“Doubt is our product.” So said an internal memo circulated among cigarette manufacturers and their communications consultants back in 1969.
We’ve written before about the parallels between cigarette misinformation campaigns and campaigns to discredit climate science, and about how doubt about climate works in funny ways on the human brain—even the brains of Climate Nerds. As it turns out, sowing and manipulating doubt has proven time and again to be an incredibly powerful strategy to stall action.
If you had any doubts about the power of doubt, here’s a video from the Climate Reality Project about how doubt has been used as a sophisticated strategy to stall both cigarette and climate policy. Watch it!
And as it turns out, some of the same pushers of misinformation and the perception of disagreement about climate science cut their teeth, built their reputations, and built up an infrastructure of science doubt-peddling in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s planting doubt about cigarettes (and…acid rain, ozone depletion, and DDT).
The strategy, as the video illustrates, is to raise questions about the reality of climate change to convince politicians and the media that the science is unsettled. Underlying it all is a simple concept: the public can’t understand the complex science, so convince them that scientists are unsure, and persuade them that without sound science, there’s no sense in taking preventative action. “The science doesn’t need to be disproved. It was enough to create doubt in the minds of the public to keep them from recognizing the truth.”
The takeaway is that doubt works on all of us. It works like magic because even those of us who are fully committed to climate solutions and knowledgeable about climate science have brains that cling to doubt even when we tell them not to. If you’re like me, you have a hard time imagining climate impacts during your lifetime or in your own hometown—among other cognitive roadblocks that help all of us push climate realities out of our minds on some level.
Some choice quotes from the video:
“I believe that nicotine is not addictive.”—Tobacco CEOs’ testimony to Congress
“The science is wrong; the economics is wrong.”—Dana Rohrabacher, R-CA
“None of this snake oil science stuff that is based on this ‘global warming’ Gore-gate stuff…” —Sarah Palin
“The science is suggesting that this isn’t really happening and that it’s not really dangerous.”—Pat Buchanan
“Do I believe the scientists? Noooo!”—Glenn Beck
“God controls the climate! Come on!”—Bill O’Reilly
“Carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas.”—Michele Bachmann