Randy Olson on Marc Morano, Who Was Featured in Sizzle

By Chris Mooney | April 10, 2009 10:14 am

Our friend and scientist-filmmaker Randy Olson had some run-ins with Marc Morano in making his hilarous recent film Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy, which premiered last July at the Outfest Gay and Lesbian Festival in Hollywood, and at the Woods Hole Film Festival. It is now on the film festival and college screening circuit.

I’ve done a short Q&A with Olson about how we should think about Morano, given that he is an increasingly prominent character in the climate debate. Here are my questions, and his responses:

Do you respect Marc Morano? As a source of accurate information on global warming, no. As a powerful and skilled communicator who is well suited to today’s media environment, yes, I do and the entire science community should.

Do you think he is successful? He just got profiled in the NY Times. I’d say he has arrived in terms of his mission to establish himself as a lead spokesman in their efforts to thwart global warming action. I included him in my movie because I was impressed with his aggressiveness, quickness, and sheer ability to domineer. Yet I also showed in the segment how inaccurate he could be with the facts as I end it with him saying “none of the dire environmental predictions of the 1970’s came true.” In his list is the oceans. I’m trained as a marine biologist. I told him he was wrong on that. He replied, “Well, at least they’re not dead,” which is just terrible.

What does his success say about the climate debate today? He is the definitive case study disproving the strategy of the mainstream science community’s belief that, “If you just ignore these skeptics they will go away.” That seemed to be Gore’s approach in his movie — he cited the large number of studies supporting the urgency of global warming, then seemed to imply there was little resistance. Last year I was at a speech by a senior climate scientist and asked from the audience what he thought of climate skeptics, to which he replied, “Are there any left?” which brought a huge laugh and round of applause from the audience.

Slowly, and rather ineptly, the environmental movement is showing signs of realizing how wrong they were with that approach. Just two weeks ago I received a mass email from Environmental Defense Fund titled, “Global Warming Opposition: By the Numbers.” Instead of saying “there is no resistance,” they went to the other extreme. Citing the $450 million spent last year by the anti-global warming action movement, they said, “we are witnessing an unprecedented all-out campaign by polluters and ideologues to prevent meaningful action.” Overall, their message was pretty much, “there is now so much resistance that if you don’t give us money we’re all going to fail!” That’s a pretty big turn around from the “just ignore them” strategy. And now they have to deal with a guy with a very loud mouth, who trained with Rush Limbaugh, as one of the lead spokesmen. It’s time for the science community to realize they are getting out-communicated, and put more effort into understanding how today’s communication environment works. It’s not as simple as just spouting out the facts. There are effective ways to confront the skeptics, but you have to realize these guys are playing hardball. Good intentions count for nothing. This isn’t your father’s climate science world any longer.

Sadly, to my mind this is all exactly right….

Comments (9)

  1. The rest of the world is already taking steps to mitigate climate change. Both BP and Royal Dutch Shell have projects going on outside of the US.

    What mystifies me is what these same companies and other like them, get out of bamboozling the American public and our politicians. Who gains from lying so blatantly, and why isn’t the American scientific community citing examples from the rest of the First World countries whose governments and companies are cooperating in their efforts?

    This isn’t mere skepticism, there is a money trail to be found and followed that would explain this cynical manipulation of American opinion.

  2. Nick

    “…a powerful and skilled communicator who is well suited to today’s media environment..” I think Randy needs to relax a little here, because though Morano and the mainstream media may be suited to one another, complexity doesn’t suit either of them. This is a complex issue unfolding over relatively long time frames and the movers and shakers of the senate,congress and the administration well know it, and I’m confident that they know where to go for information. So the important question is what’s the quality of in-house science communication, and how can it be sustained and strengthened, not what Morano may get up to on morning TV.

    At this point in the electoral cycle Morano is gasping for oxygen; the NYT may have naively given him a free hit,but where’s his next breakthrough now that he’s out in the open world? When he was working within the senate structure he may have had the benefit of some slim legitimacy in the eyes of the more naive and time-poor in and outside of government, but he is now publicly on corporate money. Getting off the public teat,BTW,is the only honorable decision he ever made.

