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Mr. Green Spin

In a world of global-warming deniers and right-wing media pundits, it’s not easy being green. Maybe that’s why Jim Hoggan has built a thriving PR business doing what he calls “God’s work”
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Jim Hoggan
An enthusiastic cyclist and onetime marathoner, Hoggan still teaches skiing part-time Eydis S. Luna Einarsdottir
In a world of global-warming deniers and right-wing media pundits, it’s not easy being green. Maybe that’s why Jim Hoggan has built a thriving PR business doing what he calls “God’s work”

“Whether preparing for a job search or a media interview, you should always begin by preparing key messages. Set your agenda and stick to it. It’s the best hope for leaving the right impression.”

— P.R. Tips by Jim Hoggan, Vancouver Sun, April 28, 2007


It’s a slight distinction, but Jim Hoggan comes off as being well-prepared but not calculating. He’s also casual, direct, and articulate. In short, he’s a far cry from the stereotypical PR flack popularized on The Daily Show—the dissembling, conscientiously obtuse Bush administration press secretary who responds to tough questions with calibrated buzz phrases like “support our troops” and “stay the course.” Then again, maybe not looking slick is just a better way of being slick.

Jim Hoggan’s the suit with the heart of green. As one of the city’s top PR guys, he charges $350 an hour to help clients like A&W, Century 21, and Canadian Tire look good. His weekly advice on PR issues in the business pages of the Vancouver Sun recently ended a four-and-a-half-year run and will be published, with extra material, as a book next spring. And he’s jumped into the middle of the angry public debate on climate change, pitting himself against his counterparts in the fossil-fuel industries.

Hoggan, a fit-looking 61-year-old with blue eyes and side-swept, reddish hair, calls his work with the climate-change Web site DeSmogBlog and his chairing the volunteer board of the David Suzuki Foundation “God’s work.” Since it launched in December 2005, DeSmogBlog has become part virtual gathering spot, part dead-tree reporter’s information resource, and part soapbox—tricked out with Web 2.0 accoutrements like a YouTube channel, RSS feeds, a Facebook group, and podcasts—for the environmental movement. Hoggan says the site had 850,000 unique visitors last year. In February, the Times of London’s Web site included it on a list of the “Top 50 Eco Blogs.”

Hoggan’s work is fuelled by a zealot’s conviction that immediate change is needed to avoid catastrophe. DeSmogBlog is on a self-appointed mission to provide a database and gathering place for those fighting the climate-change “denial” movement. The Web site labels as deniers those scientists who challenge the now-mainstream belief in manmade climate change (as opposed to a change that’s occurring naturally due to sunspots, as some skeptics insist) and calls for restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions.

According to Hoggan, scientists like University of Virginia professor emeritus Fred Singer, who also had a hand in the U.S. tobacco industry’s efforts to dispute the science on second-hand smoke, are instruments of the oil and coal conglomerates. Working with industry-backed scientific associations, right-wing think tanks, and sham “grass-roots” organizations (in a process Hoggan terms “astroturfing”), they create the illusion of contention and debate on climate change when in truth the real debate ended many years ago.

Hoggan sees these tactics as a perversion of public relations and bad for society. “A good PR person knows how to balance the clients’ interests with the public’s interests,” he says from the Howe Street offices of James Hoggan & Associates. “Public confusion [about climate change] caused by industry and front groups, particularly in the U.S., is serious stuff. What these folks are doing is not harmless.”

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