Exploiting bias to entrench the fossil fuel status quo
Please consider the following journey in an environmental context. It’s not about anyone being “right or wrong.” Instead, by relating mistakes I’ve made through biased thinking, I hope to encourage others to consider how their beliefs might influence their interpretation of energy-related facts.
Prior to putting myself in a wheelchair, (via a spinal cord injury in 1997), I enjoyed a twenty-year career in the railroad industry in various problem-solving capacities. After my accident, I studied Neuroscience to understand my condition. Eventually I became an amateur liaison between researchers and non-profit funding sources with the goal of promoting clinical trials for acute and chronic SCI.
In 2001, I questioned the medical worth of embryonic stem cells. My situation—disabled in a wheelchair, well-informed regarding research issues, and unconcerned with politics or religion—made me an attractive witness for moral opponents of ESCs and human cloning. Despite my worldview neutrality, I accepted invitations to voice my concerns publicly because so many fates hung in the balance, including my dreams of walking, my wife’s quality of life, and the lives of millions. My activism led to my speaking before government committees, to the Press at the White House, in debates at the NY Academies of Science and on CNN, and on talk radio as a White House surrogate spokesperson.
A large part of my life between 2001 and 2006 involved corresponding with Conservative biotechnology advisers, including members of the President’s Council of Bioethics, congressional staffers, scientists, and international pro-life leaders. My participation in their discussions allowed me to glimpse how intelligent minds promote worldview agendas.
In 2004, Republicans won majorities in the House and Senate, and Bush won a second term. And yet, industry’s stem cell agenda rolled onward [a situation akin to our recent failure to enact eco-reforms despite having a supposedly pro-green Democrat in the White House, a Democratic majority in Congress, and a catastrophe in the Gulf to serve as an eco-wake-up call].
Also in 2004, a strong majority of Catholic voters in California supported a pro-cloning ballot initiative despite its pre-vote condemnation by a Catholic Bishop…a crucial point that later revealed a key to our eco-stalemate: the readiness of politicians and social organizations to betray their purported values in response to corporate pressure, grassroot defections, or effective PR (see Obama attacks China for fostering Green Energy and The Triumph of Climate Politics).
By March of 2005, I realized that only a paradigm shift in how the public perceived biotech issues might allow society to lay aside its worldview differences to consider why industries that leech off human suffering—like Big Oil and the Coal Industry leech off the earth—might wish to lead us down primrose research paths. Charting the financial stakes involved, i.e., “follow the money,” presented the only logical course.
Before 2004, I too had allowed myself to be lulled into an “us vs. them” mentality. I had become so obsessed with fighting my stem cells battle—along with unearthing scientific facts to support my contentions—I ignored everything else, including extensive deregulation of off-shore drilling by the Bush Administration…actions that contributed greatly to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The elections began to bring me to my senses.
The passage of CA Prop. 71 represented a crushing defeat through the defection of grassroots supporters for the Conservative stem cell coalition. Within weeks, my Conservative allies backed a pro-cloning compromise (called ANT/OAR) to save face and retreat from the stem cells war. And yet prior to the passage of Proposition 71, these same organizations had denounced ANT/OAR as morally unacceptable.
[In retrospect, I'm struck by disturbing similarities between the timing and possible motives behind the ANT/OAR proposal and 'pro-green' initiatives that sabotaged the Copenhagen Summit and blocked eco-reforms on the heels of the outrage in the Gulf.]
Over the next two years, I continued my activism but watched my allies to study how human nature affects society through worldview bias. I came to consider a staggering possibility: The stem cells debates might be a colossal sham. Yes, rank and file members of both parties believed in their causes—I came to know and respect many advocates of both sides. However, I also had cause to suspect President Bush and Republican leaders worked behind the scenes to promote industry’s ES goals. I base my suspicions on the following points:
- All of Bush’s appointees to the NIH, FDA, and Cabinet health-related positions were industry-approved advocates of ESCs/cloning.
- Bush appointees to NIH made it their first and unstinting priority to prioritize ESC basic research over non-hematopoietic adult stem cell/cord blood R&D. For both of his terms (a situation that continues), adult stem cell and cord blood researchers were denied funding again and again when they sought to move to clinical trials that threatened the long-range financial goals of industry and basic science.
