable video on DVD. It’s a conference organized by the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, November 19th, 2006.
At the conference, a series of speakers address some of our toughest climate problems. I was struck by a presentation by Prof William Moomaw of Tufts University, a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His topic was: “How can we utilize technologies, and policies, to get us to a 75% cut in global warming emissions?”
But the headline speaker was Ross Gelbspan, a seasoned investigative reporter, a tough thinker, and a scary truth teller.
In this review, I’m going to include some highlights from Gelbspan’s speech. I think you are going to want to see it, and later, I’ll tell you how to find it.
For 31 years, Ross Gelbspan was an investigative reporter and editor, for the Philadelphia Bulletin, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. His work lead to a Pulitzer Prize.
Retiring in 1998, he wrote the book “The Heat Is On, The Climate Crisis, the Cover-up, the Prescription.” President Clinton read it. His 2004 book is “Boiling Point,” reviewed in the New York Times, by Al Gore. Gelbspan has appeared at the World Economic Forum, and regularly in the largest American media. His web site, www.heatisonline.org gets hundreds of thousands of visits every year.
His latest speech was organized by Marc Breslow of the Mass Climate Action Network. The topic is “Straddling between Solutions and Survivalism.”
Getting published on global warming has been a challenge for even top named reporters like Ross Gelbspan. He explains the huge gulf in media – and public awareness – between America, and other parts of the world, particularly Europe. Other governments and publics have long recognized the dangers of climate change. This barrier to information has become a fixation for Gelbspan. He has taken a lead in exposing the corruption of the public mind, oiled by millions in propaganda dollars, from the fossil fuel industry.
He says, the major media outlets are blinkered, seeing politics in everything. So they fail to cover issues outside the political sphere, like science. Facts are not political.
“The Whitehouse has become the East coast branch office of Exxon and Peabody Coal, and global warming has become the pre-eminent case of the contamination of our political process by money.
This fusion of corporate interests and government power has proved to be an almost insurmountable obstacle to the climate movement’s ability to get it’s larger message across. So I think a really critical focus for climate activists should be on the press. And I know from my own experience, that when the press covers an issue thoroughly and consistently, the public responds, laws get passed – I think in this case it would mobilize the public in six months.
Unfortunately, the industry public relations specialists have been so successful in promoting equivocal and confusing climate coverage, that the American public is about ten years behind the rest of the world in this area. There are a number of reasons for this, none of them really justifiable. Let me just go through one of scores of reasons why the press behaves the way it does. One reason, I think, is that the career path to the top of news outlets, normally lies in following the track of political reporting. Top editors tend to see all issues through a political lens.
Early in his administration, and this is one example, President Bush declared he would not accept the findings of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] because they represent foreign science – even though half the scientists who contribute to the IPCC are American scientists. Instead, Bush called on the National Academy of American Science to provide American science.
What I found astounding was this: even as the Washington Press Corp reported this story, not one reporter that I saw bothered to check the position of the NAS. Had they done so, they would have found that as early as 1992, three years before the IPCC declared that we are changing the climate, the NAS was pushing for strong measures to minimize the impacts of human-induced global warming.”
Some of Gelbspan’s most famous reporting exposed the links between fossil fuel corporations, and a hand-full of paid scientists, who implanted the impression of a debate within science, about the human role in climate change. But there was no debate in scientific journals, or among thousands of experts in the field.
Gelbspan compared this effort to cloud our thinking, to the public relations efforts of the tobacco lobby, who found experts to deny that smoking caused cancer. History may find the Exxon and Peabody lobbyists helped kill many more people than the tobacco industry, as climate change unfolds in floods, heat waves, droughts, and storms.
Some have argued that the foundation of newspaper sales, and television viewers is controversy, and conflict. So the media simply fell into their old model, to sell the fake climate controversy, supplied by public relations companies, and their paid hack experts. Gelbspan, who knows the media industry as well as anyone, doesn’t let the press off so easily. He says irreparable damage has been done to the planet, while valuable years were wasted in denial, led by the mainstream media. As he digs away at the black dollars that bought time for ever-growing and excessive profits for the fossil fuel industry, Ross finds the media as guilty as the carbon kings.
Let’s listen to a few clips from his recent speech, starting with the fake debate.
“The next reason has to do with this campaign of disinformation launched by the coal industry and carried forward by Exxon/Mobil. As I mentioned, the fossil fuel industry paid a handful of scientists to dismiss the reality of climate change. That campaign has had a profoundly corrosive effect on journalists, by insisting this issue of climate change be cast as a debate – when in fact there is no debate whatsoever in the community of mainstream scientists.
