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Global Warming Blog

The Crude Conspiracy
Accusations against Big Oil sway toward media bias
Posted January 12, 2007 by Nathan Cool

Bil oil--evil doer? In the blame game played on the political playing field over our world's changing climate, it's become commonplace to sling a hefty dose of dirt at executives holding the petroleum purse strings. Seen as an easy target by naturalists, environmentalists, and eco-extremists, Big Oil, one of the richest industries in the world, has gotten used to being the proverbial whipping boy and fall-guy for global warming finger pointing. This of course being similar in many respects to the tobacco industry where, for oodles of profit, falsehoods are purportedly fabricated in secret camps of ill-willed scientific research, providing malevolence to continue a cash-flow via vices craved by the innocent. Recently, one well-known eco-activist group known as the Union of Concerned Scientists attacked ExxonMobil with an all-out, frontal war-of-words assault, stating that the oil giant has led a campaign of misinformation to thwart the truth about global warming. It may seem like a believable accusation, given the images of smoke stacks and greed that so often come to mind when envisioning a corporate leviathan like ExxonMobil, but there's more than meets the eye here, as the truth--as so often purveyed by the media--is hidden deep within the sensationalistic hoopla of half-truths.

The breaking news that started this most recent debacle was a news release published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which you can find here. In this article, the UCS states that Exxon has:

In this report, where the UCS charges that ExxonMobil "doesn't want you to know the facts about global warming" and that Exxon "vehemently opposes any governmental regulation that would require significantly expanded investments in clean energy technologies or reductions in global warming emissions," the UCS point out figures such as $630,000 that was given to the George C. Marshall Institute--a public policy group that isn't necessarily part of the sky-is-falling camp, and sways towards skepticism. In all, the UCS report names 43 ExxonMobil "funded" organizations that "seek to manufacture uncertainty." This story was picked up by countless, headline hungry news outfits around the world, including The New York Times, which published the catchy caption, Exxon Accused of Trying to Mislead Public.

This all seems like pretty damning evidence, given the reputation of a mega-monopolized oil colossus like ExxonMobil. And there is likely some truth in the UCS report as well. But when you step back and look at the whole story from an unbiased perspective--something the media has a tough time doing--lucidity reveals a different view, namely that the UCS report itself resembles a tool of propaganda, similar in many respects to the perpetrators it so names.

First, any "report" that is released by an activist group funded by those sharing similar biased beliefs, should sound off warning alarms by the reader. The UCS, while claiming to be "science-based," is still a nonprofit organization funded by donations and their paying members. According to Activist Cash, a watchdog group that provides funding sources for "radical anti-consumer organizations and activists," the UCS embraces an environmental agenda that often stands at odds with the "rigorous scientific analysis" it claims to employ. While the UCS tries to distinguish--and distance--itself from Greenpeace and PETA-type organizations, it is still accused of manipulating and misconstruing results it compiles. For instance, in 1986 UCS asked 549 of the American Physical Society's 37,000 members if Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was "a step in the wrong direction for America's national security policy." Despite the clearly biased wording of this push-poll, yes or no, leading question, only 54 percent disapproved of SDI. Even so, UCS declared that the poll proved "profound and pervasive skepticism toward SDI in the scientific community," although about half of those polled disagreed.

The UCS, like PETA and other eco-extremist groups, also routinely abuses and politicizes science. They've crusaded against farm animals receiving antibiotics and helped initiate vicious attacks on Danish scientist Bjorn Lomborg. Despite the UCS attacks on Lomborg, the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology, and Industry repudiated the UCS findings. And like so many activist groups, UCS does a bit of fear-mongering--turning the sober science of health and environmental safety into high drama for public consumption. For example, UCS recently warned that by 2100 the U.S. might suffer 50-80 million more cases of malaria every year if the Senate fails to ratify the Kyoto treaty. But these statistics were based on worst-case scenarios, assuming--against all evidence of human behavior--that no countermeasures whatsoever would be employed. "Not considering factors such as local control measures or health services," in their own words. Of course, you won't find those caveats in the UCS press release that warned of the increase in malaria.

