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If Facts Don’t Matter, What Does?

This is an excerpt from DeSmog founder Jim Hoggan’s latest book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse, published by New Society Publishers.

I first began reading the works of linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff about 15 years ago and I was struck by the Berkeley professor’s now famous ideas about what he calls frames. In public relations our stock in trade is messaging, because our role is to create understanding by combining maximum clarity with supreme brevity. We work in the world of sound bites and elevator pitches that are designed to be short and pithy, and we rarely have the time or budget to delve into frames or deeply moving narratives.

When I started writing I’m Right and You’re an Idiot I wanted to better understand the difference between messages and frames, so I would know how frames work and be able to explain how to manage them. I wanted to better understand how they relate to the mechanics of public debate, and especially how frames impact facts and scientific evidence in public discourse, or when shaping opinion.

Exxon Sues MA Attorney General In Retaliatory Attempt To Intimidate ‘Exxon Knew’ Climate Accountability Movement

Acting like a wounded and cornered beast, ExxonMobil has launched what appears to be a blatantly retaliatory and frivolous lawsuit against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Beneath a very thin veil, this legal maneuver by Exxon is seemingly an effort to intimidate any and all who seek to hold the oil giant accountable for its multi-million dollar campaign to attack climate science and sow doubt through decades of deception.

Just to remind everyone – 17 Attorneys General are investigating what Exxon knew about climate science and when, as well as what the company has done to potentially mislead policymakers and the public in order to delay action to address climate change.

Exxon has claimed that there has always been uncertainty within the company about the role of fossil fuels in causing climate change.

Yet, as InsideClimate News and the LA Times and Columbia School of Journalism and the Center for International Environmental Law and other investigations have pointed out, Exxon and others in the oil industry had advanced knowledge of the link between fossil fuel combustion and global warming decades ago.

And DeSmog uncovered an Exxon document that unequivocally stated the company’s knowledge in the late 1970s. Read DeSmog's investigation: “There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s

Senators Demand New FERC Environmental Review for Spectra Energy Project After DeSmog Revelations

Two US Senators have demanded the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) cancel the environmental assessment of a natural gas project after DeSmog revealed a potential conflict of interest in the process.

In their letter, Massachusetts Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey urged FERC to conduct a new and objective review into Spectra Energy’s Atlantic Bridge project.

Residents and activists outraged about the potential impacts of the project had flooded both Warren's and Markey's offices with requests for intervention.

Writing to FERC Chairperson Norman Bay, Sens. Warren and Markey cite DeSmog’s findings at length and express serious concern over the integrity of Atlantic Bridge’s environmental assessment.

The Senators state that “this new information raises serious questions about the accuracy and objectivity” of the environmental assessment (EA).

The Atlantic Bridge project aims to expand Spectra’s existing Algonquin Gas Transmission Pipeline, which carries fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York and New England.

Luck Rides The Rails: Another Near Miss with an "Insane" Bakken Oil Bomb Train

Luck was in abundance on Friday in Mosier, Oregon where the latest Bakken oil train derailed and erupted into flames near a 50-home residential area and a school. 

As Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton said, “Mosier really dodged a bullet in the last 24 hours.”

“I hope that this becomes death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,” Appleton said. “I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.”

It's a familiar story to those following the Bakken oil “bomb train” saga — luck.

If I had been there another second, it’d probably have killed me,” Bounds said. “Glass was flying everywhere behind me. The walls were caving in. I hadn’t run like that in years.”

That was Morris Bounds describing to The Spokesman Review how he barely escaped the derailing Bakken oil train that destroyed his home in Mount Carbon, West Virginia in February 2015. He literally saw the train derailing and ran out his front door as the train wiped out his house behind him. 

You don’t get much luckier than Morris Bounds. Or his wife, who happened to be in the hospital that day instead of at home. 

Later that year when another Bakken oil train derailed in a residential neighborhood in Watertown, Wisconsin but did not ignite, Sarah Feinberg, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration, declared, “We feel we got really lucky.”  

Introducing America Rising Squared, U.S. Republicans' "Creepy" New Assault on Climate Action

In a video posted to Vine, respected author and climate change campaigner Bill McKibben turns for just a second or two to eyeball the person holding the camera, before turning his gaze back to the front of the room. There is no context to the video.  Nothing is said.

