Friday, July 10, 2015

Snake Oil Salesmen

The last time I checked you can still buy your POM Wonderful at our local supermarkets. This despite the fact that a judge issued a ‘cease and desist,’ ordering POM to stop claiming its beverage benefits everything from your brain to your prostate. Distributors aren’t going to remove the stuff just because its maker’s lied; not as long as people keep buying it, and they do. POM’s 8 oz. bottle is now the fastest-selling, single-serve premium refrigerated juice.

How to explain the fact that we Americans continue to believe our corporate snake oil salesmen, but vociferously disbelieve scientists, who warn us of global warming and its consequences? Well, I can think of several reasons for this.

The first is that corporations are darned good at advertising; ‘good’ in the sense that they know their audience and their medium, not necessarily that they tell the truth. It’s hard to imagine anyone who is unaware of some of corporate America’s more scandalous lies, from tobacco executives swearing to Congress that nicotine wasn’t addictive, to Goldman Sachs traders selling mortgage-backed securities they knew were junk. However, I would venture to guess that far fewer Americans are aware of the orchestrated disinformation campaign that’s been waged by corporations with an interest in retaining the status quo in fossil fuel use. Read the book, or see the documentary, ‘Merchants of Doubt’ for information on this. The bottom line is that the fossil fuel industry has been very effective in pulling the wool (or more accurately, the smog) over Americans’ eyes regarding the impact of CO2 on climate change.

The second reason Americans accept snake oil and reject science is that snake oil is promoted as making us ‘all better,’ without our having to sacrifice by exercising more, or eating a better diet -- just drink this kind of sour red juice and you’ll “Cheat Death!” In the meantime climate scientists are telling us we do need to sacrifice. We need to cut back energy consumption (but, will that mean walking?!), switch to low/no carbon fuels (does that mean paying more at the pump?!), and, well forget it -- you get the point.

And that brings us to the third reason Americans are so unenthusiastic about accepting the changes necessary in moving to a low carbon energy future -- precisely because it’s the future. People are notoriously shortsighted, predisposed to immediate gratification, and, I hate to say it -- clinically self-absorbed (‘selfie,’ anyone?). We think that the really serious consequences of climate change are going to hit long after we’re gone, so let future generations worry about it. We’re wrong about that, because the future is now, and because, as Pope Francis pointed out, it’s a morally bankrupt attitude.

Here’s my advice, for what it’s worth: (1) Don’t drink POM Wonderful. It won’t cure your erectile dysfunction or “Cheat Death” (and if it did, you’d be here to suffer the consequences of climate change); and (2) don’t believe the other snake oil salesmen who are denying human-caused climate change.

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