When it is a story involving opinion, a journalist is ethically obligated to give the major competing points of view their best shot, about equal space, and their most articulate presentation. But when it’s a question of fact, it’s up to a reporter to get up off his or her butt and find out what the facts are. [Applause] In this case, we know what the facts are.”
“As one co-chair of the IPCC said to me, there is no debate by any statured scientist on this issue about the larger trends about what is happening to the climate. That is something you would never know from American press coverage. But it is something you should point out to every editor and reporter you encounter as you work to get your message out. Stop approaching reporters like beggars asking for a handout. Let them know how angry you are at them, for allowing themselves to be conned into betraying the public trust.
One researcher who surveyed over three hundred peer reviewed research articles a couple of years ago found that not one questioned the consensus about human-induced warming. By contrast, much of the coverage in the U.S. continues to cast this issue as a debate. And that’s exactly what the public relations specialists at big coal and big oil want. They don’t care who wins the debate, as long as the public perceives it to be a debate. And that way, people can shrug their shoulders, and walk away, and say ‘Come back and tell us what you really know, when you know what you are talking about.’
To keep the issue framed as a debate allows the public to avoid confronting what can be a frightening, and potentially emotionally overwhelming threat.”
Reporters and editors, Gelbspan says, have broken the public trust on the environment story.
Isn’t this media denial handy for all of us? Why should we make personal sacrifices, or expect expensive action by government or business, if we aren’t sure? The fossil fuel companies know full well that many of us wish the whole greenhouse gas problem would just float away into the sky, along with our exhaust. As his speech develops, Gelbspan seems to say the public might be panicked, if it knew the true extent of damage already done to the climate.
Gelbspan was asked to leave the audience with a note of optimism. But he changed his title to reflect the divided feelings many in the field hold. His new title: “Straddling Between Solutions and Survivalism.” I think we’re going to need both: ways to survive a very bumpy transition, to a carbonless sustainable economy, even while we implement the solutions that will save future generations from Hell on Earth. There is a whole chorus of people, from Net bloggers to senior scientists, who are thinking about survivalism, if we can’t adapt our political and economic systems, soon enough. Things may fall apart.
“Because of the success of this deeply dishonest campaign of information control, we find ourselves today in a sort of schizophrenic predicament. We are torn between the promise of solutions and the impulse of survivalism. The situation is that dire.”
Meanwhile, this seasoned journalist pleads for everyone to drop the political angle. Climate change doesn’t care about Conservatives, Liberals, or even Greens for that matter. Greenhouse gases operate by the laws of physics, not by the grace of campaign donations.
Here is a short list of Conservatives who warned about climate change:
“For example, many editors see climate change as a sort of proxy issue for political liberals. That’s not the case. The earliest and very forceful advocate on this stuff was Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister. William F. Buckley has published serious warnings about global warming. Jim Woolsey, former CIA Director and Republican Senator Richard Lugar had a long piece in Foreign Affairs a couple of years ago about the need to deal with climate change. President Bush’s first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neil, has likened the impacts of climate change to a nuclear holocaust. And the one Senator taking the lead to regulate carbon emissions is Conservative Senator John McCain. It would be really useful if journalists were to spend a bit of time examining the real, rather than the assumed, politics of climate change.”
Gelbspan’s anger lands on George Bush and his administration. He outlines, case by case, how Bush and his oil company appointees, censored scientific reports, and muzzled scientists themselves, by a campaign of career fear, and funding cuts. Worse, Bush and Cheney managed to sabotage efforts by many other countries, to establish international agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
“And of course, the President withdrew America from the Kyoto talks. When he did so, he pledged that the U.S. withdrawal would not affect the efforts of any other countries. Nevertheless, two years ago the Bush administration used its diplomatic leverage under the Framework Convention to emasculate the next round of climate talks.
So when the Parties to Kyoto met in Bohn the following spring, to discuss the next commitment period, they were prohibited from coming out with any action plan whatsoever. They were limited to information seminars.
As one veteran climate negotiator said, ‘the U.S. left the climate talks hanging on to a rock face by their finger nails.’ This is not political conservatism. This is corruption disguised as conservatism.”
Meanwhile, scientists and senior bureaucrats are getting nervous about the short time-line before climate disaster.
Last year, Rajendra Pachauri declared we have a ten year window to make very deep cuts in our carbon fuel use if humanity is to survive. That is remarkably strong language for a United Nations diplomat.
That same warning was echoed in December by NASA’s Jim Hansen. The British ecologist James Lovelock was even more pessimistic. Earlier this year, he declared that we may have already passed the point of no return in our ability to stave off climate chaos.
