For people new to the climate change debate, at first glimpse it might be strange that so many climate skeptics have a past in which they, one way or another, deny a relationship between tobacco and (second hand) smoking. It's strange, because the two topics are totally unrelated, and it's strange because it is unlikely that a single person is an expert in both a medical topic and one dealing with earth sciences.
Prof Naomi Oreskes in her presentation The American denial of Global Warming
seeks where the root of this denialism lays : her conclusion (which I agree with) is that the scientific denialism actually is a consequence of the libertarian hatred against the ‘state’ and where science gets attacked because of the eventual political consequences it might have. When in conflict with the libertarian political-religious dogmatic framework, the scientific information in conflict with the dogma simply has to be wrong…
The thought expressed above of course does explain why so many skeptics have a history of denying so many different and independent scientific issues : the infamous skeptic S. Fred Singer has a past of denying aspects in completaly differents domains as the relations between : tobacco & cancer; CFC’s & Ozone-depletion; asbestos & lung cancer; CO2 & global warming...
Singer might be an extreme case, but people like Tim Ball or Richard Lindzen all have expressed their doubts not just on climate change, but also on the tobacco-subject. All those people are linked to right wing libertarian "free-market" thinkthanks. Given the fact it’s often the same names denying scientific findings for both of the subjects, it’s no surprise to find a remarkable similarity in the tactics of the organized denialism on tobacco & global warming.
Global Warming skeptics basically copied the strategy developed by the tobacco industry in the 60’ies which have proven to work back then. And, given the high dose of confusion amongst the public on the field of climate change, there's no doubt the tactics still work.
As a result of a trial on tobacco related illnesses, an American court obliged some tobacco companies to release internal documents. The result is available on the website Tobacco Legacy Documents which gives a clear insight in the tactics useb by the tobacco-lobby. The documents reveal the names of people associated with this lobby, names which all too often sound really familiar for someone following the global warming debate.
When the American government came to the conclusion (1989) that tobacco is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine, the tobacco lobby’s response was (a.o.) to create an Astroturf group called ARISE. This group fabricated the argument that smoking brings pleasure to its users and therefore is a good thing. ARISE states :
The sensory and pharmacological effects of substances such as alcohol, chocolate, coffee, tea and tobacco give pleasure, and so can have beneficial effects on health . They also provide a pharmacologically calming effect, which aids relaxation, and in moderation are also beneficial to health
Pleasure is a vital component of human life and, amongst other things, can be a positive contributor to living as well as an antidote to negative mood states . Research shows that the human immune system can be enhanced or suppressed on the basis of psychological state . So if pleasurable activity enhances one's mood, then one's health is likely to be affected in a positive way.
The fact smokers are ill more often than their colleagues who don’t smoke was well known already in the nineties, yet still ARISE writes:
The pharmacological effects of coffee, tea and tobacco improve attention and memory and increase achievement at work.
The thing sounding very familiar is this statement by ARISE that clearly sounds very libertarian :
The recent emergence of neo-puritanism whereby people in positions of authority and so-called 'experts' make pronouncements telling us which pleasurable things are permissible and which are not, is at best misguided and at worst, potentially dangerous to our wellbeing.
Another fine example of how the lobby was communicating toward the public is shown in this article published in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad (12 okt 1993) some fragments :
“Daily little joys” like coffee or tobacco, indicate humans need pleasure to recuperate from our daily efforts, and they increase our quality of life. A surprising point of view, as it’s expressed by real scientists “The positive effects of such products are often neglected” prof Warburton [founder of ARISE] explains.
It’s impossible not to notice it: this phrasing sounds very familiar for anyone who ever read libertarian/right wing liberal texts
The professor works at the university of Reading (UK) The newspaper depicts the lobbygroup as follows : ARISE is an international association conducting research towards the joy that some products can bring.
The remarkable final conclusion reads : Prof Warburton doesn’t have much respect for people that warn the public for the dangers : today people informing the public for a good cause are the new high priests that control pleasure, with epidemiologists as their oracles.
When reading the "freedom"-discours of Warburton, it won't such a big surprise that a Belgian associate to the lobby Group is the aforementioned Belgian philosophy of law professor Frank Van Dun.
Frank van Dun wrote a text called "Pleasure and Political culture" which can be found in the tobacco legacy documents library and which goes as follows :
Intolerance is back in style, drinkers, smokers, drivers, are depicted as evils to bedealt with severely . Just look at the campaigns involving cancer. The use of political means for the prevention of disease requires totalitarian control over the lives of people . Making such control acceptable is the hidden agenda behind anti-pleasure campaigns . The moral issue is whether the results justify the costs . To live is to make choices . To drink alcohol and coffee, a to smoke are all personal choices
|Frank Van Dun|
The question of course how this vision on politics and science is combined with scientific reality :
The political question who is to make the choice . The medical and economic arguments against smoking are only of relatively small importance, since they are buried under imponderables which vary from one person to the next, i.e, genetic susceptibility.
Clearly, van Dun mineralizes the negative effects of smoking. In the beginning of the nineties (when this text was written), the effects of active smoking were well known. Above that the question arises whether Van Dun’s (and many other libertarian’s) viewpoint is right that smoking is an individual choice. Given the big budgets the tobacco industry did spent in publicity, the question if a free will is as free as Van Dun claims is one that could be asked. And i think it should be asked, because imho it is answered in an incorrect manner by libertarians, resulting them to make conclusions on society and politics that are just as incorrect ..
Frank van Dun ends his text on tobacco with something that is totally non related to the topic of smoking, and is so general actually it can be “used” as a libertarian conclusion for a whole lot of non-related topics :
Decency moreover dictates that they are not misused to disguise unstated moralistic and political motivations, the craving of tyranny and intolerance of those who can justify their existence only in the control over the lives of others
I have the feeling that this exact same quote could’ve been used to express a libertarian’s feeling when speaking on the subject of climate change. Anything is possible, except a government taking actions that affects individuals. No matter if the subject is smoking, the economy or … climate change
Meanwhile, recently the Dutch government has imposed a ban on smoking in public places. Much to the regret of the liberarian website vrijspreker.nl (the same site where Hans Labohm published his ridiculous article
), which in the past years had dozens of articles urging the public to oppose to this unacceptable violation of individual rights the ban in their eyes is.
In their latest post
, the website draws the attention to the nice people of TICAP (The International Coalition Against Prohibition), which soon will hold a conference
to oppose a smoking ban.
Of course the first thing I did was entering the names of the speakers on the conference in the tobacco legacy documents search string. Even though that database is quite outdated, still most names of speakers on the TICAP-conference can be found in this lobby documents. One example : Barrie Craven turns out to have been a member of the lobbygroup The European Science and Environement Forum
or ESEF. When looking at the academic members of ESEF (p31) you can find the names of …. well known climate skeptics like Sallie Baliunas
, Robert C Baling
, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen
, Fred Singer
, Willie Soon
and Vincent Gray
Global warming skepticism cannot be understood without understanding the background of the skeptics, that much is sure. The skepticism in my opinion results from a dogmatic, quasi-religious, belief in the libertarian dogma of free market capitalism without any interference. The fallacies used in climate change discussions remind me to the fallacies made by creationists. Anything is possible, except the dogma to be wrong. If it requires attacking science to save the dogma, science gets attacked ...