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Lobbyists

December 27, 2011 by filed under Columns, Sustainable Planet No Comments

“We are thoroughgoing liars, even to ourselves. Our most prized possession – language – not only strengthens our ability to lie but greatly extends its range.” Robert Trivers, The Folly of Fools [1]

In my November 13 article in the Blue Ridge Leader [2], I mentioned a pro-nuclear friend whom I had asked for information which might support the viability nuclear energy. At the time he had not delivered. Since then he recommended the World Council of Energy 2010 Survey of Energy Resources report [3] which is very useful, fact-based and loaded with content. The uranium and nuclear energy chapters were written by Hans-Holger Rogner, whom I’ve written about in prior articles and of whom I have high regard [4]. Not that I necessarily agree with him on any point but I do take his opinion seriously. I am preparing a few articles on his report chapters but it will take some time as research and fact checking is required. Rogner’s report is exactly the kind of information I was expecting from my friend. And it is exactly the kind of meaty information which is worth digging into. More recently, he sent me a link to a content free TV interview with a nuclear power industry lobbyist [5] with the comment: “This story will be of interest to you.”

I assume everybody knows that lobbyists are not hired to tell the truth. This is not to say that all lobbyist lie all the time but simply recognition of the fact that they are being paid to represent the views of their clients, regardless of truthfulness of those views. If they deviate from those views, they are fired. They are simply not at liberty to tell the truth. In the most egregious cases, no tobacco company had paid a lobbyist to tell the truth about the harmful effects of second hand tobacco smoke and the fossil fuels industry has not hired a lobbyist to tell the truth about anthropogenic global warming. To be fair, there is probably some selection process taking place where lobbyists with certain views find clients with similar views.

Last week I heard an NPR reporter interview two lobbyists about the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation being considered by congress. She introduced one of them as a lobbyist representing the motion picture industry, Motion Picture Association of America, which supports the legislation and the other as a lobbyist representing a group of large internet companies which oppose the legislation. Although the interview lacked a lobbyist or representative who reflected the possible impact of the legislation on the public, the rest of us, the 99%, it was a balanced and honest bit of reporting so far as it went. Pointedly, the interviewer did not bring up extraneous and gratuitous information about the lobbyists themselves, stuff that may or may not have been true about their pasts but is irrelevant to SOPA. The interview was about the pros and cons of the legislation and not at all about the lobbyists. Listeners were well informed that the two participants were lobbyists and nothing more nor less at the start of the segment and again at the conclusion. For more information on SOPA here are some links [6].

On November 12, 2011, NBC12 reporter Ryan Nobles interviewed nuclear energy lobbyist Patrick Moore, whose public relations company, Greenspirit Strategies, represents the Nuclear Energy Institute, which itself is a lobby company for the nuclear power industry. This interview is empty of content and is easily dismissed except that it is a good example of Trivers’ argument that we are thoroughgoing liars. Nobles introduction states “Patrick Moore is the co-founder of Greenpeace. He left the organization several years ago and now works in the search for “clean, safe and reliable” energy.” This is deceitful on several counts. First Greenpeace was founded in 1970 and Moore joined in March of 1971. He was not a founder and was apparently thrown out of the group acrimoniously in 1986 [7]. While fifteen years is a long time to be associated with Greenpeace as an activist, this was 25 years ago. Second, Moore is not working in the search for energy of any form, clean, dirty or otherwise. There are plenty of scientists and engineers searching for alternative forms of energy. Moore is not one of them. Moore is simply a lobbyist nothing more or less working to promote the views of his clients, who in this case happen to be the nuclear power industry. Third and most important, Nobles never mentions Moore’s lobbying activities during the interview and this is an unmistakable lie of omission. Viewers have a right to know this.