You can even see the panic in such accomplished scientists as Nobel Laureate Paul Krutzen and NCAR’s Tom Wigley who just proposed pumping long-lived aerosols into the stratosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting Earth. And both scientists acknowledge this is nothing but an expression of their pure desperation.”
But Ross Gelbspan does have solutions for us. In fact, he has three major programs to save the climate.
“The centerpiece of my last chapter of my book ‘Boiling Point’ outlines three strategies which we think is a model of what needs to happen, and I want to talk about them for just couple of more minutes. They include a change in energy subsidy policies in industrial countries; the creation of a large fund to transfer clean energy to poor countries; and a regulator mechanism that would require every country to increase it’s fossil fuel efficiency by five percent a year. “
And he thinks we can make money doing it.
“I think one antidote to the generalize psychological denial, that provides such fertile ground for this industry campaign, lies in an understanding that a switch to renewable energy does not imply a major decline in our living standards. And to the contrary, it provides a pathway to a far more wealthy, equitable, and secure world.”
These solutions are explained fully in his book “Boiling Point.” They make sense. Why subsidize oil companies to find more fossil fuels, for example, when they are already making billions in profits, and we can’t afford to burn all that oil and still survive.
Similarly, transferring to clean energy in established industrial countries won’t save us, if poorer countries, like China and India, just keep on pouring on the coal. When all the costs of climate damage are considered, it will be cheaper for us to help them build renewable clean energy. We might even live to enjoy our wealth without drowning, being blown away, or dying of drought, or heat.
The concept of improving fuel efficiency by 5 percent a year is more subtle. At first, companies and countries will do it by conservation alone. But eventually, new technology, and new economies, will have to develop to meet the goal. But it doesn’t demand an end to production, or the economy. Read the book.
The Tobin Tax, a small levy on world currency trading, is Gelbspan’s favorite mechanism to raise the $300 billion he thinks necessary to re-wire the world, with safe energy. But he isn’t fussy. A carbon tax could work, too. The funding mechanism isn’t as important as getting the job done before the climate is wrecked beyond recognition.
Here is his vision to re-wire the world:
“I think a plan of this magnitude, regardless of the details, would create millions of jobs, especially in developing countries. It would turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. It would raise living standards abroad, without compromising ours. It would undermine the economic desperation which gives rise to so much anti-U.S. sentiment. And in a very short time, it would jump the renewable energy industry into being a central driving engine of growth in the global economy.
Finally, at the risk of being a bit visionary, I do believe that because energy is so central to our existence, that a global project to rewire the world could be the first step toward peace, even in this profoundly fractured world.”
Strangely, in the super-patriotic atmosphere of the United States, Gelbspan suggests the world has outgrown nationalism, which he calls “toxic.” He says both the environment, and our intertwined global trading system, call for international planning, and action.
“The economy is becoming truly globalized. The globalization of communications makes it possible for anyone to communicate with anyone else in the world today. And since it is no respecter of national boundaries, the global climate makes us one.”
In the end, the aging Ross Gelbspan disposes with the obligatory happy ending for the troops. He can envision re-wiring the world, but sees it struggling through, quote, “the coming age of collapse.” All due to climate change and instability.
We have already failed to understand the natural system which regulates the winds and seasons, and without a Herculean effort, we will miss what he calls “Nature’s deadline.”
[Conclusion of the speech available in audio version only.]
You can find some of Ross Gelbspan’s earlier speeches at our website, www.ecoshock.org, in the climate archives. But this recent talk, his most powerful in my opinion, is so far only available on the DVD set. The producer, Marc Breslow, is an activist and organizer who is hoping to recoup the cost of filming, which is always more expensive than we expect. That’s why, so far, the video is only available for $29 bucks – and he may still lose money at that.
Forget the cost. Just the one speech is worth the price of admission, in my opinion, and there is a whole day’s worth of information and activism on this double DVD set.
To learn more about MCAN go to www.MassClimateAction.org. As you know, I don’t sell or advertise anything. But I do tell you where to get good climate info. Copies of the two-DVD set can be ordered for $29 plus $5 shipping (U.S.). Send payment to MCAN, 86 Milton Street, Arlington, MA 02474. Or pay online by making a contribution to MCAN on the website, and then send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org saying you have paid.
This speech, and rest of the presentations at the conference, is a must for your climate discussion group. I rate Ross Gelbspan up there with great climate communicators like Al Gore, George Monbiot, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Mark Lynas.
Plug in to Ross Gelbspan, by going to his website, at www.heatisonline.org.
I’m Alex Smith, reporting from Radio Ecoshock. Join us for 24 hour, free, all environment radio, at www.ecoshock.org.