James Hoggan's blog

Cleaning Up Canada’s Polluted Public Square

The most urgent environmental threat to Canadians isn’t climate change, the declining health of our oceans, or the extinction of species. It’s the pollution filling our nation’s public square.

The public square – the forum for free debate that we depend on in a democracy – is being choked by misinformation, denial and bitter adversarial rhetoric. It is causing the Canadian public to turn away in despair, creating an epidemic of mistrust and what’s worse, disinterest.

Instead of open and healthy debate, dysfunctional public conversations have become the norm, preventing us from confronting the reality of our destructive impact on the planet. We seem unable or unwilling to weigh facts honestly, disagree constructively and deliberate collectively.

The Web We Weave When We Practice to Deceive

Peter Kent, Environment Minister

We are not muzzling scientists.” - Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister.

I shook my head reading Margaret Munro’s Weekend Vancouver Sun article on freedom of information documents that caught Canada’s Minister of the Environment lying about muzzling scientists.

Kent has repeatedly denied that the government is muzzling scientists. But according to the documents, Kent’s office clearly muzzled Environment Canada researcher David Tarasick, preventing him from speaking to a number of media outlets about an unprecedented hole that appeared in the ozone layer above the Arctic in 2011.

According to Munro, “the documents also say Kent’s office and the Privy Council Office, which reports to the prime minister, decide when and if Environment Canada scientists are allowed to brief the media about anything from wildlife to water quality.”

Why would the Minister of the Environment block public discussion of scientific work that may be important for the health and safety of Canadians and their environment?

SPINalysis: Heartland’s Echo Chamber Shifts the Target

President Joe Bast Dodges Responsibility – for Now

It’s been a month since the Heartland Institute was caught in a St. Valentine’s Day Striptease – inadvertently exposing its entire budget and fundraising plan. Yet an objective analysis of the resulting internet and mainstream media coverage has to credit Heartland’s spin machine with having put in a remarkable performance. Heartland’s own staff members and its echo chamber of denialist blogs have been shameless – and stunningly successful – in deflecting responsibility from the institute’s own sins and onto the scientist who duped Heartland into handing over a treasure trove of internal documents.

There are three potential explanations for this turn of events:

  1. The Heartland posse is unbothered by any tendency to let the facts get in the way of their story;
  2. They have access to and support from a fierce and disciplined echo chamber, at least part of which Heartland actually funds on the side; and
  3. Mainstream media give Heartland a free pass. That is, reporters have become so cynical about the “think tank” campaign to deny the science of climate change that they no longer treat it as news. But those same reporters still respond in outrage if a scientist is perceived to have done something dishonest or deceptive.

Unaccountable Oil: Is Enbridge Already Polluting the Canadian (Political) Environment?

Henrik Lehnerer

If the pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. is content to cower behind a 20-something blog manager rather than acknowledge its role in the recent attack on the patriotism of Canadian environmentalists, what hope have we that the company would ever stand accountable for the accidents that will occur – inevitably – if Northern Gateway ever gets built?

That’s a rhetorical question, but a pressing one, given the environmental time-bomb that Enbridge proposes to lay out between the Canadian tar sands and the pristine B.C. coastline.

We actually don’t know for sure that Enbridge is behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute, a phony grassroots organization that was established by Ezra Levant and run for most of its first year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current Director of Planning, Alykhan Velshi. But you might come to your own conclusions by watching this clip or reading the transcript below.

It comes from an interview on the CBC show Power and Politics, in which the host, Evan Solomon, asks current EthicalOil.org manager Kathryn Marshall a question she just can’t bring herself to answer:

Denial Of Facts Is No Way To Understand Science

On Thursday December 1st, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente declared herself a defender of scientific integrity by calling upon the scientific community to replace the “rhetoric” of climate change with open, honest debate.

According to Ms. Wente, the impacts of climate change remain a future fantasy, unquantifiable by data collected through “insanely complicated” climate science. Her perspective is informed by the omission of facts, falsehoods, and fake experts. In a dance with smoke and mirrors she creates issues where none exist and ignores others that do.

There was a time when I couldn’t understand what motivated writers like Wente to stand so firmly against such clear and solid science. The psychology of “confirmation bias” has provided the answer for me. 

Like all of us, Wente has her biases, and most of us, like her, like to have those biases confirmed. So we seek out the information that confirms what we already believe and disregard that information that might prove us wrong.

As a columnist, Wente presents the information which confirms her ideological beliefs as truths and facts to the readers of the Globe and Mail. She excels as a columnist in part because she mocks and jeers her detractors. This pleases the people who agree with her but makes her loathed by those who don’t.  It provokes reaction on both sides, and eliminates any possibility of civil conversation.

40th Anniversary of the Lewis Powell Memo Launching Corporate Propaganda Infrastructure

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Lewis Powell Memo, a document that set the stage for the creation of the echo chamber that protects corporate interests ahead of the public interest.  A corporate lawyer and well-known tobacco industry defender at the time, Lewis Powell wrote this influential memo to a friend at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce laying out a strategy to develop a long-term campaign to set up corporate front groups and think tanks to manufacture the appearance of credibility for corporate interests.

The echo chamber that the right wing constructed over the past four decades since Powell’s infamous memo has played a central role in blocking action on climate change and a host of other public health and environmental threats. This unethical corporate propaganda mill capitalizes on the dark side of social sciences, preying upon people’s biases and encouraging them to support and defend corporate interests above their own.

Charlie Cray from Greenpeace USA has written an excellent overview of the significance of the Lewis Powell memo, and with the kind permission of Greenpeace, we share Charlie’s piece in full below.  Please read it, share it widely, and help to shine a bright spotlight on this document. If more people understood the roots of this corporate propaganda campaign, perhaps they would become immune to its influence.

The Lewis Powell Memo - Corporate Blueprint To Dominate Democracy
by Charlie Cray, Greenpeace USA

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