Exxon and Lysenkoism  

Posted by Big Gav

George Monbiot has a good column up comparing the US government's attempts to deny global warming to the Soviet Union's disastrous experience trying to do the same to genetics. Some fights you just can't win in the long run.

Once again Exxon's role in this is highlighted, which is no doubt one of the issues that has led to the "Exxpose Exxon" campaign.

One day we will look back on the effort to deny the effects of climate change as we now look back on the work of Trofim Lysenko.

Lysenko was a Soviet agronomist who insisted that the entire canon of genetics was wrong. There was no limit to an organism’s ability to adapt to changing environments. Cultivated correctly, crops could do anything the Soviet leadership wanted them to do. Wheat, for example, if grown in the right conditions, could be made to produce rye.

Because he was able to mobilise enthusiasm among the peasants for collectivisation, and could present Stalin with a Soviet scientific programme, Lysenko’s hogwash became state policy. He became director of the Institute of Genetics and president of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences. He used his position to outlaw conventional genetics, strip its practitioners of their positions and have some of them arrested and even killed. Lysenkoism governed state science from the late 1930s until the early 1960s, helping to wreck Soviet agriculture.

No one is yet being sent to the Guantánamo gulag for producing the wrong results. But the denial of climate science in the US bears some of the marks of Lysenkoism. It is, for example, state-sponsored. Last month the New York Times revealed that Philip Cooney, a lawyer with no scientific training, had been imported into the White House from the American Petroleum Institute, to control the presentation of climate science. He edited scientific reports, striking out evidence of glacier retreat and inserting phrases suggesting that there was serious scientific doubt about climate change. Working with the Exxon-sponsored PR man Myron Ebell, he lobbied successfully to get rid of the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who had refused to accept the official line.

Cooney’s work was augmented by Harlan Watson, the US government’s chief climate negotiator, who insisted that the findings of the National Academy of Sciences be excised from official reports. Now Joe Barton, the Republican chairman of the House committee on energy and commerce, has launched a congressional investigation of three US scientists whose work reveals the historical pattern of climate change. He has demanded that they hand over their records and reveal their sources of funding.

Perhaps most pertinently, the official policy of climate-change denial, like Lysenkoism, relies on a compliant press. Just as Pravda championed the disavowal of genetics, so the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the Daily Mail and the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs champion the Bush team’s denial of climate science. Like Pravda, they dismiss it without showing any sign that they have read or understood it.


Our problem is that, just as genetics was crushed by totalitarian communism, meaningful action on climate change has been prohibited by totalitarian capitalism. When I use this term I don’t mean that the people who challenge it are rounded up and sent to break rocks in Siberia. I mean that it intrudes into every corner of our lives, governs every social relation, becomes the lens through which every issue must be seen. It is the total system which leaves no molecule of earth or air uncosted and unsold. And, like Soviet totalitarianism, it allows no solution to pass which fails to enhance its power. The only permitted answer to the effects of greed is more greed.

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