One man’s green PR battle
Public relations guru James Hoggan blogs to ‘ clear the PR pollution that clouds the science of climate change’
Meet James Hoggan: successful businessman, controversial blogger and unlikely environmentalist.
Hoggan, 60, makes his living as president of his own public relations firm, representing an array of corporate clients such as Canadian Tire, Canadian Pacific Railway and A& W. It’s a good living — Hoggan and Associates Ltd. is considered one of the top PR firms in the city.
He’s an Italian- suit and silk- tie kind of guy, at home in a sleek Howe Street office with a friendly receptionist at the door and a tasteful art collection on the walls.
He got into the business 30 years ago as a means to put himself and his wife, Enid Marion, through law school in Victoria. Hoggan never did practice as a lawyer. Instead, upon graduation, he continued to build a reputation in what the PR world calls “ issues management” — that is, communicating client information to the public on sensitive, often critical issues. His skills won the company a North American industry award in 2003 for its handling of a hepatitis A scare linked to the Capers food chain.
But there is other work going on inside Hoggan and Associates these days — some of which has drawn serious criticism from a variety of sources.
It appears underneath Hoggan’s slate- grey suit beats a heart of green.
Sure, he may be a businessman, but Hoggan also happens to think the world is in big trouble, and that global warming is a serious threat to life as we know it.
“ I d o n ’ t k n ow wha t my moment of epiphany was,” he says of his shift to a greener way of thinking.
An avid skier and cyclist, he’s always loved the outdoors, he says. But that wasn’t it.
The change came about more out of anger, he says.
It really burns him that there are organizations and individuals out there willing to spin and bend the truth at the expense of the environment, he says. These companies, says Hoggan, are paid by big business to promote the work of climate change contrarians and create the impression that there is scientific controversy around the legitimacy of global warming.
Since Feb. 2 when the International Panel on Climate Change released its latest assessment report, it appears very little scientific debate on the global warming remains.
Key findings of the report, published by 3,750 of the world’s top climate scientists, indicate the world is getting warmer and human activity is to blame.
Still, Hoggan says some public confusion remains on the issue, largely because of groups promoting industry interests.
“ It’s public relations at its sleaziest,” Hoggan says. “ You repeat misinformation enough that people start to believe it … And it just horrifies me that people are being misled like that.”
Fourteen months ago, Hoggan launched a website from his downtown office to “ out” the organizations and individuals he considers unethical. Called DeSmogBlog, Hoggan uses his own experience in the marketing business to “ clear the PR pollution that clouds the science of climate change.”
The site is managed by Kevin Grandia, a former political aide to Liberal MP Raymond Chan, and posts regular contributions from the likes of American journalist and author Ross Gelbspan and science writer and former Vancouver Sun staffer Richard Littlemore.
John Lefebvre, the so- called “ teddy bear hippie” millionaire from Saltspring Island who recently ran into legal troubles in the U. S. on allegations of promoting illegal Internet gambling, is listed on the site as a benefactor.
Lefebvre, 55, remains in the U. S. on a $ 5- million bond pending a court hearing which is scheduled to begin Wednesday.
“ John is a very good friend of mine and I’m really sad he’s in this situation. He’s yet to have his day in court and it may in fact be that he hasn’t broken any law at all,” Hoggan said.
At any given time, the site contains a host of information related to climate change issues, including media stories and opinion columns, YouTube clips, scientific reports and eco- saving tips. Identities of individuals involved in publishing anti- climate change viewpoints are also published on the site’s “ Denial Database,” along with their professional credentials and connections to industry.
Hoggan also regularly contributes to the blog.
Though the website tends to draw like- minded thinkers, feedback is not always positive.
Hoggan’s comments on a CBC documentary entitled The Denial Machine on the issue of climate change debate recently drew public fire from National Post columnist Terry Corcoran who wrote:
“ Here’s a totally unqualified small- town PR guy making disparaging comments about scientists he says are unqualified while he lectures the rest of us on the science.”
Hoggan, who pals around with the likes of high- profile Vancouver environmentalist David Suzuki and sits as an executive member of the Urban Development Institute, the David Suzuki Foundation and Future Generations, said his green views may have cost him some corporate clients, but not enough to make him rethink his words or actions.
“ I’m 60 and I think that gives me the right to say what I think,” he says.
Besides, he adds, “ I’m the kind of guy who takes advice from people who know what they’re talking about.”
Hoggan and Associates president James Hoggan says he is angry that organizations and individuals are willing to bend the truth at the expense of the environment.