A staple of communications, persuasion and propaganda is that the messenger matters. Since audiences are more sympathetic to people they perceive as similar to themselves or belonging to the same group as them, marketing is often simply a process of finding someone from the target audience to sell the product. If it’s done authentically, it can be powerful. But if it’s artificial and the spokesperson isn’t really of the audience they’re imitating, it’s transparent “How do you do, fellow kids?” propaganda.
As consummate students of propaganda, climate deniers are keenly aware of this dynamic, particularly the mainstream media’s gullible history with it, and use it repeatedly to great effect to get attention. But they don’t seem to actually succeed in getting anyone who genuinely cares about climate to change their mind, so much as they give Republican politicians someone respectably-bipartisan-seeming to cite when trying to save face as they’re rejecting universally popular climate policy in favor of the fossil fuel industry’s preferred policy of nothing.
Bjorn Lomborg parlayed an early environmental passion into a career fighting alongside industry. Patrick Moore inflated his youthful dalliance with Greenpeace into a “co-founder” resume point and used it to sell climate denial and pesticides. (But don’t worry, he’s not drinking his own Roundup!) Michael Shellenberger’s doing the schtick with nuclear power, and marketing for Michael Moore’s anti-renewables movie last year played up the angle.
Steve Koonin is just the latest to inflate his modest liberal credentials, a two-year stint in the Obama administration, to sell the rankest of rightwing climate denial propaganda retreads in a new book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t and Why it Matters.
Aside from the decade-old Obama gig prominently displayed on the cover, it is entirely indistinguishable from bargain basement climate denial. It’s been talked up in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page and excerpted in the National Review, but thankfully so far, mainstream media has largely refrained from taking the bait.
Which is good, because as Marianne Lavelle explains at Inside Climate News, Koonin’s history makes it obvious that his call for debate is as shallow as his grasp on the science. Before Koonin’s current call for debate, and before he championed the idea of having the Trump Administration carry out a “red team” attack on climate science — but after he was hired by the Obama administration specifically for his contrarianism and not the supposed liberalism he’s now impersonating to sell himself — Koonin actually carried out exactly the type of scientific debate he now claims hasn’t happened.
What could possibly explain this apparent amnesia?
In 2013, he led an effort to review the American Physical Society’s position on climate change. He tapped the best and brightest minds to represent the skeptic side, like the late smoking-causes-cancer-denier Fred Singer, misleading-graph-master John Christy, and eventual Trump advisor William Happer, who once compared climate advocacy to the Holocaust. Following a debate between the deniers and the consensus scientists, the physicists thoroughly rejected Koonin’s proposed changes to the science society’s statements, making it clear that the “skeptics” had not presented any compelling evidence that the consensus science was in any way in doubt.
Instead of graciously accepting the outcome of the debate and being satisfied that the science had its day in court, so to speak, Koonin resigned. A few years later, he was back to suggest the Trump administration let him do it again, but this time with the force of a government in denial behind him.
So you can definitely read Lavelle’s accompanying dissection of just how misleading and out of date five of Koonin’s main arguments are, if you’re interesting in what appears to be a largely out-of-date exercise in attacking the NCA and rehashing already repeatedly debunked or “rebunked” old Wall Street Journal op-eds about how GDP projections show that “we” will all be so incredibly rich in the future it doesn’t matter how bad climate change gets … because we’ll just, like, pay for new houses every hurricane season and amicably resettle essentially everyone currently living in Central America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and large swaths of India, and basically all of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands into the newly ice-free Arctic once the tropics and sub-tropics become too hot to be livable. Or something.
But the important thing is this: Steve Koonin doesn’t want a debate. Steve Koonin wants to trick you into thinking he wants a debate. He had his little debate already. Koonin’s arguments were roundly defeated, but instead of accepting that the debate was over, he took his ball and went home.
And here he is again, with the same arguments, telling us he just wants a chance to debate!
Only difference is, this time it seems like no one legitimate is falling for it. Which is good, because we definitely don’t have another decade to waste on people for whom the term “sellout” would be a compliment. Just like calling Nickelback sellouts would falsely imply they were ever not bland, mass-marketed, lowest-common-denominator pop-rock schlock, calling professional deniers like Koonin, Lomborg, Shellenberger et al. "sellouts" would just validate their lies about having ever been a remotely decent human being in the first place and not just a greedy, lying, polluter mouthpiece with a contrarian streak and knack for self-promotion.
But hey, at least Nickelback never pretended to be something it wasn’t, which means Koonin and crew are worse than Nickelback.