Give it time?

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?

More like this

Um...yeah...but let's keep in mind that Michael Pollan is fanning the anti-science flames on GMOs among his flock. He's not the wackiest one, but he does not step in when he could to counter the crazee.

And I have also seen him spread anti-science quackery of the same nature as climate deniers (non-peer-reviewed crap re-analysis "report" stuff rife with basic errors).

Actually, the scientific case wasn't truly made until the early 1940s, and part of the reason it took so long is because that scientific case that smoking is a major health hazard was made primarily by Nazi scientists. It was then forgotten after the war and not brought up again until the 1950s, when Sir Richard Doll and Sir Austin Bradford-Hill published classic epidemiological studies rediscovering the link between smoking and lung cancer. So, even though it took several years after these studies were published, there were extenuating circumstances, namely WWII and how reviled Nazi scientists were after their role in the Holocaust was revealed.

I thought YOU were going to save us all, douche boy!! Are you not up to the task?

By Dottie Douche (not verified) on 19 Sep 2011 #permalink

For smoking, where vested interests had a stake, it took about fifty years. For slavery, where the main up side was mainly a deep moral abhorrence of the injustice and few if any could think of ways of improving profits by freeing the slaves, it took ... what ... a few thousand years.

The statement that it helps to have a "powerful interest in your corner" is a huge understatement.

The good news is that global warning has a down side, and an investing interest, for pretty much all the people. It isn't about people tearing up, as it was with slavery, over the horrible things 'those people' had to live through. powerful interest in your corner.

If/when the understanding that this is going to mess with everyone, even the cloistered and pampered well-to-do, and cost them real money the power of the bottom line will change sides.

Art, the problem is that the consequences of AGW only bite the poorest hard enough to demand change. The rich aren't going to be affected for a generation (25 years), or thereabouts. Therefore they can live fat happy lives and leave it to their kids to clean up.

It depends on your definition of "Healthcare community". If you mean ordinary doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, yes, they're "on our side", but they're no more a powerful interest than say, farmers concerned about changes in rainfall. If you're talking about the big insurance companies, pharma companies, and hospital corperations ... er, more sick people mean more customers, so those powerful interests are not naturally aligned with the general populace.

By Greg Wellman (not verified) on 08 Oct 2011 #permalink