More than a few writers have gotten a lot of mileage out of comparing the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries’ propaganda efforts to counter rapidly rising mountains of science that counter their “it’s all good” message. Al Gore featured it in his slide show. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote an entire book, Merchants of Doubt.
The fact that not only were the denial tactics similar, but so are some of the PR firms and even individuals involved makes for compelling storytelling. But maybe we haven’t taken the analogy far enough. Über-foodie Michael Pollan just wrote a piece in The Nation that suggests there’s still more to be learned:
By the 1930s, the scientific case against smoking had been made, yet it wasn’t until 1964 that the surgeon general was willing to declare smoking a threat to health, and another two decades after that before the industry’s seemingly unshakable hold on Congress finally crumbled.
Given that the fossil-fuel transnationals are orders of magnitudes greater in reach and influence than the tobacco industry ever was, and lying as they do at the foundation of our entire industrial economy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that climate activists are accomplishing little more than bloodying their foreheads on brick walls. Walls that don’t even exhibit a visible record of the repeated collisions as they are already painted the color of blood.
Of course, we can’t afford to wait as long as anti-smoking forces did before scoring major victories. So does Pollan offer any hope? This is as optimistic as it gets:
When change depends on overcoming the influence of an entrenched power, it helps to have another powerful interest in your corner–an interest that stands to gain from reform.
Pollan says the healthcare costs of the current food system will force us to make the necessary change, and the healthcare community will step in as the necessary ally. Who will be the climate’s counterpart savior?