Last week the National Environmental Trust (NET) leaked to the media internal documents of a public relations firm hired by the American Petroleum Association (APA) to battle the Kyoto accord, a proposed international treaty to prevent global climate change. Based on these documents, the New York Times ran a front-page story supposedly exposing an insidious plot by the industrial group to confuse the public about global warming. If the documents "expose" anything, it is the NET's - and the media's - hypocrisy.
More than 15,000 scientists signed a petition on the eve of the Kyoto conference last December urging the Clinton administration to refrain from foolishly committing the country to drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. They noted the science on global warming is hardly as "compelling" as the president claimed. In fact, uncertainty abounds about basic issues such as the extent of the warming and its causes. Respected scientific journals like Science and the New Scientist have published articles highlighting the weaknesses of global warming theory.
Still the NET is trying to thwart dissent on global warming by casting it as an evil conspiracy hatched by "big oil." A look at the documents, however, shows that the APA's publicity "plot" is innocuous compared with the aggressiveness with which the NET has gone about influencing the global warming debate.
Indeed, the NET was conceived in 1993 as the propaganda wing of the Pew Charitable Trust, the biggest environmental grant maker in the country. At the time, NET's founder, Joshua Reichert, a Pew environmental director, noted that he wanted NET to be a "war room" on environmental issues. His ideal project leader, Mr. Reichert said, was James Carville. "I don't want someone who knows the facts or can articulate them persuasively. I want someone who wants to win and knows how."
To this end, the NET has unabashedly cultivated journalists, government officials, religious leaders and even children's advocacy groups. In the week before the Kyoto negotiations, NET, according to its own internal documents, ghost-wrote seven op-eds, including one for Kenneth Lay, chief executive officer of Enron Corp., a company that produces natural gas. Enron favors cuts in carbon dioxide emissions because they would disproportionately burden its competitors in the fossil fuel industry.
Yet the NET is depicting as underhanded a plan by APA's public relations firm to distribute a global climate science information kit to the media that includes - gasp! - peer-reviewed articles throwing doubt on the "conventional wisdom." The idea of convincing a major national TV journalist such as John Stossel to do a show examining the scientific underpinnings of the Kyoto treaty has been dubbed as an effort to "plant a story." Also depicted as unsavory is a suggestion to identify scientists who could help the media and Congress understand the complexities of global climate change.
In a democracy, the public depends on competing groups to forcefully present their views to determine the full truth. But smearing opponents to suppress facts that don't fit with its agenda has become part of the basic strategy of the environmental left. To the extent that the media are cooperating in this campaign of suppression, they ill serve democracy.
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