DeSmog Remembers Ross Gelbspan, Who Inspired Our Founding

Gelbspan was a pioneer in climate accountability journalism, and an early contributing writer at DeSmog.
Brendan DeMelle DeSmog
on
Credit: The Gelbspan family

The DeSmog team was saddened to learn of the recent death of Ross Gelbspan, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude and appreciation for his intrepid commitment to exposing those who made the climate crisis worse through their actions to deny the science and delay solutions.

Without Ross Gelbspan, DeSmog may have never existed. It was Ross’s books and journalism that sparked the flames of outrage and opportunity that inspired Jim Hoggan to create the DeSmogBlog in late 2005. Jim had recently read Boiling Point, Ross’s 2004 book chronicling the fossil fuel industries’ strategy of denial and delay, which Gelbspan correctly labeled a crime against humanity.

“I had always known about the potential for public manipulation, but I had never conceived of a campaign so huge, well-funded, and well-organized,” Hoggan wrote in Climate Cover-Up, his book with Richard Littlemore which was dedicated to Ross Gelbspan. “What Ross found struck me as a revelation.”

Hoggan consulted his friends and colleagues who had also read Gelbspan’s books and decided to take on the climate science deniers and their willing accomplices in public relations firms — Jim’s own industry — by creating DeSmog and writing Climate Cover-Up.

Ross Gelbspan was drawn to the DeSmog project, and continued to write for us long after his retirement. In 2006, he revealed a major scoop on DeSmog about the “Vampire Memo” outlining a coal, oil- and Koch-funded propaganda campaign which Gelbspan concluded “represents the triumph of greed over the most basic human instinct — that of survival.”

Kevin Grandia, who was one of the first people hired to write on DeSmog, and remains a key partner of ours today, recalled to me that, “Ross was a true legend of the old-school hard hitting journalistic style. Working with him on investigations was something I will never forget. Wherever Ross is now he’s probably giving someone the gears as we speak.”

Kert Davies, one of the world’s leading experts on climate denial (and a dear friend of mine since 2000), recalled to me that, “In the 1990s, Ross was our ‘Yoda’, guiding a new generation of investigators, who continue to this day trying to expose and dissemble the climate denial machine.”

That resonated with me especially since I wouldn’t be doing this work if it weren’t for Ross either. His 1997 book, The Heat Is On, was my personal introduction to the climate denial phenomenon. I met Ross in 1999 when he spoke at a Boston training for the Public Interest Research Group, and we bonded instantly when I showed him my dog-eared and tattered copy and asked him to sign it. Imagine my surprise when I joined DeSmog in 2008 and learned that Ross had inspired its creation.

The entire DeSmog team is honored to have benefited from Gelbspan’s inspiration and contributions to climate journalism. As Jim Hoggan reminded me yesterday, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants like Ross who preceded us in exposing some of the key documents and actions of the fossil fuel industries’ ongoing climate disinformation campaign.  

Richard Littlemore provided another bit of early history.

“In the DeSmogBlog’s first outing, Ross joined the fledgling team at COP 11 in Montreal in 2005 and during that visit, he said — with what now must be credited as touching naivety — that he thought we were late to the party. He said, so reasonably, that his two books on the topic of organized climate change denial had completely exposed the perpetrators; surely the world would now disregard their input. I so wish he had been right, and, even today, I envy his optimism as much as I admire his example,” Littlemore said.

Rest well, Ross. Know that all of us will do our best to carry on your work.

Brendan DeMelle DeSmog
Brendan is Executive Director of DeSmog. He is also a freelance writer and researcher specializing in media, politics, climate change and energy. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, Grist, The Washington Times and other outlets.

Related Posts

on

Climate deception litigation, led by the California attorney general, will proceed in San Francisco Superior Court.

Climate deception litigation, led by the California attorney general, will proceed in San Francisco Superior Court.
on

Despite progress pivoting away from fossil-fuel funding, the lion’s share of the bank’s oil and gas lending isn’t covered under the new rules.

Despite progress pivoting away from fossil-fuel funding, the lion’s share of the bank’s oil and gas lending isn’t covered under the new rules.
on

The case coincides with a new Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon report showing Eni’s technical consultants have wide links to climate denier groups.

The case coincides with a new Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon report showing Eni’s technical consultants have wide links to climate denier groups.
on

Western provinces are selling fracked gas as a global climate solution. But experts across the Pacific say that’s ‘outdated’ and inaccurate.

Western provinces are selling fracked gas as a global climate solution. But experts across the Pacific say that’s ‘outdated’ and inaccurate.