Paradigm Shift


In my Religion and Modern Culture class, we have talked about paradigm shifts this semester which is directly related to the climate change conversation. The movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a, excellent example of a paradigm shift emerging. The movie, and the work of Al Gore, is an attempt at shifting the worldview of the climate change problem. The movie acts to summarize a brief synopsis of the problem and it does so in a way that can be easily understood to the general public and is easily relatable. Towards the end of the movie, Gore brings up the topic of the Kyoto Protocol. The United States originally signed the Kyoto Protocol but never ratified it; this caused a huge global controversy that continued along with the US not ratifying the second commitment period to Kyoto. Where the visible shift can be seen is through initiatives in the United States being taken in California and the nine north eastern states banding together to take action. In Gore’s presentation, he shows a list of a multitude of major cities that are in support of the Kyoto. This is where the paradigm shift is starting to be seen, at the bottom-up level.

He also mentions, towards the end of the movie that he is doing his part by doing what he can. This entails giving presentations in major cities all around the world, addressing people at a more local level. His approach of conveying the message and the approach of the movie is extremely similar to that of James Balog and the film Chasing Ice. Sitting and chatting with Balog on a more personal basis and seeing his presentation while he visited Dickinson really put a lot of things into perspective. Balog, in the same way that Gore does, conveys his message in the best way he possibly can, through his photography. Both men express a sense of urgency and the need for further communication. Gore mentions that the issue of the ozone hole has been depleted; the climate change problem is not completely out of our grasp. What is needed, is a complete shift in cooperation globally, a paradigm shift. Not everyone is currently sitting at the table, but everyone is invited.

Eight years has passed since this movie came out and the shift is still continuing; there is power growing. I think the Peoples Climate March, the largest climate march in history, that took place recently is an extremely powerful example of the movement. Well over 400,000 people took the streets of Manhattan to express their voices and to take a stand. However, the shift needs to continue. Even here at Dickinson College, ranked in the nation among the most environmentally friendly schools, still needs change. There are people that don’t think anything of their actions throughout their day, perhaps they should. Everything we do in our everyday lives, literally everything, has an impact. The amount of times I hear students and friends say that their minute actions make no difference, that one or two things makes no difference, is literally sickening. The fact that people can leave their phone charger plugged into a wall while it is not in use and it is still emitting .5 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere per hour is again, a sickening thought. People NEED to be more conscious. The shift must continue.

The title of the movie is what it is; the issue of climate change that needs to be addressed is inconvenient in many ways. It has been ignored for so many for way too long because people would rather pretend the problem is not there than actually address it head on. The novel, Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes is a perfect example of doubt being used in many controversies over time. It is inconvenient both in that we have to deal with it and it’s impacts on today’s world, with some nations being more vulnerable than others. The definition of sustainability, to uphold the needs of today’s people without compromising the needs of future generations, relates to this inconvenience in that the paradigm shift must occur in order to comply with the needs of future generations.

Naomi Oreskes’ new book

Image of Naomi Oreskes is from:
Image of Naomi Oreskes is from:

Earlier this week Oreskes appeared in an interview in the New York Times. She spoke about her new book about the future in a world that has warmed. It would be an interesting read and builds on what she wrote about in Merchants of Doubt. If you are interested, you can check out her interview here.

Merchants of Doubt Stop Selling?

According to the Guardian’s article, “World’s to PR companies rule out working with climate deniers,” there has been a recent shift in the role PR companies have in creating climate change doubt. After reading Merchants of Doubt we all know the importance PR companies, along with several other actors, have had in making action on climate change difficult. The level of certainty within the scientific community has been high enough, in my opinion, to warrant wide-scale public fear and pressure to demand immediate and strong action to mitigate climate change for decades now. However, this level of certainty is still not reflected in the mainstream media or consciousness. This is in large part because of misinformation campaigns, driven by savvy PR firms, that slam real facts, and misinterpret reasonable amounts of uncertainty about the various aspects of climate change from the science to the economics of it.

Yet, we are perhaps witnessing a change in the willingness of these companies to partake in merchandizing doubt, even if marginal. The Guardian and the Climate Investigations Center (an organization that monitors and researches misinformation campaigns surrounding climate change) acquired data through surveys sent to these companies. According to the authors of the article, Suzanne Goldenberg and Nishad Karim, “Now a number of the top 25 global PR firms have told the Guardian they will not represent clients who deny man-made climate change, or take campaigns seeking to block regulations limiting carbon pollution. Companies include WPP, Waggener Edstrom (WE) Worldwide, Weber Shandwick, Text100, and Finn Partners” (Goldenberg).  This moral and political switch is very exciting and hopeful to a certain extent.

