James Hoggan's blog

If Facts Don’t Matter, What Does?

This is an excerpt from DeSmog founder Jim Hoggan’s latest book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse, published by New Society Publishers.

I first began reading the works of linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff about 15 years ago and I was struck by the Berkeley professor’s now famous ideas about what he calls frames. In public relations our stock in trade is messaging, because our role is to create understanding by combining maximum clarity with supreme brevity. We work in the world of sound bites and elevator pitches that are designed to be short and pithy, and we rarely have the time or budget to delve into frames or deeply moving narratives.

When I started writing I’m Right and You’re an Idiot I wanted to better understand the difference between messages and frames, so I would know how frames work and be able to explain how to manage them. I wanted to better understand how they relate to the mechanics of public debate, and especially how frames impact facts and scientific evidence in public discourse, or when shaping opinion.

Why I Wrote a Book About How to Clean Up Toxic Debates

I wrote my last book, Climate Cover-Up, because I wanted to take a deeper look at the science propaganda and media echo chambers that muddied the waters around climate change, fuelled denial of facts and stalled action. The book was a Canadian best seller, was reprinted in Spanish and Mandarin and became the basis of many lectures, panel discussions and presentations I have given around the world since it was published in 2009.
 
I continued to be perplexed and frustrated by the spin doctoring swirling around the global warming issue, making it easy for people to refute the reality of what’s going on and ignore this critical collective problem. But as time went by I became even more concerned and alarmed by the crazy state of debate today in general — the toxic rhetoric that seems to permeate virtually all of the important issues we face, whether it’s a discussion about vaccinations, refugee immigration, gun control or environmental degradation.

How Propaganda (Actually) Works

clean coal propaganda

Political Propaganda employs the ideals of liberal democracy to undermine those very ideals, the dangers of which, not even its architects fully understand.
 
In the early years of DeSmog’s research into environmental propaganda, I thought of industry PR campaigns like “junk science,” “clean coal,” and “ethical oil” as misinformation strategies designed to dupe the public about the real issues.
 
Although there is obvious truth to that view, I now understand that propaganda is far more complex and problematic than lying about the facts. Certainly propaganda is designed to look like facts that are true and right, but not in a way we might think. What’s more, the consequences are far worse than most people consuming and even producing it realize.

George Monbiot on Environmentalism: "I Cannot Abide Bullshit"

George Monbiot on DeSmog Canada talking climate change, climate denial and the problem of short-term thinking

George Monbiot is a British writer known for his environmental and political activism. He is a columnist at The Guardian, and author of the bestselling books The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, among others. His latest book is Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the ­Frontiers of Rewilding, which tells the story of his efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living.

I sat down with Monbiot to talk about why he keeps up his activism, where he differs from other environmentalists in areas such as nuclear power and why climate change deniers do what they do. Below is the second of our two-part conversation.* Read the first part here: George Monbiot: Climate, Junk Science and Zombie Myths.

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George Monbiot: Climate, Junk Science and Zombie Myths

George Monbiot on Junk Science and Climate Change Denial

George Monbiot is a British writer known for his environmental and political activism. He is a columnist at The Guardian, and author of the bestselling books The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, among others. His latest book is Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the ­Frontiers of Rewilding, which tells the story of his efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living.

I sat down with Monbiot to talk about why junk science is becoming an accepted part of the public discourse around climate change, creating what he calls “the phenomenon of zombie myths.” Monbiot also talks about why some media outlets continue to report on climate change without all of the facts. Below is the first of our two-part conversation.*

With Obama in the Lead, it's Time for Canada to Change Course on Climate Change

Stephen Harper meets with world leaders at the G8 summit

This post is an opinion editorial that originally appeared in the Hill Times.

VANCOUVER, B.C.—U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent climate speech at Georgetown University has shaken up the atmosphere of complacency around climate policy, and it’s time for Canada to stand up and take notice. The much-anticipated speech unveiled the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and put climate change back at the centre of the global economic agenda, a development that Canada cannot afford to ignore.

As other nations begin the slow transition to a low-carbon economy, Canada’s reputation as a bad actor on the international climate stage will hurt more than just the environment. If Obama’s plan to move to cleaner sources of energy is any indicator, Canada’s reputation as a climate laggard will also hurt our economy.  

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