by James Hoggan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Climate Cover-Up / 978-1-553-65485-8
Every so often, I read a book that I'm just not sure how to rate, according to Amazon's five star guidelines. "Climate Cover-Up" is one of these rare, and difficult books.
It's unclear who the intended audience is for this slightly unfocused book. Upfront, the clarification is made that this book is not intended to educate readers about global climate change; multiple volumes already perform that task and, indeed, such an approach would contradict the spirit of this book: Hoggan's sensible premise is that science should be done by scientists, and not by celebrities or professional authors. (This premise is slightly undermined by the editor's rather poor choice of front-page endorsements: Leonardo DiCaprio? Really? It's something of a shame that authors don't have more control over how their books are packaged.) No, "Climate Cover-Up" isn't here to convince us about global climate change - it's here, instead, to discuss the much-hyped "controversy" around the issue and to point out how much of that controversy is artificially manufactured.
I can't help wondering, though, who is supposed to read this? To anyone who accepts global climate change as fact, this is going to read as preaching to the proverbial choir; to the rest, their unbelief is not going to be undermined by the exposure of a handful of specific lobbying groups - does *anyone* trust professional lobbyists anymore? Opinions are, of course, shaped by individuals, but those individuals are quickly forgotten in favor of an overall impression - I cannot imagine that anyone will read "Climate Cover-Up" only to smack their forehead and say, "My god, PR representative John Johnson *lied* to me!" before quickly putting the book down and ordering "An Inconvenient Truth". At best, it seems, they may consider rethinking what they *thought* they knew: i.e., that climate change is "controversial".
But the problem with Hoggan's approach to uncovering the roots of this "controversy", however, is that his deeply passionate pleas will not move the skeptical and may in fact be a detriment to his cause. He is a little too quick to ascribe malice where it may not apply, and very happy to leap on slight pieces of `evidence' and crow in triumph. (And he's not going to win friends with the rather bizarre side-track into cigarettes, or - as he calls them - "death sticks".) Things start off poorly when Hoggan seems to ascribe to malice (or, at least, greed) the motives of newspapers who present Freemon Dyson's opinion on global climate change as something worth considering. While I agree wholeheartedly that climate science should be discussed by people with *relevant* knowledge, and not Ph.Ds in something else entirely, I think Neil Postman noted years ago in "Amusing Ourselves to Death" that the news media is rapidly becoming an entertainment industry rather than an information source. To the news media, Dyson is a rock star of scientists, and climate change is a scientific topic, so let's interview him! And, next up, we'll see a rebuttal by Leonardo DiCaprio! This sort of vaudeville approach to scientific coverage is certainly sickening, but hardly something that is limited to climate change coverage, and hardly makes the media somehow complicit in a web of greed, intrigue, and goodness knows what else.
When Hoggan leaves the beleaguered media and moves to the spin doctors, lobbyists, and their methods, he doesn't have as much to work with as one might hope. A LOT of effort is put into pointing out that the mission statements of the lobbyists never explicitly state "spread facts" or "tell the truth" as a goal, and Hoggan seems to find this very damning. I can't help but feel, however, that probably the "goal statements" of *any* lobbyist group, for either side, is phrased that way - the whole point of a mission statement is to directly guide specific behavior like, for example, "distribute articles to various news media outlets" which is, unsurprisingly, what many of these groups' mission statements say. If the goal statements said "Spread the *truth* that global warming is a myth" or something equally false, would that somehow be better? Hoggan seems to feel that the lack of the words "facts" or "truth" means that the lobbyists KNOW that they are on the side of lies and they've practically admitted such in their vision statements. And Hoggan has caught them red-handed! Encyclopedia Brown solves another case!
Another thing Hoggan spends a perplexing amount of time on is lambasting the opposition for using focus groups to choose catchy back-cronyms, like "ICE". I don't understand, though, why this is something worth demonizing. Maybe the scientific side would have better luck with the media if they created some catchy names of their own? Maybe focus groups aren't (or shouldn't be) the refuge of the charlatans only. But that's the crux of the matter: Hoggan doesn't WANT to play publicity games. I don't blame him - he wants the science to speak for himself and he's frustrated that a topic that isn't easily accessible for most people is being dominated in the public discourse by people with conflicting agendas. He hammers at his point, and yells in outrage, but doesn't have time to calmly lay out facts. A poster somewhere lied about the frost line moving south when it wasn't - what's the source for that information? Minneapolis isn't getting colder, even though "they" claimed it was - can't we at least be given a temperature graph to haul out on the holidays? But Hoggan doesn't have time, and he doesn't understand why he NEEDS to take time. If you were intellectually honest, he seems to say, you'd already agree with him - and as sympathetic as I am to that opinion, this attitude is going to turn off most of the "undecideds" that this book is ostensibly written for.
Having said all this, I feel somewhat bad. For all that I've criticized him, Hoggan seems to be a deeply passionate, very talented author and spokesperson for the subject. I believe he is moved by the crisis we are facing, and if he fails to prevent his frustration at the naysayers from spilling over, then who can blame him? I guess what I *am* saying is that if you are really interested in the tactics of lobbyists, perhaps because you are putting together a lobby of your own, this is a good book to read. If you believe in global climate change and are interested in understanding why, perhaps, your intelligent friends and family can still think otherwise, this is a good book to read. But if you are hoping to convince yourself or others that global climate change is real and the "controversy" is false... I'm not sure this book is for you. As for me, I'm just sad that there's a `controversy' at all - and in that regard, Hoggan and I seem to be in complete agreement.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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