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The manipulative propaganda tactics of Michael Shellenger,Mark Lynas and Rachel Pritzker of the Breakthrough Institute

The New Denial Is Delay at the Breakthrough Institute (Part 2)

Ten years after jumping on the scene, contrarianism, public stumbles, and “debate-me-bro” tactics remained core to the group’s brand, The DisInformation Chronicle, Mar 23 2021,

This is Part Two of “The New Denial Is Delay at the Breakthrough Institute” a three-part series examining the Breakthrough Institute and ecomodernism. In Part One, we scrutinized Breakthrough’s early years, their attacks on traditional environmental groups, and their awkward defense of the oil and gas industry. To find Part One, click here.

From its 2003 beginning, the Breakthrough Institute weathered constant criticism for contrarian hot-takes on complex environmental topics. But 2014 saw two major stumbles: Breakthrough Institute Fellow Roger Pielke Jr. got bounced from Nate Silver’s 538 after writing an error-riddle column on climate change; another fiasco followed when Breakthrough invited Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity to one of its much-ballyhooed meetings. 

Having one of your senior fellows bounced from 538 after an eminent MIT scientist pointed out errors would embarrass any normal organization. But not Breakthrough…….

Attempting to debate facts that don’t land in their favor is boilerplate Breakthrough. More common is goading well-known experts to debate dense policy matters, because joining the stage with authorities perfumes Breakthrough with a whiff of their opponents’ expertise.

The “debate-me-bro” maneuver remains critical to polishing Breakthrough’s brand. 

“In the end, they know they don’t have to win all those debates,” said Sam Bliss, a graduate student in environmental economics at the University of Vermont, who published a study in the Journal of Political Ecology examining Breakthrough. “Just getting in the debates with actual experts, and getting attention for their ideas, puts those ideas into people’s heads.”

Breakthrough Institute co-founder Michael Shellenberger also relies on debate-me-bro when called out for misstatements. As catastrophic fires torched the West Coast last fall, reporters began quoting scientists who linked these fires with climate change. Nonetheless, Shellenberger hopped on Fox News to shout this science down.

When someone then tweeted that he was wrong, Shellenberger, of course, challenged that person to a debate…………….

Breakthrough hosted a talk by Alex Berezow of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Leaked documents and court records find that ACSH’s funders have included Chevron, Coca-Cola, Bayer Cropscience, McDonald’s, Monsanto, and the tobacco conglomerate Altria……….

In 2015, Nordhaus and Shellenberger released “An Ecomodernist Manifesto”, a sparkly, tectonic-shifting declaration. In reality, the document rehashed arguments that, as humans sculpt the planet, the Earth has entered a new era.

Many of the 18 signatories were Breakthrough affiliates, with a smattering of professors and others who orbit Breakthrough as a means to pump up their personal brands as innovative thinkers. Two signatories bear greater scrutiny: Mark Lynas and Rachel Pritzker…………..

He [Lynas] issued this very dramatic, but essentially, fabricated reinvention of his own biography to springboard into a new phase of his career,” Wilsdon said of Lynas. “He isn’t an expert in any of this.”

“He’s done a very impressive marketing campaign internationally,” agreed Mayer, who signed the letter calling Lynas’s claims false. “He’s not at all important in our country. But it fits into a nice story that gets lapped up by certain constituents.”

In recent years, Lynas has turned to writing for the Cornell Alliance for Science, a GMO and pesticide advocacy group at Cornell University. After the WHO’s IARC listed the pesticide glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, Monsanto and its allies began attacking the agency. The head of IARC told Politico that the agrichemical industry’s campaign reminded him of tobacco industry attacks when IARC categorized second-hand smoke as cancerous.

Lynas later published a piece at the Cornell Alliance for Science that dismissed IARC as “a little-known and rather flaky offshoot of the World Health Organization” and defended Monsanto as the victim of a “witch hunt.”

Lynas did not respond to detailed questions sent to him by e-mail.

Rachel Pritzker joined Breakthrough as the chair of its board in 2011. After co-authoring “An Ecomodernist Manifesto,” she achieved peak Breakthrough glory with two Ted Talks. In one talk, she flacked ecomodernism and recounted her transformation from little girl raised by hippies on a goat farm “where we grew our own vegetables and heated with wood” to Breakthrough-style tech modernist. After reaching this inflection point on the Ted Talk stage, Pritzker then toggled through talking points similar to what one would expect from a nuclear energy lobbyist, while also slapping down wind and solar energy.

“That’s the essential message of ecomodernism,” she said. “It’s a cause for optimism.”

Ms. Pritzker seems to have little scientific training, which makes her an odd choice to jump on stage and teach an audience about nuclear energy. According to news reports and her bio at the Pritzker Innovation Fund, Ms. Pritzker majored in Latin American studies. During the 2008 election, NPR reported that she was a “liberal nutritionist” who helped dump $1.1 million into an Ohio political action committee that opposed Senator John McCain, then running for President. …….

Besides chairing the board of the Breakthrough Institute, Ms. Pritzker has also supported several groups that collaborate with Breakthrough to promote nuclear energy and GMO agriculture, including Third Way and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). 

This ends Part Two of “The New Denial Is Delay at the Breakthrough Institute,” a three part series examining the Breakthrough Institute and ecomodernism. To continue with Part Three, click here.

May 6, 2021 - Posted by | spinbuster, USA

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