    And I don’t think the public takes the media any more seriously than the media takes the public. So if Morano raises his profile and pops up on a few more conservative talk shows than before,he’ll still be seen as another brash entertainer preaching to the converted and pushing a book or the like. Most of his audience are already ideologically indisposed towards AGW .

    There is never a position of ‘comfort’ for any campaigner on inter-generational environmental and social issues; these are unsexy issues with deeply complicated and exhausting detail attached. Morano always had it easy dumbing everything down. He’ll tire of it in a few years and become a shock-jock like his mentor….

  3. Orson

    LCforevah: “The rest of the world is already taking steps to mitigate climate change….”
    Gee, and who has recently reduced their ‘carbon emissions’ – the US or the EU?

    “….this cynical manipulation of American opinion.” Like, the inerrancy of meteorologists predictions? Blame the weather then – not E-VIL corporations!

  4. MadScientist

    @LCforevah: Large corporations are funny – the left hand acts as though it has no clue what the right hand is doing. Corporations also do things only if they are profitable or if compelled by legislation. So say Company X spends a few hundred million investigating means of reducing emissions – they do this because they have convinced the board that it is of strategic value; if governments mandated emissions cuts they will be one of the world leaders in cutting emissions. Many people in Company X will be genuinely interested in developing technology.

    On the other hand, it is possible (and sometimes the case) that managers in the very same Company X will also hedge bets by spending a few million to prevent governments from mandating emissions cuts – the wellbeing of the planet doesn’t matter at all, it is simply a question of money and the pretense of keeping the shareholders happy. If you think the Ferengi are vicious, they are harmless kittens compared with real world managers.

    The short story is the sooner governments can get meaningful legislation into place and start processes down the right path, so much the better. There is still much work to be done and a lot of the work is being held up by wishy-washy governments which will not make decisions one way or the other.

    By the way, no one on the planet has achieved any significant cuts to emissions yet; all over the globe emissions are increasing, not decreasing. There are a few large projects out there but they are absolutely dwarfed by the rest of the world.

  5. Strider

    So Olson’s pointed out what he considers to be a blunder on the environmental movement’s communication strategy. What’s he doing about it? Making a movie that very few people will see. Who’s wasting their time, again?

  6. Randy Olson

    Strider – Rather than trying to attack me, the messenger, why don’t you try disagreeing with the points I made. Most scientists and environmentalists seem to know only how to belittle and diminish their opponents, as you can see above from Nick. But why don’t you contact Sam Parry at EDF and ask him about the newsletter blast he sent out on March 18 itemizing how formidable the forces against global warming action now are. This isn’t just me sounding this alarm. Among the many stats in his newsletter, he says 7 of 8 lobbyists on global warming are now anti-action lobbyists. Then take a look at “An Inconveniet Truth” from 2006 and see if you detect any warning that the opposition might be significant. It doesn’t sound like Sam Parry thinks the “ignore them and they will go away,” strategy (which is what Nick is advocating above) has worked.

  7. Strider

    Well, sorry Dr. Olson but who is Nick? Never heard of him. YOU, on the other hand, I’ve heard of, as have many people in “our” community, and I enjoyed “Flock of Dodos”. Why not turn your considerable skills toward combat rather than hand-wringing?

  8. Climate is far more complicated that just blaming methane, CO2 and water vapor for ‘trapping heat’ and then blaming humanity for it’s tiny contribution to this atmospheric mix. ClimateRealist.com is not my website but I do have eight articles posted there which add an additional factor into the climate equation, Geo-Nuclear Reactions. Previously estimated at 6 terawatts it is now estimated at 60 terawatts of internal fission and daily solar is 84 terawatts. There is estimated 700,000 cubic miles of fissionable Uranium beneath our feet, under tremendous temperature and pressure and subject to constant bombardment from cosmic rays and neutrinos. There is no reason for this material to behave in a constant laboratory half-life decay cycle. Geo-nuclear energy is the only explaination for the huge climate swings that the geologic record seems to indicate. Carbon dioxide has always been a trailing factor, never a leading or causative force. Please be open minded. We all know less than we need to know.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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