- A pro-life member of Bush’s Cabinet reportedly ordered the FDA to shut down an Atlanta cord blood clinic when he learned a cord blood treatment had begun to reverse the paralysis of a patient dying of ALS. (for more on this, see www.cures1st.blogspot.com.)
- Those who ushered me around the country to testify to government committees (or to speak to Conservative groups) consistently tried to dissuade me from addressing the financial motives for society being pushed in the ESC/cloning directions—and yet without presenting the financial incentives for industry to steer publicly-funded Science away from practical paths to cures, my words fell on deaf ears regardless of my peer-reviewed research facts.
- I repeatedly urged Conservative leaders to publicly question 1) the medical practicality of ESCs & human cloning, and 2) industry motives for urging society to mortgage its medical future on cells specifically designed to not function safely in post-natal humans. They refused, claiming the public wouldn’t understand common sense explanations and only by focusing on moral issues might they win the debates…a doomed strategy certain to deepen social mistrust by fueling the public’s impression its sick and disabled might suffer or die for the religious beliefs of others.
By itself, point #4 should have rung alarm bells in my head. For example, while addressing a few hundred affluent conservatives in Washington DC, (in March of 2005) I was interrupted and told to cut my speech by half, which prevented me from placing stem cells in an economic context. For months I failed to consider this point. I assumed the program had gotten off schedule, and it made better sense to shorten my presentation than offend Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist or a Supreme Court justice.
Only later did I consider how my audience might have reacted to a presentation that mapped the financial ties between basic science and pharmaceuticals. In 2003, for example, the top ten drug companies in Fortune 500 made more profits than the other four-hundred and ninety corporations combined. And yet, who did I think had invested their fortunes in pharmaceutical stocks…the average man in the street or the millionaires listening to my speech? In other words, of course I couldn’t be allowed to connect the dots between industry’s stem cells agenda and the health of my listener’s portfolios.
How could I possibly have imagined the GOP and Bush would have sincerely tried to derail long range economic plans so intrinsic to the health of Pharma and BIO? It’s simple: I believed an illusion I wanted to believe—that leaders from at least one side of our polarized society were on ‘my’ side even if their reasons differed from mine.
I came to question whether national Conservative leadership ever meant to win the stem cells debates, or if its purpose was to hoodwink Liberals and Conservatives alike by inciting our worldview passions to safeguard financial special interests. Regardless whether you agree with this opinion, consider it in light of energy, oil, and the health of our planet being trivialized as a subject of worldview debate.
In 2006, I continued my activism despite knowing my actions were doomed to fail. By that time, I had realized I would never walk again—the paralyzed are too valuable as we are…poster advocates for industry goals and sources of profits. But I had to try if I could make the slightest difference. The final straw came late in the year when a Conservative columnist wrote scathing editorials denouncing the existence of global warming—a reality I had experienced firsthand while living in America’s Northeast and hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I soon realized the tactics industry and politicians had used to seduce and exploit us over stem cells were again being used to endanger the earth. Proposition 23 is a perfect example. By turning environmental health into a new battleground of a worldview war, Big Oil and its political agents recruited a sympathetic audience in the majority of the political right—especially the Conservative rich and institutions they control. By playing on our economic fears and unwillingness to change, they continue to work their talons ever deeper into mankind’s future and calcify the fossil fuel status quo.
Until we find the courage to face unwanted realities by not interpreting or filtering information to conform with our convenience, ambitions, or bias, those with the means to exploit human nature will continue to lead us ever closer to climatic ruin for the sake of their egos, power and profits.
In conclusion, please consider the following in light of the above:
- Frontline: Climate of Denial
- Religious Right and Big Business Join Forces to Slay the “Green Dragon.”
- Obama attacks China for fostering Green Energy,
- Green Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals how a Good Cause has Gone Bad,
- Obama Double-Crosses Envirnmentalists
- The Disinformers are Winning—but mostly with the GOP,
- The Triumph of Climate Politics.
Twice a surrogate ‘stem cells’ spokesperson for the GW Bush White House, J. Perry Kelly ended his association with the political right over its distortion of global warming. Having witness the psychology of worldview exploitation firsthand, he spent four years crafting “Quantum Fires: The Sibyl Reborn,” a psychological thriller.
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