What are we going to do about the Marc Moranos of this world?

And now, in another edition of "I was going to ignore this, but," I draw your attention to the latest career move of one Marc Morano and his unwavering campaign to undermine public support for any and all policies that might give us a chance to forestall catastrophic climate change

I was hoping that Morano, the former pseudo-journalist who first rose to prominence by serving as chief propagandist for the Swift Boat veterans who helped defeat John Kerry's presidential bid in 2004, would just go away after leaving the employ of Republican Sen. James "global warming is a hoax" Inhofe a few weeks back. No such luck.

He was resurfaced as the chief pundit and public face of a think tank of sorts called the Committee For a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). According to an email obtained by the deSmogBlog group, he's

your counter guest debater to Al Gore and Global Warming Climate change disinformation plus how Obama's Policies are affecting our economy.

For your on-air expert contributor talent files: Credentialed "Counter Guest" to popular global warming ideology: Here's your anti-Gore Global Warming Expert who offers the science to counteract partisan and ideologically driven Environmental entities and issues.


Marc Morano infuses the environmental debate with a balanced and truthful scientific perspective. Marc's agenda is to revolutionize Climate and Environmental news dissemination to portray the accurate truth.

Already the Washington insider newspaper Roll Call fell for the gambit, and put him on a televised debate with Joe Romm of Climate Progress, someone who actually does know something about climate science and policy. Morano's contribution to the debate was so full of outright falsehoods it was pretty near impossible for Romm to correct even a fraction of them. This has been Morano's modus operandi for years and responsible media outlets should know better. Yet they keep giving him the airtime, newsprint and webspace such nonsense doesn't deserve. What are we going to do about it?

Some have argued that those who care about science should never deign to debate with someone they know has no intention of playing fair. Simply by showing up to the forum, they argue, you're giving Morano's side credibility. Others counter that we can't ignore the forces of irrational denialism and pseudoskepticism; we must take every opportunity to expose them for what they are.

Chris "The Intersection" Mooney take the latter point of view. Over at his blog's new home on Discover Magazine, he writes;

If we're going to get mad at anyone, meanwhile, I can see two appropriate targets. First, there's the media who allow this game to work, by creating environments (especially on television) where good science can easily get defeated by good rhetoric.

And second, there's the wealthy philanthropists and well funded think tanks and interest groups on our side who, faced with this unfavorable media environment, have failed to adapt and equip us with counter-Moranos-intellectual warriors who are not only up for the task of setting the record straight, and defending accurate science, but actually have it as their full time job description.

It's not just on television and other high-profile media that we need to deal with the Moranos and their ilk, however. We need "intellectual warriors" for every battle, right down to the community library forums.

Last week I attended such a debate, at the county library in Hendersonville, N.C. Arguing against the proposition that "clean coal technology" has a role to play in the region's future energy mix was Avram Friedman, a veteran of more than three decades of environmental activism and founder of the Canary Coalition, a Clean Air advocacy organization for western North Carolina. Arguing for clean coal was Thomas Williams, a policy and communications executive with Duke Energy, one of the nation's biggest electrical utilities and the source of most of the power in the Carolinas.

I took copious notes, but what stuck in my head? Williams, in a breezy, off-the-cuff style, told us about how he spent many summers at church camps in the local ranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He married relatively young, he and his wife tend to argue over where to set the thermostat, he votes Democrat and he loves barbecue. (This is the South, remember.)

Friedman, by comparison, told us nothing about himself, choosing to devote his share of the debate time to addressing the question of the day by reading from prepared notes. His first words were "There is no such thing as clean coal."

Despite the fact that most of the audience for a such a debate is pre-selected to favor Friedman's side, and with all due respect to Friedman's remarkable grasp of the facts, there can be no question that Williams projected a friendlier face and won more hearts. I am willing to bet if any minds were changed that day the change was in favor of whatever Duke Energy is planning on doing. (Not that that was every made clear.)

It turned out at that the fate of clean coal was a side issue. Williams insisted he was "not here to defend coal" and assured the audience that he and Duke Energy are very worried about climate change. Instead, the main point of contention was the new coal-fired plant Duke is building an hour east of Hendersonville, called Cliffside 6.

The new 800-MW plant will cost $2.4 billion, but is not being built to accommodate any future carbon-capture technology. It will take decades of emissions (300 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050, according to Friedman's recitation of Duke's own numbers) for Duke to pay off those costs. This despite promises by Duke's boss, Jim Rogers, that the company will cut its carbon emissions in half by 2030. I'm not sure how it's going to do that while still burning coal, but there you have it.

Friedman's command of the subject was impressive. He pointed out that if Duke was to subsidize weatherization of North Carolina homes by spending only a fraction of the cost of Cliffside 6, the resulting reduction in electricity demand would eliminate the need for the 800 MW of power the new plant will provide.

Williams also displayed a high level of expertise communicating his message. "It's not your grandfather's coal plant," he pointed out. But his message invariably involved the use of the phrase "keep the lights on" in an effort to implant the worrisome meme that renewable energy sources aren't reliable. And his occasional misstatements -- he did make them -- were easily overcome with humorous quips.

In the end, everyone agree that climate change poses a real threat, and that we have to cut our carbon emissions. But there's only so much we can do, repeated Williams, if we want to keep the lights on.