The second point to consider in all of this is that Exxon didn't exactly brush this issue under the proverbial rug, nor did they try to ignore the UCS attack. Instead, ExxonMobil responded to the UCS report, which you can find here. In their response, ExxonMobil does admit that climate change is real, and that fossil fuels are a major player, taking an ever-so-cautious stance with the following, carefully constructed comment:

While there is more to learn on climate science, what is clear today is that greenhouse gas emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change, and that the use of fossil fuels is a major source of these emissions.

Although this might seem like an infinitesimal admission of guilt, forced out by the squeeze of growing consensus and impetus from the onerous strain of an eco-activist group, ExxonMobil does indeed take climate change seriously, evidenced by a number of their reports, including their "Outlook for Energy" report, which you can find, here. Flipping through to pages 22 and 23 in this report you'll find that Exxon believes that CO2 emissions will continue to rise, and become excessively high by 2030, enough for their report to state that these emissions "pose risks to society, which could prove to be significant" along with mitigation options for alternative fuels.

Within this mitigation plan is the real kicker that the evidently biased UCS report failed to mention, and that is that ExxonMobil provides $100 million to Stanford University's Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP)--the largest-ever independent climate and energy research effort, designed to accelerate development of commercially viable technologies that can lower greenhouse gas emissions on a worldwide scale.

To put this in perspective, the UCS report blames Exxon of spending $16 million on supposed anti-global-warming campaigns, yet Exxon has spent over 5 times that much on just one pro-global-warming research initiative. If ExxonMobil were serious about some sort of conspiracy to cover up their evil plot to rid the world of ice caps, polar bears, mountain glaciers and coastlines, then why in the heck would they spend so little on it?

The stance that ExxonMobil takes on global warming--that the sky is not falling but global warming is still quite serious--is nothing new, but often overlooked by the media. It's just too easy to point the finger of blame at the fat-cats we all love to hate. Fodder to fuel hatred for these ostensible evil-doers is prolific in eco propaganda, such as the Greenpeace-funded web site ExxposeExxon, which portrays ExxonMobil as though they were Satan's henchmen. But Exxon's stance on global warming is not a newly manufactured cover-their-butts ploy, and instead has been part of their corporate agenda for years. For instance, in June of 2001, ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond addressed the seriousness of climate change at their 119th annual meeting--something you can find here. In this report, Raymond states:

We support taking concrete actions now to limit greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that does not threaten economic welfare. We strongly favor, and are providing financial support for, additional research on climate change.

He goes on further to say:

We have been doing a number of things that promote conservation and the efficient use of energy, while emphasizing alternative energy approaches. For example, we continue to build cogeneration facilities at our refineries that can save 30 percent of the energy that would otherwise be required...We are working with several automobile companies on advanced vehicle and fuel systems, such as the fuel-cell technology we are pursuing with General Motors and Toyota.

I wouldn't call ExxonMobil a company of tree-huggers by any stretch of the imagination--far from it actually. My brow still furls when I hear the word "Valdez." As to be reasonably expected though, ExxonMobil, as with most conglomerates, has their monetary interests at heart, which of course can unfortunately influence their perspective. Corporate America though, whether under the opulent umbrella of Big Oil or otherwise, thrives in a capitalist society by means of the six words to success: Find A Need And Fill It--that includes your gas tank. ExxonMobil, just like the pharmaceutical, diaper, food, automotive, toy, clothing, and yes, even tobacco industry, provides a product based on consumer need. If we didn't need (or want) oil, then companies like ExxonMobil wouldn't be providing it--something to consider when shopping for a new vehicle and tempted by ads for a big ole honkin' Hummer, Escalade, or other gas-guzzling suburban assault vehicle. If we didn't require copious quantities of gas to fill titanic tanks of super-sized SUVs, or if heaven forbid we should ever carpool, telecommute, ride a bike, walk, or take public transportation from time to time, then perhaps we wouldn't be feeding the goliath we find so easy to condemn.

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