Esquire on Morano: inside the denial machine

by Gareth on April 1, 2010

US mens magazine Esquire has published an excellent profile of of Marc Morano — formerly James Inhofe’s chief of staff, the man who started the Swiftboat attack on John Kerry, now running the climate denial news hub Climate Depot (funded by Richard Mellon Scaife). Author John H Richardson runs through Morano’s role in promoting the CRU email hack (a useful addition to DeSmogBlogs “Climategate” autopsy), and then describes the trip he took with Morano to Copenhagen. It’s a fascinating insight into the operations of the tight little cabal of inactivists that run the denial campaign. At one evening event he encounters the cream of the crop: Steven Milloy (“the godfather” according to Morano), Tom Harris and (how could he miss him), serial fabulist Christopher Monckton:

Morano drifts over to Monckton, who is telling a story about a trip to the University of Rochester. “I was there to give a speech on the application of probabilistic computronics to the identification and quantification of phase transitions and bifurcations in a chaotic object, as one does… .”

After a TV interview in which Morano outfoxes a climate scientist, Richardson describes the tactics being used in this information war:

So that’s how it’s done, Morano says later. He’s the turd in the punch bowl, that’s all he is and all he can be. But that might be enough. If they can use the echo chamber to reach enough people, they can confuse them enough to change the narrative. It’s asymmetrical warfare updated for the age of the Internet.

That’s what reality is up against: a happy little band of people skilled in the new techniques for derailing debates and delaying effective action, and unashamed of using them to their utmost extent. It’s a chilling article, required reading for anyone who wants to understand who is framing “debate” in this field.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Gosman April 1, 2010 at 12:28 am

It's hardly a chilling article. I suspect that hard core environmental activists employ similar tactics on their various campaigns. I especially enjoyed reading how some people planned to sneak on board a Greenpeace ship and hang a banner from it. Classic!

You might not agree with these people's position but they seem quite effective at what they do. Railing against them won't stop them. What you need to do is counter them in an effective manner.

Gareth April 1, 2010 at 12:31 am

Precisely, Gosman, precisely. It's their very effectiveness that makes them chilling. Remember that what they are achieving — delay — will cost us all dearly in the long run.

Gosman April 1, 2010 at 1:48 am

Ummmm….. this is something that is open to a range of differing opinions, the opportunity costs involved with action on climate change.

I'd suggest a little more reasoned debate on this would be useful rather than resorting to hyperbola like your statement about how inaction will cost us all dearly in the long run.

Bryan Walker April 1, 2010 at 2:07 am

Surely, Gosman, delay will not only cost us a great deal more financially if analyses like Stern's are to be believed, but the worsening effects of unmitigated climate change will certainly make the lives of many precarious and may well have civilisation struggling to survive, if the science is to be believed. I don't see any hyperbole in the word "dearly".

Gosman April 1, 2010 at 2:17 am

Depends. Decision about the benefits or otherwise of actions to combat climate change are essentially economic decision. As such they have to have values attached to various variables which are subjective. I have yet to see a really good and detailed analysis on the costs of Climate change and the benefits of any plan to stop them. All we have so far is broad and vague forecasts.

Bryan Walker April 1, 2010 at 3:12 am

And how long are you happy to wait for what you regard as a really good and detailed analysis? I presume the Stern Review doesn't meet your requirements. And are economists the only people able to make risk assessments? What are we supposed to do when we see something fearful opening up ahead?

Gosman April 1, 2010 at 3:25 am

There you go again with the fear mongering. How is that actually adding anything to the debate. You just come across as some later day evangelical religious person warning about the end of the world.

As for the Stern review, it is a start but a flawed one. We need more detailed proposals on the table so that policy decisions can be properly debated. At the moment we have pretty much nothing.

Bryan Walker April 1, 2010 at 3:29 am

I'm not mongering fear, I'm feeling it.

Gosman April 1, 2010 at 2:25 am

Do you reallt think Civilisation is that fragile that massive social dislocation will cause it to collapse?

Humanity weathered an awful lot of social dislocation in the 20th Century without civilisation coming anywhere near collapse. This included both human and man made disasters on a large scale.

This reminds me of all the talk since the 1980's that there will be wars fought over water resources. I have yet to see this come close to eventuating even in places like the Middle East where the tension is the greatest.

nommopilot April 1, 2010 at 2:49 am

It all depends on what we do now. Look at it this way:

A car is not fragile. It will survive running into a tree at 10k an hour with very minor damage but run it into the same tree at 150ks and the damage will be far greater.

So as the drivers of the civilisation that is heading for a bunch of trees like peak oil, climate change and economic upheaval we need to decide whether it's time to hit the brakes. or at least take our foot off the accelerator…

Your argument that uncertainty is julstification for inaction does not stack up no matter how many times you repeat it. Human intelligence evolved under the selection pressure of predicting our environment. The best predictions from our most qualified scientists provide a strong case for mitigating action beginning as soon as possible.

