Merchants of Doubt

While now the jig is up for the tobacco industry, introducing the concept of “doubt” gave them enough time to secure billions of addicted customers. Documents now prove they knew tobacco caused cancer in the 1950s; in 1960 they realized it caused heart disease and was addictive.  Fearful of their findings, they hired a public relations specialist in 1953 who suggested they cast doubt.  The hired “independent” pseudo- scientists kept the doubt machine churning.  After 50 years of production, in 2012 a Federal judge ruled they lied. Now the four major tobacco companies are paying over 200 billion in settlements, yet they are still spreading misinformation about the dangers of second-hand smoke.  The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report clearly states exposure to second-hand smoke causes premature death and disease of non-smokers and no ventilation system eliminates that risk.  Fortunately, there is a strong national trend toward restaurants, bars and work sites going smoke-free state-wide; many municipalities in Missouri have smoke-free ordinances.  Unfortunately the town where I live, Boonville, lags behind putting our workers, visitors and citizens at risk.

Given the tobacco industry had enough time to secure their market, other industries are taking note.  Now the fossil fuel industry, GMO (genetically modified organisms) industry, sugar industry, pesticide industry, and chemical industries are using these same tactics, and enjoying robust sales.

When scientists first drew the conclusion man activities were causing damaging global warming in 1988, President Bush said we would tackle it. Quickly the threatened fossil fuel industry derailed action.  They blamed the wobble of the earth, said CO2 would help “green” the earth and increase our bounty, and casted doubt decades later. The oil kept flowing as the industry censured and questioned our scientific experts, dangerous practices putting us all at risk. Twenty years later, in 2008 politicians across both party lines considered climate change as a major issue. No longer able to deny it, the industry switched to “fear” tactics. We were told the cost of doing anything about climate change would “ruin” society, we would lose jobs, pay higher taxes, and increased regulations would take away our freedom!  It has now become clear, pursuing renewables not only makes our air cleaner, it has incredible job and economic growth potential as well.

Now the government is investigating Exxon as their internal documents confirm they knew fossil fuels were causing global warming as early as the 1970s. In lieu of taking corrective actions, they spent millions funding groups to spread doubt and confusion. Now similar documents are showing other major oil companies took the same path. The jig is up.

During the recent historic Paris Climate Summit, almost 200 countries joined together and developed a climate pact committed to a low-carbon future.  With 97% of climate scientists and the World in agreement, hopefully America too will get on the right side of history.

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