(This is fifth of Galiano Island Books features on authors and artists attending the 2017 Galiano Literary Festival February 17-19th on Galiano Island. Tix for festival and writing workshops still available (250) 539-3340 or email@example.com.)
He has been trained by Al Gore as part of The Climate Reality Project, an initiative designed to educate the public about climate change. He’s also the Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, an executive member of the Urban Development Institute and Future Generations and a Trustee of the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education.
Over the past DECADE, I’ve been lucky to rub shoulders working w/ Jim as part of the DeSmogBlog project team from the earliest days, as well as a portrait photographer for his crisis communications firm Hoggan & Associates.
DeSmogBlog is a website is on the front lines of climate-change debate exposing climate-deniers and their funders. Hoggan & Associates is a PR & CorpComm agency focused on Crisis Communications. It’s precisely these experience deep in the trenches that Jim brings to bear in his new book I’m Right and You’re an Idiot. Please pardon yet another military euphemism but this is one issue where the war metaphor seems to work well. In fact his last book was titled Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming.
“In the early years of DeSmog’s research into environmental propaganda, I thought of industry PR campaigns like “junk science,” “clean coal,” and “ethical oil” as misinformation strategies designed to dupe the public about the real issues.
Although there is obvious truth to that view, I now understand that propaganda is far more complex and problematic than lying about the facts. Certainly propaganda is designed to look like facts that are true and right, but not in a way we might think. What’s more, the consequences are far worse than most people consuming and even producing it realize.”
Here are a couple of my favorite talks by James Hoggan. They will give you a flavor for what topics he’ll be discussing at the Literary Festival. First one is Empathy & The Public Square…
And also check out Jim’s “You Can’t Spin Mother Nature” talk at the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) annual conference…
Jim recently took a few minutes to sit down and answer some questions for me in the leadup to #LitFest…
KK – Welcome to Galiano Island Mr. Hoggan. Have you been here before? Which is your favorite of the islands?
JH – I use to camp on Galiano when I was a kid growing up in Victoria, going to University of Victoria. The Island with the greatest number of arbutus trees, eagles and tree frogs is my favourite. Not sure which island that would be but I love Galiano.
KK – I’ve been familiar with DeSmog Blog since the very beginning. Can you tell me what the project has revealed to your personally the its significance in the overall conversation around Climate Change pls?
JH – When we are lucky enough to be born into one of the world’s great democracies we have a responsibility to educate ourselves so we can recognize propaganda when we see it. We need to be wise to the difference between honest and corrupt public conversation.
We started DeSmog in 2005 to educate the public about the propaganda that swirls around climate change and the environment. Anti- science propaganda needs to be exposed for the corruption it is, so people don’t mistake it for legitimate public discourse.
I was naive in the early days. I thought propaganda was misinformation. I didn’t understand that a century of social science and public relations had provided the bad apples among us with more devious tools than misinformation.
As time went on we wrote about Oil & Gas Industry PR campaigns like Ethical Oil, Clean Coal, Climate Gate. It became clear these campaigns weren’t just about deceptive persuasion. They were really an attempt to shut down public spaces.
I now think of propaganda as a war on the public square. On the surface the message appears to be, climate change is a hoax, but there is another narrative created through ad homonym attacks on scientists and cloaking science with partisan tribal meaning. That narrative builds the impression was that everyone is biased, there is no objectivity, there are no facts and you can’t trust anyone to speak for the collective. Everyone is just in it for himself or herself. So why bother with public discourse.
The goal is to get groups thinking: people like us don’t believe in climate change, if you believe in climate change you can’t be one of us you must be one of them.
If you can turn a scientific issue into a tribal issue there isn’t any need to persuade, open-minded thinking just shuts down on its own, motivated reasoning and confirmation bias take over.
This is why facts usually don’t clear things up and we need to be careful with the polarization. Public stories for change need to speak to hearts and values with a strong emotional dialogue that is pluralistic and less polarizing.
KK – It seems like the discourse around Climate Change isn’t the only thing that is polluted lately. Your book and it’s key premise seem particularly relevant when viewed through the lens of politics and the recent US election. Where do you point your finger?
JH – I point the finger at the corruption I described earlier. It is a new style of political communication that works across all controversial issues from immigration, gun control to energy.
It pollutes the public square with an anything goes approach to political discourse where truth and sincerity mean nothing. Social media is the main vehicle for this propaganda but traditional media, speeches, books are all involved.
KK – You’ve dealt with some tough problems in your work and career. Big dark crisis that can seem overwhelming. Are there a couple things you’d like to share with people who feel like the communication crisis we’re in has left them feeling heavy, heartbroken or hopeless?
JH – When I interviewed the Dalai Lama for my book he said they have a saying in Tibet.
“Nine times failure, then nine times effort. This means effort, fail, again effort, again fail, again effort.”
He said people today want immediate results, and if they fail they give up. That’s wrong, that’s failure. He said he had been talking to people about compassion for 50 years and he felt people were just beginning to listen.
As the interview ended we stood up and he pointed his finger at my forehead and said we like to think the western mind is more sophisticated. In Tibet we go with the heart and I think that may be stronger. Maybe if we take the Tibetan Heart together with the Western Mind we can fix tough problems like climate change. We need more warm-heartedness.
Trump is a teachable moment we need to learn the lessons and then move forward with a less partisan approach to social change and environmental stewardship.
KK – What’s the future hold for you? How will you be spending your time in 2017?
JH – I’m writing a “how to” book on public story telling. It’s a follow up to I’m Right and You’re an Idiot.
(Photos & videos are the copyright of their creators and sourced via Google Images & YouTube.)
Many heartfelt thx to Jim for participating in this interview and taking the questions and for all the amazing work you do! 🙂 *hat tip*
Pls plan to join us and buy your #LitFest tickets today! (250) 539-3340 firstname.lastname@example.org.