Breathe deep the big lies
Inhale two announcements made this week - one happy, one tragic. Both of stellar significance, they spin through the open mind interlocked like a yin-yang wheel, connected in ways that should be more scandalous than they've become.
Both have relevance to heartland states such as Tennessee, where much of the nation's dirty work gets done despite high moral utterances, here where the Bible Belt latches onto the tobacco and energy industries. First, the happy news. The American Cancer Society said that the nation's cancer rates, including lung cancer, declined for the second year in row, proving it wasn't a fluke when it happened last year.
Now the alarming news. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its symbolic Doomsday Clock from seven minutes of midnight to five minutes of midnight, to show how much more dangerous the world has grown since 2002.
These two announcements, so different in tone and substance, are linked in an eye-popping way. Our nation even now is coping with a campaign of lies regarding dangers of global warming - a campaign that grew out of a similar conspiracy regarding tobacco.
According to "Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning," by George Monbiot - a book corroborated by a wide variety of sources - the tobacco industry deliberately lied and misled the American public about the dangers of tobacco, including the connection between cigarettes and cancer.
It took millions of deaths, years of research, lawsuits and those famous congressional hearings before our country woke up to the truth about tobacco abuse and began reversing the trend - though still half a million Americans will die of cancer this year.
Worse yet, our nation has become confused yet again by a campaign of lies regarding dangers of global warming that grew out of the lies regarding tobacco.
But here's the killer: Energy industries used some of the same public relations firms, bogus science organizations, news outlets and tactics to cast a smokescreen about global warming, especially its connection to greenhouse gases.
That's why so many people say glibly, "It's cyclical," when dismissing dangers posed by global warming, as if that phrase settles everything.
In "Heat," Monbiot chronicles how Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco firm, perfected its lying strategies and then passed them along to ExxonMobil, the world's largest energy firm. It's a long, sordid story, but in a nutshell, here's what happened:
In 1992 the Environmental Protection Agency cited secondhand smoke as a serious health issue. By 1993, Philip Morris was fighting that allegation and others along a broad front. Monbiot quotes internal Philip Morris memos and letters proving the company created a disinformation network, giving millions of dollars to dozens of organizations that would lend the appearance of a grassroots yet science-based movement to cast doubt on the ill effects of tobacco.
Moreover, it camouflaged the campaign by grouping the dangers of tobacco with so-called myths, such as the alleged evils of cellophane, pesticides, nuclear waste and biotechnology, notions promoted by people it denigrated as extremists.
ExxonMobil enthusiastically signed on, then seized on the approach for its own purposes. It funded or helped fund more than 124 organizations, writes Monbiot, and most of them used some portion of it to promote the big lie that doubt still exists among serious scientists regarding global warming.
Pseudo-science organizations funded by ExxonMobil and others often present elaborate articles, replete with charts and graphs, to lend the appearance of authority, but these are not peer-reviewed articles, and while they bear resemblance to a sort of half truth, they're largely elaborate lies which have set the world back many years in its quest to save itself.
Don Williams is the founding editor of New Millennium Writings. You may write to him at P.O. Box 2463, Knoxville, TN 37901, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone him at 865-428-0389.