Monday, January 18, 2016

Merchants of Doubt

Jan and I watched the Merchants of Doubt last night.  It is a documentary based on a book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.  It is an amazing look into the operations of wealthy companies who are willing to sacrifice, literally, the lives of people to preserve their profits.

It begins with the public relation campaigns of the cigarette companies against medical research showing a connection between lung cancer and cigarette smoking.  It was there that all the tricks of the obfuscation trade were developed that were used again and again to fight against scientific research threatening corporation profits.

After cigarettes it was asbestos, then flame retardant chemicals in cribs getting into children's bloodstreams affecting their health.  Firefighters said the flame retardants didn't really help.  It's interesting that the flame retardant was initially proposed to save people who fell asleep while smoking cigarettes.  It was cigarette manufacturers who made cigarettes that wouldn't stop burning when unattended, helping to sell necessary flame retardant sofas to prevent that.  But they didn't work, and the cigarette companies went on selling dangerous cigarettes, and chemical companies kept on selling chemicals even if they harmed people.  Until finally the truth came out, both for cigarettes and deadly chemicals

Then it was global warming.  The same people who fought for cigarette companies, and chemical companies, were now being hired by the oil companies who felt their profits would be threatened by the global warming activists.  But the result was far bigger.  The obfuscation and doubt sowed by the public relations people they hired confused a sufficiently large part of the world that it left everyone more afraid of what would have to be done about global warming than about its impact on the planet. The results of these people may very well have more disastrous consequences for humanity than what they were able to do for cigarettes and flame retardants.

It's a tragic irony.  The corporations are only doing what they've always done.  They're puppets of capitalism, enacting the roles they been given without a thought, without regret, without awareness. And those of us staring at the cliff we're about to go over struggle against them, trying desperately to get people to see.

Despite what the merchants of doubt have been able to accomplish in the past, they eventually have failed.  But do we have the time to do that once again before irreversible consequences arrive?