Climate-change facts easy to spin

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Boston-based author and journalist Ross Gelbspan is not happy with the way skeptics “fog” the climate-change issue.

In a phone interview with the Straight , the Pulitzer Prize–winning author—whose books include 2004's Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists Are Fueling the Climate Crisis—And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster (Basic Books)—hit out at gullible journalists who have ceded too many column inches to paid-off climate-change deniers who hope to spin the “imminent” dangers of climate change into kingdom come.

On Tuesday (March 6), Gelbspan, 67, will join a panel discussion on media treatment of the climate-change issue at UBC Robson Square. The State of the Media on Climate Change runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

In Boiling Point , Gelbspan reported that ExxonMobil was giving away more than US$1 million per year to various right-wing groups that opposed taking action on climate change. Exxon Mobil Corporatio n has funded the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute to the tune of $120,000 since 1998, according to the Web site www.Exxonsecrets.org/ .

“One thing I will want to talk about [at UBC] is the way ExxonMobil have been able to exploit the traditional journalistic and ethical notion of balance,” Gelbspan said. “Skeptics demand balance, but balance only comes about when it is a question of opinion. Then you are obligated to give competing points of view equal space. But when it is fact, balance does not come into play.”

Gelbspan claimed that American journalists have not followed these guidelines nor have they asked skeptics where their funding comes from. Conversely, Gelbspan said the recent summary report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the “largest, most rigorously peer-reviewed” evidence that climate change exists and is likely caused by human activity.

Gelbspan added that he has just written a foreword to the American edition of George Monbiot 's 2006 book Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning (Doubleday Canada). Monbiot, based in Oxford, England, spoke in Vancouver last November. In an earlier phone interview with the Straight , he gave his views on what he called the “denial industry”.

“It's fascinating just how effective these people have been in so many places and how much Exxon and its like have got for not very much money,” Monbiot said. “They've managed to carry a great deal of weight without having to spend much money on it. It's extraordinary in that respect.”