Jim Hoggan

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Jim Hoggan is one of Canada’s most respected public-relations professionals and the president and owner of the Vancouver PR firm Hoggan & Associates.

A law school graduate with a longstanding passion for social justice, Jim also serves as chair of the David Suzuki Foundation—the nation’s most influential environmental organization—and as a Trustee of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.

Jim is the co-founder of Stonehouse Standing Circle, an innovative public-engagement and communications think-tank, and the former chair of The Climate Project Canada—Al Gore’s global education and advocacy organization. He also led the Province of British Columbia’s Green Energy Advisory Task Force on Community Relations and First Nations Partnerships.

Jim is the co-founder of the influential website DeSmogBlog and the author of two books, Do the Right Thing: PR Tips for Skeptical Public, and Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. He speaks, writes, and presents widely on public attitudes toward sustainability, climate change, and the environment.

American Petroleum Institute Astroturf campaign: When Does "Spin" Become a Lie?

The New York Times added its voice today to those condemning the American Petroleum Institute’s Astroturf campaign to set up phony “citizen” protests that are actually populated by paid energy industry employees.

Beyond the fundamental duplicity of API’s actions, the NYT complains in its editorial that it finds some elements of the industry campaign “particularly annoying.” For example, API says the Waxman-Markey climate legislation will result in $4-a-gallon gasoline, while two very reputable analyses have said the bill will add, at most, 20 cents a gallon.

In a world polluted by some of the worst kind of public relations spin, people have grown too ready to accept this kind of dramatic overstatement as “part of the game.” Even the NYT finds this exaggeration merely “annoying,” even if particularly so.

We should be outraged. API is offering no rationale or justification for its overheated rhetoric. It has been challenged on this point and failed to come up with an explanation or analysis that support the $4 claim. And yet its campaigners keep saying that which is insupportable by evidence.

What do you call that - usually?

Is ExxonMobil Really the "Green Company of the Year"?

We Really, Really Hope So

It was hard, at first, to know whether the Forbes headline was tongue-in-cheek: ExxonMobil: Green Company of the Year.

But the story seemed sincere. Exxon is finally beginning to invest in renewable alternatives, putting $600 million into algae farms that would turn sunlight into automotive fuel. And the company is putting more effort than ever into developing and distributing natural gas.

Gas (methane) is unquestionably “greener” than Exxon’s conventional oil products. As Forbes says:

“Per unit of energy delivered, methane releases 40% to 50% less carbon dioxide than coal and a quarter less than petroleum. Coal fuels half of U.S. power generation. Replacing all of it with methane would cut CO2 emissions by 1 billion tons a year.”

Of course, Exxon isn’t actually “replacing” anything. It’s adding significantly to the global capacity to generate more greenhouse gases, even if some of the increase will come at a slower marginal pace.

Public Support for Energy Bill Shows the Deception in Bonner Astroturf Campaign

A recent poll sponsored by the Center for American Progress goes another step toward revealing the duplicity of Astroturf campaigns like the one that Bonner & Associates was running while representing the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).

The CAP poll shows that, in swing states, 63 per cent of voters support the climate change legislation currently being considered in the Senate. And yet the Bonner crowd was fomenting a “grassroots” campaign specifically designed to make it look like the public was taking quite a different position.

The Dose Makes the Poison - in Chemicals AND in Public Relations

Review: Slow Death by Rubber Duck

In the face of every toxic threat that humans have yet created, here is a realization that is equally optimistic and discouraging: humans needn’t fear science; but we should be terrified by the lies we tell ourselves about the good and bad things that human “mastery” of science can bring.

This point struck me as I was reading Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie’s excellent book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck. As the lighthearted title suggests, this is a jaunty walk through the horrors of chemical poisoning - a very personal voyage of discovery by the authors, who actually arranged for themselves typical exposures to the kinds of cancer-causing chemicals that all of us might run into on any particular day.

Their conclusion (minor): risks lurk around every corner. Their conclusion (major): Our failure to recognize and regulate those risks is not based on a lack of knowledge. It’s based on a high degree of societal recklessness that flows directly from leaving the chemical salespeople in charge of risk management. The chemical and pharmacological industries’ profit-driven public relations is trumping our efforts to make prudent judgments about our health and safety.

Astroturf attack on democracy is intentional - and should be illegal

Adfero and Bonner’s actions are planned and deliberate

You can’t convict someone of a crime unless you can prove that the accused was acting with intent - that they did what they did on purpose. By that standard, Astroturfing specialists at the Washington, D.C., PR firms Adfero Group and Bonner & Associates have demonstrated that they are guilty, even if what they are doing is - at this point - not technically a crime.

