Agnotology

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Mr. Gérard Montpetit comments on a recent poll concerning unconventional oil and gas development in Québec: despite their use of agnotology to promote extractivism, QOGA (Québec Oil and Gas Association) will not succeed in fooling well-informed and wary Québécois.

Agnotology

Can cigarettes cause lung cancer? A number of studies say NO! Is climate change real? There is no irrefutable proof that humans are causing it.

If these statements astonish you, you are completely unaware of agnotologyi. The word is a neologism, that is, a new word created by a science historian, Robert N. Proctorii. The word comes from the Greek agnosis, lack of knowledge, and logos, discourse. It is the study of practices that promote ignorance. It can equally be said that it is the art of deception and lies on a grand scale by industries that have realized that people’s ignorance gives the industry power over themiii.

It was a cigarette industry internal report which caught the attention of Mr. Proctor, while he was studying the methods that powerful industries use to sell their wares. « Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.« iv Agnotology therefore studies a policy which relies on the ignorance of the population as well as the systematic « doubt » fabricated to sell intellectually untenable positions.

This policy has operated for several decades for cigarettes; we see the same tactics from climate change deniers and certain politicians. The 97% unanimity of scientists and the 5th report of the IPPC (International Panel on Climate Change) are systematically cast in doubt by pseudo institutes (or think tanks) like the Heartland Institute, CEPS (Center for European Policy Studies), EPC ( European Policy Center) and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)v. And then we know that ExxonMobil will soon face legal suits because it knew since the 1970s that the burning of oil has a negative effect on the climatevi.

But it is not only Donald Trump and his supporters who deliberately ignore the reality of climate change. In its communiqué announcing its annual conferencevii, the Quebec Oil and Gas Association (QOGA) tells us that the step by step approach will allow the insertion of the suppository of hydrocarbons in the backside of the Québécois.

« …The emphasis which our industry places on competition intends that persons, local companies and the planet benefit from a local production in Québec. Our industry is good for these three pillars and we hope that Quebec will rapidly become a producer of these indispensable resources. We should be economically competitive, in environmental matters and in social development…« viii. This industry is as beneficial in environmental matters as cigarettes can be to healthy lungs!

More subtly , the Couillard government’s Bill 106 serves the same denial of reality. In this bill, there is a little goodie for the ecologists on the subject of energy transition, but the rest of the provisions are so favourable to the industry that one might believe that an industry lobbyist wrote it.

Agnotology is to actively promote ignorance in order to promote one’s product. However, faced with the power of citizens who take the time to inform themselves accurately, the « suppositories of truth«  of the QOGA seem to produce nothing but gas for the biomethanization plants. A poll, published on October 31, revealed that 65% of the Québécois say they are against the extraction of hydrocarbonsix. Worse, « …they are 88% for Québec refusing licenses to oil and gas producers granting the right of access to the property of owners, even the right to expropriate…« x. For our minister of Natural Resources, M. Arcand, promoter of Bill 106 , who puts the interests of the QOGA before those of the citizens, this reality is very bad news indeed!

Gérard Montpetit

Member of CCCPEM (Comité des citoyens et citoyennes pour la protection de l’environnement)

November 2, 2016

x Our translation.