Nobles even adds unnecessarily, “you’re an environmentalist, correct?” This is a question Moore wisely doesn’t answer since he isn’t. Moore’s scam is to leave the viewer with the mistaken impression that he is. The way the interview was scripted easily leads a viewer to conclude incorrectly that “even some Greenpeace environmentalist supports uranium mining” which of course is not true. Nobles could have done a story on uranium mining in Virginia introducing Moore as a lobbyist associated with NEI and the interview would have been content free but at least on some level honest. Nobles could have followed that up with an interview of a real Greenpeace representative and that would have been content free but honest. Or Nobles could have interviewed them both together. That too would have been content free but vastly more entertaining. Had Nobles truthfully introduced Moore as a lobbyist representing the NEI, viewers would have been better informed as to why Moore was being interviewed in the first place. They would have been able to correctly dismiss the otherwise content free interview as just another nuclear industry hack who supports mining uranium, and so what else is news. Nobles is complicit in Moore’s dishonesty. Contrast Nobles shoddy calculated reporting with the more professional and honest reporting I referred to above on NPR.

What to make of Moore? Reasonably, we might conclude he is a scoundrel in the vein of Chris The Third Lord Viscount Monckton of Benchley, who is not a governing Lord as he portrays himself nor is he a scientist as he likes to pretend [8]. He is just another global warming denier using his title to pseudo-legitimize himself and his ridiculous arguments. Likewise, Moore uses his past relationship with Greenpeace to stimulate business for his public relations company and to green wash the activities of his corporate clients.

Moore may have at one time been an environmentalist but he is clearly not one now. We cannot bastardize the English language to the extent that we consider a global warming denier such as Moore an environmentalist. The blog Skeptical Scientist [9] does a very credible and thorough job of debunking global warming denier arguments both the vast majority, which are not scientific, and the small minority, which have at least some science content, i.e., have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I have made the claim that there is literally no scientific evidence to support global warming denial and an exhaustive literature search by Jim Powell, at Skeptical Scientists finds only 59 denier articles in the scientific literature. All of the arguments made in these articles have been satisfactorily shown not to be supported by any data and soundly refuted in the literature as part of the peer-review process, which is exactly how science works. Taking them all together the aggregate would not come anywhere near contradicting the anthropogenic global warming theory even if they were true anyway. Moore’s opinion is not simply inconsistent with environmentalism; it is entirely inconsistent with reality. To be fare, being so busily engaged in his lobbying activities, Moore has probably not had time to keep up with recent science, beginning with Joseph Fourier’s original paper identifying green house effect on the Earth’s climate, written in 1824 and of course everything else since [10].

While I appreciate my friend sending me the Rogner reference and am enjoying digging into that, I have no idea why he sent me the link to this Moore interview and why he thought I would find it interesting. As Trivers argues in his highly readable and important book, we are all potentially liars and we are surrounded by liars and evidence of a few more is hardly noteworthy. What saves us from self-deceit is science and our accumulated scientific knowledge as Richard Feynman has pointed out.

By the way, Trivers’ book is highly recommended.

[1] Robert Trivers, “The Folly of Fools, The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life,” Basic Books, 2011.

[2] http://brleader.com/?p=6535

[3] http://www.worldenergy.org/publications/3040.asp

[4] See my November 25, 2010 article http://brleader.com/?p=2425 wherein I reference Rogner, H. H., An assessment of world hydrocarbon resources, Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, 22:217-262, 1997.

[5] http://www.nbc12.com/story/16230121/interview-uranium-study-due-out-next-week

[6] see for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act#Supporters;
http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/269748/20111220/sopa-stopping-piracy-killing-internet-poll.htm;
http://americancensorship.org/
http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/12/16/founder-internet-fears-unprecedented-web-censorship-from-sopa/;
http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Moore_(environmentalist)

[8] http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/07/23/276445/house-of-lords-tehouse-of-lords-monckton-to-cease-and-desist-claim-hes-a-member-of-house-of-lords-u-n-urges-maldives-to-prepare-for-climate-change/

[9] http://www.skepticalscience.com/case-against-AGW-part3.html

[10] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Fourier

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