Thank You for Smoking, the film based on Christopher Buckley’s 1994 book, is a satirical take on pro-smoking lobbyists, a group that arguably needs no parodying.

Surely it’s only a matter of time before someone sends up the spin doctors who peddle climate change scepticism – though it’s doubtful that Hollywood’s archest screenwriters could write anything to rival the ad campaign produced by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (a body funded in part by Exxon).

The ad – which can be viewed here and here and was described in Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope interview with the former US presidential candidate as “the anti-Gore” – placates viewers with a calming maternal voiceover:

Global warming alarmists claim the glaciers are melting because of carbon dioxide from the fuel we use. But we depend on those fuels, to grow our food, move our children, light up our lives. And as for carbon dioxide – it isn’t smog or smoke – it’s what we breathe out and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life.

As George Monbiot explains in his upcoming book, Heat, the way in which  Exxon muddies the environmental waters is particularly insidious. The “world’s most profitable corporation” is doing a Philip Morris, he writes in The Guardian:

  • The website Exxonsecrets.org, using data found in the company’s official documents, lists 124 organisations that have taken money from the company or work closely with those that have… their publications are read and cited, and their staff are interviewed and quoted, all over the world.
  • There are clear similarities between the language used and the approaches adopted by Philip Morris and by the organisations funded by Exxon. The two lobbies use the same terms, which appear to have been invented by Philip Morris’s consultants. “Junk science” meant peer-reviewed studies showing that smoking was linked to cancer and other diseases. “Sound science” meant studies sponsored by the tobacco industry suggesting that the link was inconclusive.
  • This is not to claim that all the science these groups champion is bogus. On the whole, they use selection, not invention. They will find one contradictory study – such as the discovery of tropospheric cooling … and promote it relentlessly.
  • Both lobbies recognised that their best chance of avoiding regulation was to challenge the scientific consensus … Both industries also sought to distance themselves from their own campaigns, creating the impression that they were spontaneous movements of professionals or ordinary citizens: the “grassroots”.
  • … the connection goes further than that. [The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition], the “coalition” created by Philip Morris, was the first and most important of the corporate-funded organisations denying that climate change is taking place. It has done more damage to the campaign to halt it than any other body.

It is fair to say that the professional denial industry “has delayed effective global action on climate change by years, just as it helped to delay action against the tobacco companies”, concludes Monbiot. 

Peter Fray

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