Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
It takes chutzpah to accuse other people of something you yourself are peddling.
Climate skeptics are routinely accused of being conspiracy theorists. For example, Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has claimed that much of the criticism directed at his organization relies on “unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.”
But Pachauri is peddling a conspiracy theory of his own. According to him, the reason the world isn’t taking his climate change advice has nothing to do with the IPCC’s profound credibility problems. It isn’t because he himself behaves like an activist rather than a dispassionate scientist.
No, Pachauri has a far more exciting explanation: it involves a conspiracy of “powerful vested interests.” If it weren’t for evil oil companies using their influence behind the scenes, he implies, all would be well with the world.
In an article he wrote for the Guardian newspaper in 2010, Pachauri laid it on thick, referring to “vested interests” on four separate occasions (not counting the subtitle at the top):
It is a well-known fact that powerful vested interests and those opposed to action on climate change are working overtime to see that they can stall action for as long as possible.
…powerful vested interests are perhaps likely to get overactive in the coming months, and would perhaps do everything in their power to impede progress towards a binding agreement that is hoped for by the end of 2010…
…given the slow pace of progress and the power that vested interests exercise over legislative and policy initiatives…
…thwarting the efforts of skeptics and vested interests, who will do everything possible to maintain the status quo. [bold added; backed up here]
There are many vested interests. Some of them are aligned against Pachauri’s worldview. Many are aligned with it.
To complain about oil companies trying to protect their interests while ignoring the fact that firms involved in wind and solar power, carbon offsets, or green investment funds are doing exactly the same thing is intellectually dishonest.
To overlook the massive vested interest that Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the Environmental Defense Fund, and hundreds of other organizations now have in selling the public alarming stories is naive.
Yet that is exactly what Pachauri does. He shines a light on a tiny sliver of the battlefield, screams and shouts about what’s happening there, but studiously ignores everything else going on around it.
In fact, people on all sides of the climate debate – and, indeed, at all points along the political spectrum – are susceptible to conspiracy theories.
For example, many of us are prepared to believe that electric cars would be commonplace today if it weren’t for a conspiracy involving oil companies and auto manufacturers that extends back to the early 1900s. (See the documentary film, Who Killed the Electric Car?)
But real life is more complicated than that. In recent years Fisker Automotive received generous assistance from the US government ($529 million in low-interest loans). So did the maker of the battery for its plug-in hybrid cars (a $250 million grant). Despite all of that, Fisker has now fired 75 percent of its workforce and hired bankruptcy lawyers.
Last month, Reuters published a story titled Electric cars headed toward another dead end. It reported that recent developments suggest that electric cars still aren’t ready “for prime time – and may never be.” In the words of this article,
despite billions of dollars in investment…[electric vehicles] continue to be plagued by many of the problems that eventually scuttled electrics in the 1910s and more recently in the 1990s. Those include high cost, short driving range and lack of charging stations. [bold added; backed up here]
When we embrace a conspiracy theory, we adopt an over-simplified view of a complex situation. More disturbingly, we reduce other people to comic book characters – pure-hearted good guys and nefarious evil-doers.
On occasion, we’re all guilty of this sort of thinking. When Rajendra Pachauri accuses people of being conspiracy theorists, therefore, he’s merely saying they’re human. Ho-hum.
Now can have a grownup conversation about why so many people distrust his organization?