However, the research collected should be taken with a fair amount of skepticism and a watchful eye of potential green washing by these companies. To begin the Guardian and Climate Investigations Center (CIC) did not appear to get the full picture of the “top PR Companies” as the title suggests; less than half responded to them including companies with a history of both environmental and climate change disinformation campaigns.  Furthermore, it was a survey, not necessarily research into each individual firm’s internal policies, client list and current and past campaigns. This means the firms only offered what information they want the media and watchdogs to know. These are PR firms, they are experts in creating the appearance they want, while masking what they don’t want known or focused on. Kert Davies, the founder of CIC acknowledges this saying, “They pretend they are above the fray and they are not involved, and yet they are the ones designing ad campaigns, designing lobbying campaigns, and designing the messages their clients want to convey around climate change ” (Goldenberg).

So while this article can, and perhaps should, be taken with a healthy dose of cynicism it got me thinking about some hopeful outcomes.  As we have learned in class one of the key roles of transnational networks is regulation. This is often taken in the form of an organization or network creating a certifiable standards, benchmarks or rules that encourage voluntary participation of companies. These certifications can be highly credible and a good way to motivate companies to take action and become accountable for their current actions. I think that if a transnational network of PR firms set a standard that committed them to only represent climate positive companies it has the potential to increase the momentum founding this article. While the CIC is a good start, from what I can tell, a more legitimate actor with similar goals, would be necessary for this type of regulation to succeed.


Work Cited:

Goldenberg, Suzanne , and Nishad Karim. “Environment Climate change World’s top PR companies rule out working with climate deniers.” The Guardian. N.p., 4 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <>.

An Inconvenient Truth


In 1965, our 36th president Lyndon Johnson delivered a special message to Congress. He said “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale though…a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” These powerful words portrayed how many have known about this issue for a while now. But what has truly been done about it?

Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway introduce us to this special message in the beginning of the book “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issue from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.” Throughout the book, you can see how environmental issues have been just swept under the rug because of other pressing issues at hand that needed to be tended to. Newsflash! There will ALWAYS be pressing issues that need to be tended to! How much longer will we keep our lovely planet waiting?

Oreskes and Conway also point out that the media is responsible for how information is represented or should I say… misrepresented. Information is put out in an exciting way by journalists, which is not wrong. That captures people and engages them. However, somewhere along the lines of “exciting” the truth gets lost. Scientists depend on journalists to get it right because they honestly do not have time to deal with public relations. When information is tampered with, it is the public who goes and knocks on doubt’s door, enters and remains there until further information is released. Climate change and media have a very difficult relationship.


Climate change or no climate change? That is the question.


There is a group of people who are a climate scientist’s worst enemy: Climate Change Deniers. But what happens when the climate scientists become the deniers? Merchants of Doubt tells that story. A group of scientists effectively misled the public and denied scientific truths by using their deep ties in politics. The denial of climate change is similar to the denial of tobacco smoking linked to lung cancer. Merchants of Doubt shows that people will believe what they want to believe despite any scientific evidence.

Tobacco Smoking and Global Warming have a lot more in common than you would think; they are both intertwined with the global economy and both the smoke from tobacco and the manufacturing of tobacco are detrimental to the environment. Global warming is intertwined with global politics and the global market. Energy usage, a main environmental issue, is what keeps the economy going.

Scientists concluded evidence that tobacco smoking can cause lung cancer, which sent the tobacco industry into a panic. In fear they would lose profits from the new evidence released about the negative health effects of tobacco smoking, they hired a group of scientists to disprove these facts. The tobacco industry used science to manipulate consumers. This manipulation of science only delays the progress of climate change mitigation.








ON CLEARANCE (90% off): Doubt

ON CLEARANCE (90% off): Doubt

by Elizabeth Plascencia

Cigarette on the beach

What does it mean to doubt? Is it the dictionary definition of “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction” or rather this mindset that has been spoon-fed to us about climate change? How does one so easily doubt the change that is evident right before our very eyes? Easy. It has to do with something in your pocket or on your desk right now – your wallet.

Our wallets expand and contract every so often, rarely, or never. Unfortunately, it is now evident that human beings are fragile enough to be swayed by meaningless dollars signs and devour the doubt in exchange for the green. The climate change skeptics who claim that the science behind the matter is “unsettled” or “to be determined” are particularly of this nature.

I found the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway of special interest due to the language of presentation. Not only did the authors blatantly spell out the truth but did so in a way that brutally clarified the raw material at the core of this so-called “dispute” over climate change.  I soon realized that the raw material was in essence composed of industry and power through the familiar green noted above. Basically, this book enraged me and I had to put it down twice.

