Mary H. Hall: Lessons from tobacco industry in climate change crisis

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Published: 5/28/2019 10:19:17 AM

The Gazette recently published a letter from a writer with the same name and town of residence as columnist Bob Couch.

Responding to one of Couch’s columns, I referenced the PBS NOVA program, “Decoding the Weather Machine,” which I had found to be straightforward in its presentation on climate. I hoped Couch, who used to teach math, might appreciate the relevant discoveries of mathematician and physicist Joseph Fourier in 1824, along with those of John Tyndall in 1862, and Svante Arrhenius in 1895.

I also recommended the book, “Merchants of Doubt,” and the movie by the same name that was inspired by the book. These resources describe how fossil fuel interests have repeated a strategy the tobacco industry used before them, of working to sow confusion about what is generally accepted science in order to maintain their business.

The tobacco story may come full circle, as litigation ultimately exposed, through discovery, the tobacco industry’s lies about what it had actually known. By that time, big tobacco’s profits had been huge. While arguments continue on what is known of climate, the time we have left in which to save life as we know it is running out.

The recent letter names Dr. Richard Lindzen as his champion of climate denial. Court documents show Lindzen has accepted fossil fuel funding, although just how much he has received from the carbon-combustion complex is not public knowledge. Meanwhile, in an article on him at sourcewatch.org, I have read Lindzen favors the claim of big tobacco that smoking does no harm.

Lindzen has impressive credentials but, sadly, these, of themselves, do not show he is to be believed on climate. The film, “Merchants of Doubt,” explores an instructive previous experience with Dr. Fred Seitz, a prominent physicist who went on tobacco’s payroll. At the end of his life, Seitz took no responsibility for having helped to mislead the public about the health risks of smoking, but said people were at fault for believing the tobacco industry when they should have known better.

Mary H. Hall

South Hadley




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