It should be. Because the Astroturfers are subverting democracy. By their own description, the firms are holding the U.S. democratic system up for sale. They’re using the old totalitarian tactic of gathering rent-a-crowds to push around politician. And, as Bonner boasts on its own website, they are doing it in a way that that gives them a specific advantage over lobbyists who, thanks to good legislation, would have to declare who was paying their bills.

New "Grassroots" Pro-Coal Group backed by K-Street PR Firm

“The Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security (FACES of Coal).” the latest “grassroots” organization to join the public conversation on behalf of the coal industry, appears to be a project of the K-Street public relations firm, the Adfero Group, one of industry’s most accommodating voices in Washington, D.C.

The FACES website, which includes no contact information, is registered to Adfero.

[Update: since we posted this article, the website registration for facesofcoal.com has been updated overnight and Adfero’s name has been wiped, however - thanks to research by one of our most loyal readers, Frank Bi, a cross-reference with Adfero’s IP address still shows facesofcoal.com running on their server.]

FACES describes itself as “an alliance of people from all walks of life who are joining forces to educate lawmakers and the general public about the importance of coal and coal mining.” But Adfero’s client list includes Koch Industries and the US Chamber of Commerce, two leaders in the fight to confuse, distort and deny the science of climate change - and especially to block government action that might affect their bottom line.

Reynolds, Tol, Lomborg: The Case for Ignoring Climate Change

The most successful Libertarian politician in Canadian history, Globe and Mail columnist Neil Reynolds, has joined the campaign to do nothing about climate change, basing his argument (A Net-Benefit Greenhouse Gas Plan - Less is Really More) not on the work of anyone who actually studies climate science, but rather on two economists with a track record of trying to discourage action.

Most famous of these is Bjorn Lomborg, the Disingenuous Environmentalist and director of a Danish think tank that specialilzes in understating the costs of climate change and overestimating the costs of taking preventative action.

In the run-up to the United Nations meeting scheduled for his hometown in December, Lomborg’s Copenhagen Concensus Center has commissioned 21 reports “to examine the costs and
benefits of different solutions to global warming.” The most recent result, a paper by the economist Richard Tol (inset), gives a good indication of how agenda-driven and, in some regards, surprisingly unprofessional, those papers might be.

Congress Should Expose or Outlaw Astroturfers

The venerable New York Times has reported the discovery of “More Fake Letters To Congress” by Bonner & Associates, the Astroturf specialists hired by Americans for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCE) to interfere with the vote on the Waxman-Markey bill.

As much as Bonner has tried to deny its involvement, the agency was clearly the source of forged letters, purporting to come from charitable organizations opposed to the climate bill. But then, Bonner’s record is well-recorded.

As William Greider described in his book, Who Will Tell the People, Bonner has operated a “boiler room” that featured “300 phone lines and a sophisticated computer system, resembling the phone banks employed in election campaigns. Articulate young people sit in little booths every day, dialing around America on a variety of public issues, searching for ‘white hat’ citizens who can be persuaded to endorse the political objectives of Mobil Oil, Dow Chemical, Citicorp, Ohio Bell, Miller Brewing, US Tobacco, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and dozens of other clients.”

Slamming the Climate Skeptic Scam


Updated: June 15, 2009

There is a line between public relations and propaganda - or there should be. And there is a difference between using your skills, in good faith, to help rescue a battered reputation and using them to twist the truth - to sow confusion and doubt on an issue that is critical to human survival.

And it is infuriating - as a public relations professional - to watch my colleagues use their skills, their training and their considerable intellect to poison the international debate on climate change.

That's what is happening today, and I think it's a disgrace. On one hand, you have the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – as well as the science academies of every developed nation in the world – confirming that:

  • climate change is real;
  • it is caused by human activity; and
  • it is threatening the planet in ways we can only begin to imagine.

On the other hand, you have an ongoing public debate - not about how to respond, but about whether we should bother, about whether climate change is even a scientific certainty. While those who stand in denial of climate change have failed in the last 15 years to produce a single, peer-reviewed scientific journal article that challenges the theory and evidence of human-induced climate change, mainstream media was, until very recently, covering the story (in more than half the cases, according to the academic researchers Boykoff and Boykoff) by quoting one scientist talking about the risks and one purported expert saying that climate change was not happening – or might actually be a good thing.

New Fraser Institute video both patronizing and wrong

In an embarrassing - and failed - effort to speak the hip language of youth, the Fraser Institute has launched a YouTube video dismissing climate change as a matter of natural variability, saying:

“The climate changes naturally; always has; always will.”

Obviously aimed at high school students (sample voiceover: “all because you ride the bus to school every day”), this seems to steal from the tobacco maker’s playbook for selling cigarettes to children.