One man’s green PR bat­tle

Pub­lic re­la­tions guru James Hog­gan blogs to ‘ clear the PR pol­lu­tion that clouds the science of cli­mate change’

Vancouver Sun - - Going Green - BY DARAH HANSEN

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.”

GLENN BAGLO/ VAN­COU­VER SUN

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.

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