Gosman April 1, 2010 at 3:10 am

But it isn't as simple as you put it ".. to hit the brakes. or at least take our foot off the accelerator… ". If it was Copenhagen wouldn't have been such an abortion of a conference. No one has really detailed what specific steps or actions need to be taken.

All we really have is some vague idea that we should set targets for Carbon reductions, spend more on clean and renewable energy development, and look at 'helping' least developed countries to cope with any challenges climate change might pose them.

Richard Christie April 1, 2010 at 3:15 am

But it isn't as simple as you put it ".. to hit the brakes. or at least take our foot off the accelerator… ". If it was Copenhagen wouldn't have been such an abortion of a conference.

False reasoning. Association not indicative of causality.

nommopilot April 6, 2010 at 1:24 am

It's meant to be simple it's an analogy demonstrating the fundamental nature of the situation. I don't literally believe that some fatcat somewhere has his foot on a carbon emitting pedal. If only it were so simple…

"No one has really detailed what specific steps or actions need to be taken. "

Actually there's plenty of details and plenty of different ideas. What is lacking is economic and political motivation for change to be made. And this is lacking because some really horrid people are fighting really hard to retain their profit share…

Bryan Walker April 1, 2010 at 3:27 am

Yes, I think civilisation is fragile, and I think for practical purposes it can be regarded as having collapsed regionally in many places during the last century. I'm currently reading reports from a writer at the siege of Stalingrad, for instance. However I said "struggling to survive" and certainly would hope that humanity can weather the storms ahead in some sort of order. But I wouldn't place a bet on there being no fighting over water resources in the not too distant future.

Mike April 1, 2010 at 3:26 am

Deniers think this article is a win, but careful reading of the article shows it to be a subtle expose of how they operate. Thanks for the link, it provides some interesting insights into the cabal of denialists.

tomfarmer April 1, 2010 at 8:49 pm

So who wrote won’t have significant negative unintended consequences. … ?

Why, was it not generality gosman.. no less!

Morano.. ? wasn’t that the place they went to play championship chess the first time around.. ?

Had to be a better and more entertaining name to be than the Inhofer joker above..

As to countering denialist (incl. deniosaurus) why bother when they do enough to knock themselves out sooner and later..

Gosman April 5, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Did this post have a point?

If so can someone provide a gibberish translation please?

I'm still waiting to see someone explain why the tactics carried out by Morano and co are any different to a broad range of other NGO Activist groups such as Greenpeace or PETA.

Gareth April 6, 2010 at 1:24 am

The point, Gosman, is that the inactivists like to pretend that there is no coordinated campaign to delay action on climate change. What the Esquire piece shows is just how organised it is, how tied in to the wishes of billionaires and corporate interests, and how insouciant the key players are about the tactics they use. I can only presume that they have made the cynical calculation that when the climate pigeons come home to roost, they will be long departed from the scene.

Of course activists on the other side also get together to discuss their respective campaigns, but my experience suggests that though there's a lot of goodwill (they are all on the same side, after all), there's a considerable amount of rivalry.

thesailer99 April 2, 2010 at 12:09 am

There is an excellent piece on the organisation of the deniers by Naomi Orsekes of the University of California. It's on YouTube under UCTV (University of California Television) and it takes about an hour but it is very entertaing and gives a good insight on the background and the type of people they are.

Gareth April 2, 2010 at 12:15 am

We posted a recent Oreskes talk here. Well worth watching, as you suggest.

Gosman April 1, 2010 at 3:20 am

I'll tell you what false reasoning is, the idea that any plan to tackle to climate change is easy to implement wand won't have significant negative unintended consequences.

philscadden April 1, 2010 at 3:56 am

I have no idea how fragile civilisation may or may not be, but I dont see anything in recent history testing it quite as hard as climate change that is too rapid might. It's the problem of global versus regional.

I dont think anyone thinks a plan to tackle change is going to be easy or that there arent risks of negative consequences. However, so long as you arent talking about irreversible geoengineering, I prefer those unknown risks to the known risks of doing nothing. And some bits are really easy. How hard and how risky is it to end of forms of subsidy to fossil fuel extraction and use? That would at least give some market impetus for replacement by renewables.

nommopilot April 6, 2010 at 1:20 am

I didn't say it would be easy to take action – it's clear that there is considerable well-organised opposition to mitigating action being undertaken and the motivations of that opposition are also quite clear.

As far as unintended consequences go, though I think the failure of our leaders in Copenhagen will have far more negative consequences for our descendants than concrete carbon reduction measures would if they could ever be brought about.

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