In another video taken in Australia, McKibben is shown speaking to an audience, but the context is again removed.  His words are replaced with music.

To most people chancing upon the videos, the two clips would seem incongruous and pointless.

But the Vine channel belongs to CoreNews.org — a website that is the public facing arm of a new politically-motivated attack on environmentalists and climate change campaigners operated by well connected political advisers and researchers.

Lasting only a few seconds, the videos were an attempt to put a shot across the bows of McKibben and his supporters, of which there are many. A promise made weeks earlier by Republican Party activists to follow him around with a video camera — wherever he might go — had apparently begun.

The videos were taken by so-called “trackers” working for America Rising Squared (AR2), an operation that has sprung from the new wave of attacks on climate activists that has become a mainstay of the US political machinery.

Client Alert: Law Firms Tell Fossil Fuel Companies They Could Be Next in "ExxonKnew" Probe

Some of the country's biggest law firms have recently penned “client alert” memoranda, suggesting to their clients that they closely monitor the ongoing Attorneys General investigations occurring in states nationwide on the potentially fraudulent behavior of ExxonMobil.

DeSmog tracked down alerts written by three different firms: Crowell & Moring, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, as well as King & Spalding. All of them have maintained fossil fuel industry clients as well as tobacco industry clients, a DeSmog review has revealed

A previous DeSmog investigation pointed out that Exxon has hired Ted Wells, who represented Philip Morris in Big Tobacco's racketeering lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Department of Justice, to its legal defense team for the ongoing state AGs' probe.

The AGs' investigation centers around what Exxon knew about climate change and its potential impacts over the past several decades. That's juxtaposed with what the oil giant did about it: funding climate denial to the tune of at least 
$31 million between 1998-2015.

California Regulators Are Approving Fracking Wastewater Disposal Permits Near Fault Lines

New research indicates that nearly 40 percent of new wastewater injection wells approved over the past year in California are perilously close to fault lines, increasing the risk of man-made earthquakes in the already seismically active Golden State.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) found that 13 out of 33, or 39 percent, of new drill permits for wastewater disposal wells issued by regulators with California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) between April 2015 and March 2016 were for drill sites within 5 miles of a fault.

The CBD also found that 26 of the 33 rework permits for wastewater disposal wells granted by DOGGR over that same period were for wells within 5 miles of a fault. Rework permits are required when a company wants to re-drill a well or alter a well casing.

“There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s

Throughout Exxon’s global operations, the company knew that CO2 was a harmful pollutant in the atmosphere years earlier than previously reported.


DeSmog has uncovered Exxon corporate documents from the late 1970s stating unequivocally “there is no doubt” that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing “problem” well understood within the company.

It is assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil fuels… There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases of forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Technology exists to remove CO2 from stack gases but removal of only 50% of the CO2 would double the cost of power generation.” [emphasis added]

Those lines appeared in a 1980 report, “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979,” produced by Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary.

Top Shale Fracking Executive: We Won't Frack the Rich

Fracking companies deliberately keep their wells away from the “big houses” of wealthy and potentially influential people, a top executive from one of the country's most prominent shale drilling companies told a gathering of attorneys at a seminar on oil and gas environmental law earlier this month, according the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“'We heard Range Resources say it sites its shale gas wells away from large homes where wealthy people live and who might have the money to fight such drilling and fracking operations,' said Patrick Grenter, an attorney and Center for Coalfield Justice executive director, who attended the lawyers’ forum,” the Post-Gazette reported. “A handful of attorneys in the audience confirmed that account,” and added that the Range Resources official had prefaced his remarks by saying “To be frank”.

‘It’s the Last Place We Have for Our People’: Doig River’s Last Stand Amidst Fracking Boom

Doig River elder Tommy Attachie.

In the heart of one of the continent’s biggest fracking booms stands a place the people of the Doig River First Nation have revered for generations.

Elders remember visiting this ancient spruce forest in northeastern B.C. as children on horseback. There they’d hunt moose, grieve their loved ones, heal their spirits.

So as oil and gas wells began to crop up all over their traditional territory, the elders of Doig River decided to do something to protect their most sacred place.

In 2011, they declared a tribal park called K’ih tsaa?dze, which means “old spruce” in the Dane-za, or Beaver, language.  

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