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Smog and mirrors 

Tim Bousquet on how PR clouds our environment.

"Concern about the environment is a core Canadian value," says Jim Hoggan. "It's not something that just popped up last year —it runs deep in the Canadian identity.

"But people have been bullshitted to for so long, they don't trust anyone."

A self-described "corporate PR guy" who has represented such firms as A&W, the Northwest Cruise Ship Association and Canadian Tire, among others, Hoggan knows all about bullshit. But unlike many in his industry, Hoggan's doing something about it.

About 15 years ago, he explains, Tara Cullins, president of the David Suzuki Foundation, asked him to do some pro bono work for the foundation.

"I was hesitant," he says. "Back then, getting involved with environmental work was beyond the pale—environmentalists were those wackos demonstrating out in the street. But you know, when I got into the work, I discovered that some of the wacky groups down the street had it right. And I got ticked off at what my industry was doing."

Hoggan is now chair of the Suzuki Foundation's board of directors, and spends much of his time analysing people's attitudes towards the environment.

One finding: when asked what prevents them, individually, from living a sustainable lifestyle, Canadians list a range of reasons, starting with lack of government leadership (45 percent). At the very bottom of the list, at around two percent, they say they don't care enough about the environment.

But asked why other people don't live sustainable lives, the number one response is that others don't care enough about the environment.

Hoggan's conclusion? "People don't want to be played the chump. They don't want to ride transit and get fuel efficient cars only to have the guy across the street driving a Hummer."

Complicating matters, says Hoggan, are the climate change deniers, who are using public relations tactics to confuse the public. The deniers get traction from the media because of the uncritical he-said-she-said, two-equal-sides-to-every-story "reporting" that passes for journalism nowadays.

But Hogan's main beef is with the deniers themselves, so he has started a blog—DeSmogBlog.com—to "clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change." On the blog, Hoggan and his cohorts name names, detail tactics and excoriate the PR industry's role in climate change denial. I really can't say enough about the blog; I've visited every day since I've learned of it, and will continue to use it as a valuable resource.

For instance, DeSmogBlog relates the history of the climate change denial movement —many of the denial organizations originated as PR campaigns for cigarette companies, then morphed into their present form by chasing climate change denial money put up by Exxon-Mobil. A link on the front page—"Who are the Sixty?"—examines the credentials of a supposed group of "scientists" who signed an anti-climate change petition to Stephen Harper. (Currently profiled is one Nils Axel-Morner, "expert" in the pseudo-science of dowsing.)

As an aside, the province last week announced a series of environmental objectives and policy initiatives. I'll be examining these in much detail in coming weeks, but one interesting facet of the announcement was the heralding of annual public progress reports—the unstated premise being that the public holds all such announcements as suspect or, essentially, as just a slick PR move.

"I started the blog to try to put the deniers in context," says Hoggan. "If we're going to really address climate change, people are going to have to be much better informed. They need to know not only that climate change is real, but what it is, and how they contribute to it."

And that's no bullshit.

Cut the crap. Email: timb@thecoast.ca

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