It’s no wonder that the most recent Pew report finds that belief in rising temperatures is down. As Jim Hoggan explains in his new book Climate Cover-Up, the media and the public it serves are awash in a corporate conspiracy to undermine the science of climate change, the corporate buyout of politicians, and corporate greenwashing.
Hoggan deals very well with the ‘controversy’ (i.e. there isn’t one) and also shows some of the problematic issues between how corporations and scientists communicate (many of Hoggan’s climate deniers are featured in Randy Olson’s Sizzle, too). Yes, the book has the quaint, conversational tone that betrays its blogosphere beginnings. But it equally makes you appreciate the blogosphere by showing how scientists writing blogs have had a voice and a hand in uncovering conspiracy after corporate conspiracy. With all of this intentionally misleading information to keep track of, it comes as no surprise we have become a bunch of confused frogs in boiling water.
It might sound odd, but I found a lot of hope in Climate Cover-Up. As Hoggan explains the machinery and enticing offers that have led to a coalition of climate deniers (who most often lack legitimate background in science), I wound up asking myself not about why scientists had been coerced into joining the corporate move to cloud the market with confusion over climate change, but why more had not joined. And I wound up feeling that, on the whole, climate scientists were a ferociously ethical lot with deep convictions about their research, even in the face of lucrative temptation.
As part of the solution to the climate confusion, Hoggan, toward the end of his book (p. 164), writes about how we should all be vigilant fact-checkers:
If someone tells you to be skeptical, be skeptical of them. For that matter, be skeptical of me. Search out credible corroboration for everything you read or hear, looking always to the credentials and the economic interests of those who are offering easy answers.
Taking this to heart, there was one part of Climate Cover-Up that left me uneasy. Early on (p. 9), Hoggan, unhappy with the stance scientist Freeman Dyson has taken as a “civil heretic“, wrote:
He has no background in climate science, having done no research whatever – ever – on atmospheric physics or on climate modeling. Even in theoretical physics, his area of expertise, his greatest contributions date to the late 1940s and early 1950s.
I had the great fortune of meeting Freeman Dyson when he gave a talk at Seattle Town Hall (I even wrote a little piece about it). I felt that based on what I knew of him (including reading his excellent book Disturbing the Universe) that Hoggan’s claim could not be true. In fact, if one puts into Google scholar the three words “Freeman Dyson carbon”, the first entry that pops up is his 1977 paper published in the journal Energy titled: “Can we control carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”.
In the 1970s, Dyson was writing on the use of trees to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions.
In a book that lauds accuracy so loudly, a misstep such as this so early on can be fatal. Hoggan is great at taking on the junk scientists. But Freeman Dyson is not one of them. I am not arguing that Dyson is necessarily right (or that he has handled the media well). I am merely arguing that Freeman Dyson does have a basis for joining in the discussion (and any claim to the contrary could have easily been fact-checked). For that reason, Dyson is probably a bad early target for Hoggan, who should have stuck to the corporations (worthy of his energy), rather than making false claims about a venerable scientist. Climate Cover-Up recovers from this slip up but, as the old African proverb goes, one falsehood can spoil a thousand truths.