cite as: F. Bi. 2008. The Way of the Astroturf. Intl. J. Inact., 1:118–121
[...] We need regular high-impact media coverage of the findings of leading [global warming skeptic] scientists — not just one or two publications, but we need to have hundreds all over the world. We need to have a high degree of information sharing and cooperation between groups, so that when Vincent Gray for example has an article published in New Zealand, we can take the same piece and we can (say) submit it to newspapers all over North America and Europe.
Then we have a nicely well-coordinated response, where letters to the editor and phone calls are made. “Congratulations on publishing that article!” You know, it’s interesting because I’ve had many of my articles opposed so strongly, by environmentalists through phone calls and letters to the editor, that they just simply dry up, they just won’t publish us again. So this does have feedback, I mean, these are people that run these newspapers, and they’re scared, and impressed, and encouraged, depending on the feedback they get.
We have to have grassroots organizations doing exactly that kind of thing: coordinated local activism.
And finally, as I said, we need unbiased polling and good press coverage.
Well, we all know what “information sharing” means here. But what about “coordinated local activism”? How does it work? Here’s a first guess:
Alice: Hello Mr. Editor, I’m Alice from the newly-formed Friends of Methane group, a member of the International Climate Science Coalition. I read your story that [...]
Bob: Good morning, I’m Bob, I heard from the International Climate Science Coalition about the story in your paper that [...]
Tom: Dear Editor, I am Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition. I refer to your news article titled [...]
Nah, that won’t work well, because the editors will quickly get wind of what’s going on. And besides, if they also know that the ICSC is behind the propagation of the said news story in the first place, then it’ll be pure disaster! Of course, this means that the ICSC will have to hide the fact that it’s behind all the “grassroots activism”…
…and the why
The point of all these tactics, as helpfully highlighted on Slide 22 of Harris’s presentation,1 is partly to change people’s “perceptions of public opinion” on climate regulation. But whose perceptions? While Kevin Grandia thinks that the target of astroturfing is the man on the street, I’m more of the opinion that it’s targeted primarily at the decision makers. I commented on In It,
As Korzybski said, “the map is not the territory.” But the map is what the politician sees. And while you expend all your energy to conquer huge amounts of actual territory, someone else simply colours parts of the map as his own, and sends the map to the politician.
The territory is the actual public opinion, while the map is a politician’s perception of this public opinion.
And if a politician perceives lots of active opposition to climate regulation — even if the opposition’s artificially drummed up — he may be tempted to adjust his policy proposals according to ‘public opinion’. And this, I surmise, is what the ICSC is trying to accomplish.
- Interestingly, while Harris emphasizes this point in the slides, he skips over it in his speech.
- The speech excerpt
- 2008-08-14: I’ve extracted and uploaded the segment of Harris’s speech from 15′ to 17′ (this is 2.5MB; the above-quoted remarks start at 57″).
- 2008-08-15: I’ve now also uploaded the 2-minute segment (converted to Ogg Speex format) to Wikiality. Also, I adjusted the paragraphing in the above transcript to make it align better with the slide’s bullet points.
- 2008-09-24: Corrected a transcription error (“publish this” → “publish us”).
2008-09-25: The segment’s now also on YouTube. (More precisely, the section of the speech from 15′ 28″ to 16′ 26″.)
- 2008-09-29: A better YouTube video.
- 2008-10-09: I thought, “hmm… why not embed the YouTube video into this blog entry?” And so I did.
- 2009-03-31: Moved the embedded video to the top of this post, and moved Slide 20 downwards.
- 2009-09-02: Added a quick parenthesis to the transcript to clarify the context, namely that Harris wanted to propagate the writings of inactivist scientists. And, some formatting changes.
- The original recording of Harris’s complete speech
- 2008-09-17: The Heartland Institute has removed Harris’s speech and slides from their web site. However, as stated above, I have archived the relevant portions.
- 2008-09-19: The audio’s now back on the Heartland site, at a different address.