It is sickening to me, 19-year old me, to be aware of these outstanding faults in our society and feel slightly powerless. Because what I observe around me is not the tobacco industry crashing but rather the latter – I return home every summer to the strewn cigarette butts that ornament my hometown beach in Santa Monica, California.


Congruently, the quote that stood out most to me was the following:

“How could the industry possibly defend itself when the vast majority of independent experts agreed that tobacco was harmful, and their own documents showed that they knew this? The answer was to continue to market doubt, and to do so by recruiting ever more prominent scientists to help” (p.24)


As symbolic as the cigarette butts are to the tobacco consumer, we must stop the market for doubt right in its tracks. No sale today. No sale tomorrow. The market for doubt has crashed.

Who wants to believe that Lord Voldemort has returned?

voldy returns

• Cigarette smoke causes lung cancer.
• Massive sulfur emissions, primarily released from power plants, are causing acid rain.
• The CFCs we put in aerosol cans, air-conditioners, and refrigerators are depleting the ozone layer.
• Humans are causing global warming.
Voldemort is back.

What do the phrases have in common? No one wants to hear them. No one wants to hear that their activities are harming themselves or the planet. No one wants to hear that the dark lord of the wizarding world is coming to create a pure blood society.

If you believe these facts (save Voldemort’s return), then you feel guilty until you change what you are doing. If you hear even one little whisper that the fact might not really be a fact at all, then you can cling to that whisper and carry on with your life, guilt-free and change-free.

The Freds (Fred Singer and Fred Seitz) knew about this flaw humans have. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway tracked their careers and they’ve been working in the industry of doubt for a while. They started when smoking cigarettes was still advertised as “healthy” and tried their best to keep it that way. The truth eventually won out, but the Freds did slow down the progress.

Undeterred that their previous claims on cigarettes had been proven false, they worked their way through the years to cast doubt on disarmament, acid rain, the ozone hole, secondhand smoke, and then global warming. As long as some scientist could deny that these harms were occurring, politicians and mass media could still claim “debate.”

So why did these two physicists make these claims on issues that were outside of their expertise again and again even after they were proven wrong each time? “Our product/ byproduct harms people” is not a great slogan. This means decrease in revenue and increased government restrictions; this change means money. A lot more money than it takes to fund the Freds and their friends to take your side.

So these Freds, they worked on writing their own reports, slandering other scientists, and talking to politicians. Most recently, they worked to keep the “climate change debate” alive and well. F. Seitz is now dead but F. Singer still writes the occasional opinion piece dismissing global warming. Their business has become something much larger; people in power now realize just how valuable doubt is in slowing, even halting, a response to climate change. More than 97% of scientists believe that humans have caused climate change and our earth is warming. Yet, in 2010, surveyed Americans of voting age and found that almost half (45%) of them think most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring.

Corporations are using media outlets to trick us into believing that climate change is something that the scientific community is unsure about. They present the facts like there are two equal sides, when there aren’t. Presenting two opinions makes sense when debating politics, but it doesn’t transfer well to science. In the scientific world, uncertainty about an issue requires more research, not a debate.

John Oliver has a better way of representing this debate in the media; have a televised debate with 3 climate change skeptics and 97 climate scientists who say humans are the cause of climate change.
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So what I’m proposing is change in how the media feeds us, and how we swallow their message. We need to demand the unpleasant truth. It’s not fun. We don’t want to cut emissions and spend money and pass new regulations. We don’t want to acknowledge that Voldemort is back because it’s so much nicer to pretend he isn’t.

But no matter how much we pretend, the climate has changed and it’s getting worse. We put too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now we have to collectively toughen up and deal with climate change head on.

Climate Change and Rhetoric

element rh small

The power of words is indescribable. They are: how we communicate with each other, how we express our feelings and how we share our thoughts.  How these words are used is up to the beholder, for words can completely alter how one perceives a topic.  A topic that demonstrates the effect of the right words by the right people is climate change.

In Merchants of Doubt, authors, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, convey the events that lead to the cloud of uncertainty surrounding global warming.   Surprisingly, it all started with three well-respected physicists who were able to orchestrate doubt through the media and politics.  Their approach was described as the “Tobacco Strategy”, which was utilizing the “lack of certainty” to it’s advantage to avoid the truth. For example, tobacco companies were able to argue that tobacco was not proven to be detrimental to one’s health because data was “uncertain”.   The three scientists applied the power of the word, “uncertainty”, to acid rain, the ozone hole and the cause of climate change.

However, only three scientists would not be able to spread the whole anti-climate change movement, so they hired scientists to add credibility and started the George Marshall Institute.  The right words were now coming from the right people, which is when rhetoric is most successful. If a civil war solider, not Abraham Lincoln, gave the Gettysburg Address it would not have even close to the same effect. In addition to the credible sources, they were able to use the media to their advantage and spread their ideas. Below is a talk by a scientist from the George Marshall Institute that exhibits climate change rhetoric.