I left the debate rather depressed. Friedman's a good guy, but if Duke Energy can afford to send a senior public spokesman to a small-town western North Carolina library debate, just imagine what resources it's devoting to the Washington scene. Which brings us back to Marc Morano.

I have no evidence that Duke is in bed with Marc Morano. He and Williams make very different cases, but it amounts to the same thing. They're both arguing in favor of the status quo. Duke talks a good talk about demanding a carbon emissions cap in general, but when it comes down to specifics, it's still building coal-fired plants. This while NASA's James Hansen argues vociferously and convincingly that we need an immediate moratorium on new plants, and a worldwide shutdown by 2030.

Chris may be right. We may need to take on these people when and wherever. But it's going to take an awful lot of warriors, and they're going to have to be armed with more than intellect. They're going to need training in media relations, public speaking and diplomacy. And they're going to need to be on the ground yesterday.

More like this

If this were more what framing science were about, then people would be more willing to buy into it. I agree that approach and presentation are just as important as facts, as long as the facts are presented accurately (with a shade of the presenter stick his thumbs in his suspenders and being 'just folks.')

At school I didn't sleep. Most I liked physics. But if I shall believe in global warming, I must sleep without feeling global cooling now. And that's not possible.

Burghard Schmanck: "At school I didn't sleep. Most I liked physics. But if I shall believe in global warming, I must sleep without feeling global cooling now. And that's not possible."

How can any single Person FEEL GLOBAL cooling? Well, never mind.

And if it's too cold for you to sleep, have you ever thought about an additional - or simply thicker - blanket? Works wonders in such cases...

By joerg s. d. (not verified) on 09 Apr 2009 #permalink

As I stated on Mr. Mooneys' blog, what Mr. Morano is doing is known as the Gish Gallop, after young earth creationist Duane Gish. The only way to debate liars like Mr. Morano is to do what Prof. Ken Miller did before debating Gish and Michael Behe. That is, read everything that Morano has ever said or written on the subject of global warming and prepare in advance sound bites to refute any and all claims he makes, including preparation of slides or transparencies. The thing that an opponent has going for him/her is that Morano really doesn't know much about the subject and debates from a list of talking points. Knowing what these talking points are in advance allows preparation to refute them with with short and pungent arguments. This is hard work but is the only way to defeat these guys.

Get him on the stand in a court case as an "expert". Then shred him. Worked for Michael Behe. I'll be writing more about this on my blog soon.

This guy is much more eloquent than most....and he is from auz, where they know about what it is like on the curve of climate change...

Poor prognosis for our planet

Every patient with an incurable illness will ask how long they have to live. The answer goes something like this: âNo one can say how long you may live, because every individual is different, but focus on the changes you observe and be guided by those. When things start changing for the worse, expect these changes to accelerate. So the changes that have occurred over a year may advance by the same degree in a few months, then in weeks. And that is how you can judge when the end is coming.â

Apply that thinking to climate change. When An Inconvenient Truth opened in 2006 it was generally supposed we had a window of two or three decades to deal with climate change. Last year that shrank to a decade. Last month Australiaâs chief scientist, Penny Sackett, told a Canberra gathering that we have six years to radically lower emissions, or face calamitous, unstoppable global warming.
Six years. Given that this problem is usually described as a process unfolding over centuries, how can it be that things have spun out of control in such a short time?
Climate change is often described as linear decline followed by some kind of distant "tipping point". But consider these statistics: in 1979 Arctic sea ice cover remained above 7 million square kilometres all summer; from 1989 it was consistently above 6 million; in 2002 above 5 million; since 2007 above 4 million. I read recently we may have reached a tipping point and the ice will be gone in 20 years. But there is no tipping point - a curve is always tipping, and each new finding redraws the curve.

If this year's figure comes in under 4 million square kilometres the patient could be dead inside five years, and ships will be crossing the North Pole in September 2014.
I do believe the evidence. Which leads me, personally, to the bleak conclusion that the human race is stuffed. The current financial crisis is merely the curtain raiser to a grand opera of social and ecological collapse. Our children - forget our grandchildren, I'm talking about my own kids, aged 14, 11 and 9 - are going to live in a world in which major cities are flooded, fertile plains become deserts, populations run out of food and water, rivers run dry, fishing grounds become dead zones, our rainforests and living coral reefs become curiosities of history.
Of course, there is a great problem with declaring that point of view because one immediately becomes labelled as a mad Cassandra spouting visions of the apocalypse.
The parlous state of our planet's health could not be more evident, and still nothing has happened, except that eminent scientists like Jim Hansen have been driven to join the barricades. Demonstrating last month in Britain for a complete moratorium on new coal-fired power stations he said with typical understatement: "The democratic process doesn't quite seem to be working."
We would rather watch TV shows glorifying some brainless criminal underclass than engage in meaningful civil disobedience. Since Greenpeace went corporate there has been a global shortage of eco-warriors, and most scientists lack the mongrel element to start a revolution.
The rest of us are less evolved; my suspicion is that most of us still don't get it. Because here's the paradox: wherever you look in the natural world the message of exponential change is reinforced, yet humans have a weird predisposition to see change as linear. I'm guessing this is a throwback to the caveman days when, if someone threw a rock or a spear at you, it was sensible to assume that the missile would keep coming at a constant speed. Strangely, we unconsciously apply the same neanderthal logic to our understanding of ageing, birth and climate change.