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article imageOp-Ed: Climate change skeptics try to block the film Merchants of Doubt

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 13, 2015 in Environment
Fred Singer is a Princeton-trained physicist who is a well-known climate change skeptic, and as such he has a cameo appearance in the film Merchants of Doubt, which is about corporate efforts to block action on global warming.
Now, however, Singer,90, appears to be having second thoughts, The Guardian reports.
Regarded by some as the grandfather of climate denial, Singer has reportedly lobbied climate denier colleagues to try to block the film, and he has also raised the spectre of legal action against the filmmaker.
"It's exactly what we talk about in the film," filmmaker Robert Kenner told The Guardian. "It's a product of a playbook which is to go after the messengers and attack and try and change the conversation, and try to intimidate, and it is very effective."
Merchants of Doubt is specifically about the manufactured game of climate change denial, which got its start as the bastard child of Big Tobacco, The Guardian notes here.
Big tobacco knew without a doubt that there was a connection between smoking and cancer, yet it successfully fooled the public about this for 50 years, until the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in 1988 brought this into the light. Inspired by the tobacco industry, chemical, pharmaceutical, and fossil fuel industries learned how to manipulate and manufacture 'debate,' The Guardian reports.
Using manipulation that's just as evident now as it was then, the tobacco industry coddled media-friendly pseudo-experts, doctored 'science' studies and undermined the credibility of scientists or experts who disagreed, Kenner said.
In an interview with Kenner, Peter Sparber, one of the tobacco industry's most influential deceivers, told him he could persuade the public to believe a garbage man was more knowledgeable about science than prominent climate scientist James Hansen.
"If you can sell tobacco you can sell anything," Sparber said.
Now the obfuscators, the sowers of seeds of doubt and confusion are working their mumbo-jumbo on climate change.
After the film's release, Kenner, and Naomi Oreskes, who happens to be a Harvard professor, and the co-author of the book that the documentary is based on, have found themselves in the cross-hairs in climate denier blogs and in email chains, The Guardian reports. Singer may have allegedly initiated some of the backlash. He dismisses the dangers of secondhand smoking as bunk. He also dismisses the idea that human activity is a large cause of climate change.
"It's all bunk. It's all bunk," he says in the film. The Guardian notes that Singer appears genial, but after a while, it seems he has second thoughts about his appearance in the film. In short order, he began emailing fellow climate change deniers like Christopher Monckton and the Harvard-Smithsonian scientist Wei Hock "Willie" Soon.
The physicist wonders if there's any way to block the film's release.
"Gents. Do you think I have a legal case against Oreskes? Can I sue for damages? Can we get a legal injunction against the documentary," Singer wrote last October, per The Guardian. "I need your advice."
In a later email, Singer asks his colleagues: "Has she finally gone too far? Maybe this is the right time for legal action. What say you?'
Monckton offered to help draft a legal complaint against Oreskes. James Enstrom, who, although he's an epidemiologist, dismisses the public health dangers of air pollution, informed Singer that he had "a very strong case" for complaining to Oreskes's employers", The Guardian reports.
"I suggest you attack Oreskes by filing short grievances with Harvard and Stanford," Enstrom wrote. "Good thought," Singer said.
Then followed a bunch of back-and-forth directed at Kenner and Oreskes, who must have felt like they were being attacked by drunk killer bees.
At one point, in a letter, Singer said he was called "a liar for hire" in the documentary.
The Guardian reports that it requested comment from Singer, but he didn't respond. Oreskes said these attacks are typical of Singer.
"This is what he does," she wrote in an email. "We are not intimidated because we know that our work is factual, based on years of research and backed up by extensive documentation ... And we never used the term he accuses us of using, so there is no basis for complaint."
One has to wonder why Singer was seemingly all bent out of shape. If Kenner and Oreskes are wrong, and climate change isn't the big deal many people think it is, and if that survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals--you know--the one which found that 97.1 percent of the scientists who wrote these papers agreed that climate change is caused by human activity, is wrong, well why then, is Singer bothered?
Because if it was wrong, it might mean he was correct, right?
Now, I have never smoked, but I've heard it said that tobacco leaves a stain on your teeth. Maybe, like so many deniers have likely learned from the lessons of big tobacco, denying climate change, whether human-caused or otherwise, also leaves a stain.
You see, those who deny climate change, global warming, whatever you call it, are all too frequently merchants of doubt, as Media Matters notes. From what Media Matters writes, it looks just like Singer might be one of them. He may very well be 100 percent earnest, but that's not certain.
He is the president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, which in the past has received funds from Exxon Mobil, and the organization doubts global warming. Singer has also received funding from the Heartland Institute in order to "regularly and publicly counter the alarmist [anthropogenic global warming] message" and he has also consulted for Shell, Arco, Unocal, Sun Energy, and the American Gas Association.
Singer is also founder of the Heartland Institute's "Nongovernmental International Panel On Climate Change (NIPCC)," which is a collection of other climate change deniers who have been roundly criticized by scores of climate scientists regarding their attempts to sow seeds of doubt and confusion about scientific findings that have been well-established by the United Nations'Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Media Matters reports that Singer has claimed that there was "little if any global warming during 1978-1997." He's also said that "the climate hasn't warmed in the 21st century."
He has also appeared on numerous cable and network news programs to deny climate science or to attack environmental policies eight times between 2009 and 2014, and this includes appearances on ABC and CNN. In one case he was asked about the many scientific institutions that accept the consensus of human-caused global warming -- including IPCC, NASA, NOAA, the National Academy of Sciences, and scores of other institutions-- he said:
"What can I say? They're wrong."
But if the film Merchants of Doubt is wrong, then why is Singer so bothered? If the film raises valid points and Singer is out of the loop, then why shouldn't others benefit from the knowledge that this documentary provides?
Why not treat our climate, the climate that every living thing on this planet shares, as if it were precious? Because it is. If it's destroyed, whether or not by human activity, then we and our fellow creatures are toast. Why not treat this planet as if it is precious? Because it is.
It's like that meme which is currently popular on Facebook and Twitter: "There is no planet B."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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