After reading this book, it is slightly terrifying to think about the power of words and it’s effect on our ideas unconsciously.  It makes me wonder how the media’s crafty words have infiltrated my thoughts, ideas and actions.  Hopefully, after reading this book I can be more aware of my thought process.

Disinformation at its finest

Merchants of Doubt paints a bleak picture of the state of affairs, from climate change to general rampant miss information.  In regards to climate change it almost seems that Climate Change has never had a time to shine.  In 1965 Roger Revelle made a prediction that by the year 2000, we would see physical changes in temperature due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere.  Lyndon Johnson took the report to congress where it was essentially swept under the rug.  Oreskes and conway explain that it was because of timing, there were more pressing concerns.  It is clear that until very recent years there has been a generally downward spiral in the state of the world climate.  In fact environmental issues as a whole always seem to fall low on the “pressing” scale.  It would seem that because many environmental issues are “it will get bad in the future” kind of issues that they rarely seem to be dealt with “now”.  Governmental policies, historically have not seemed to address and project what unchecked issues could potentially have in the future.  Only recently when the current state of the environment has become blatantly apparent have there been more active movements towards preventing future issues.

Apart from the obvious issues presented in Merchants of Doubt, there seems to be one issues that contributes to the others.  The issue of the modern age of communication.  As expressed in the conclusion the right to freedom of the press is a double-edged sword.  As they say everyone has an opinion, and with the advent of the internet, now you can share yours with everyone: “Opinions sometimes express ill-informed beliefs, not reliable knowledge.”  Whats worse is that scientific fact has become harder for people to believe.  By its nature the scientific process is designed to be proven wrong, and change.  experiments are done, data is recorded and a consensus is met, yet with additional research that consensus can change easily and dramatically.  Internet opinion, is organic in that it also changes constantly.  I believe that people have been conditioned to not believe things that change often, that appear “wishy washy”.  Because of this, scientific reasoning appears similar to internet information, and people are less likely to believe.  In the example of climate change science, the addition of nay sayers only reinforces peoples belief that it can not be true.

With the ability of the internet, the words of Alexis de Tocqueville become very prevalent:

“A confused clamor rises on every side, and a thousand voices are heard at once”

When Objective Journalism Breaks Down

Two of the most important features of a liberalized nation are the right to free speech and freedom of the press. Freedom of speech gives all citizens of a nation the right to voice an opinion or idea using their body or property. Freedom of the press allows the freedom of communication and expression of ideas through various media without state intervention. These two rights enable people to obtain information from a diversity of sources, make decisions, and communicate those decisions to the government, which in turn contributes to progress within a nation and in the world at large.

These two rights are probably the two cornerstones of a liberal society, but nonetheless, these freedoms can still be abused. Take the cases discussed in Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s book Merchants of Doubt for example, about a loose-knit group of scientists and scientific advisors who worked to mislead the public on various issues, such as the effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs, the effects of CFCs and the effect humans and technology have on global warming.

This group of scientists worked with large industries to oppose new research that damaged the public perception of said industries. Journalists, in their constant drive for true objectivity, portrayed both sides as being two equal, legitimate arguments. This is seemingly what the idea of free press is about; an argument is formed around an issue, and the media gives equal and neutral coverage to both sides. But the problem with this was that the scientists on the side of large industries were not doing science, but instead merely drawing attention to various uncertainties in the true research on the other side. The two arguments were not equal; while one side was doing truthful, legitimate and objective research, the other was merely finding uncertainties in this science and drawing attention to them, hence creating doubt in the public.

This brings to light an interesting question: Where do we draw the line between objective research and disinformation?

In the age of the Internet, anyone with access to a computer has a way to disseminate his or her opinion to the public. In a sense, this is a big step forward for the freedom of speech, because the discussion of local, national and international issues is opened to more people, ensuring that no one is censored. But on the other hand, this means that the opinions expressed might hold no truth, as is the case with the group of scientists discussed in Merchants of Doubt.

There are a lot of ideas out there that one might not necessarily agree with, but this does not mean they are disinformation. They still deserve to be covered with the same journalistic integrity as the ideas that one does agree with, but the line between objectively researched information and disinformation seems to be very thin. Where do we draw the line between the two without censoring any arguments? How should a journalist decide what to and what not to cover? To be honest, I have no solution to these questions. It seems to me that both journalists and consumers of journalism need to take a better look at the credibility of the information that they are reading. I predict, as widespread Internet use continues to grow, this is a problem that will more and more become an important political issue.