The Online Slang Dictionary defines astroturfing as "the creation of lobbying groups that appear to be separate from corporate interests, but that are actually funded by them. As opposed to "grass-roots" political activism." The roots of the word come from the first baseball field with fake or artificial grass (it didn’t have "grass roots") – the Astrodome which used "Astroturf." Thus, astroturfed material appears to be the real thing but it is actually fake. If you've ever read product reviews online, you’ve probably been astroturfed. Letters to the editor are sometimes examples of astroturf. Organizations, often with noble-sounding names, that appear to have our best interests at heart but are really serving others would be another example. I mention all of this because of the opinion piece by Tom Harris published in yesterday's Intelligencer: "Standing up for W.Va."
Harris represents the International Climate Science Coalition. The group uses the word "science" which is good and it’s combined with "coalition" which usually has positive connotations – thus, it is people from all over the world working together to deal with climate scientifically. Although they sound impressive, should we pay attention to them? Maybe not.
Essentially, from what I’ve read, ICSC is an astroturfing organization that provides documentation for those who agree with its anti-climate change perspective.
Sourcewatch.org notes that the International Climate Science Coalition gets at least some of its funding from the Heartland Institute, which gets much of its funding from the oil and gas industries. (Heartland’s beginnings go back to funding from the tobacco industry. Heartland, an early astroturfer, would find and pay scientists who would then publicly question the link between cigarette smoking and health problems. Heartland is currently doing the same thing with climate change.) It also appears that the ICSC fronts Heartland’s anti-climate reports. For instance, the Intelligencer opinion piece appears to be referencing one such study from September of 2013 which mentions a report from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change that claimed: "Sea-level rise is not accelerating." Desmogblog.com notes the lengths these astroturfers will go to try to win their point:
In an effort to dupe reporters into trusting these "climate experts," this anti-science outfit even named itself the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change ( NIPCC ), mirroring the official science body, the lt Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC ).
The Intelligencer has ignored just about every AP report this year dealing with the science of climate change. Instead they publish this stuff without telling the reader anything about the real background of the International Climate Science Coalition. On the issue of climate change, I think it’s clear that they have moved beyond informing and persuading to become a propaganda tool of the extraction industries.
One final note on the astroturfing issue. If you follow this blog you know that I like to connect to the appropriate article when possible. When I attempted to link to this opinion piece, however, it was not listed anywhere on the Intelligencer’s site. I found that unusual. I then googled part of the article along with "ICSC" and the organization’s name and still nothing came up. Why are there no search engine records of this article? My hunch is that if you are an astroturfer you want to go undetected by flying under the radar so that you can fool as many people as possible.