Exxon in Sheep's Clothing

What’s up with oil industry advertising? In full-page ads in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers and magazines, Exxon, Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute soberly explain their positions on “climate change

The ad is an obvious attempt to quiet public anger and prevent government action. Exxon is trying to pretend that it is a now a good global citizen and deny its long corporate campaign to dispute the existence of global warming.

Rewriting history: The ad brags that "for 15 years, our scientists have been participating directly in the preparation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports." (The IPCC is the respected UN body that recently raised new alarms over the "very likely" human causes of global warming in an extensive report.)

The reality is that ExxonMobil secretly sought -- and got -- help from the Bush White House in a 2002 attempt to oust the head of the IPPC, Dr. Robert Watson, and other key scientists on the panel. Exxon memos obtained by the National Resources Defense Council showed that Exxon's aim was to replace respected scientists with, as the NRDC put it, "contrarians known for disagreeing with the prevailing consensus that man-made pollution is causing global warming." Read the Exxon memo here.

Verbal acrobatics: Exxon never uses the phrase "global warming," which sounds dangerous, substituting "climate change," which could be a good thing. It uses statistics that minimize what warming is, including "The earth's climate has warmed about 0.7% in the last century." That seems slow, of course. There's no mention that the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1990.

Omissions: The ad contains no pledge to develop, much less market, renewable fuels. That's because Exxon doesn't, and won't.

At a March 14, 2006 Senate hearing, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York pressed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson on Exxon's puny spending, less than one-one-hundredth of one percent of its 2005 profits, on alternative energy research. Tillerson's response:

MR. TILLERSON: Well, Senator, I think your question is are we investing heavily in alternatives and...

SEN. SCHUMER: You're not.

MR. TILLERSON: We're not. We are investing in technology, and we are investing heavily in conventional oil and natural gas, which is the business we are in. We are not in those other businesses.

Read the full transcript here.

False choices: The ad concludes that the task of business and government, working together, is "selecting policies that balance economic growth and human development with the risks of climate change." In other words, global warming can't be remedied without trashing economic development.

That's the opposite of the truth, even from a hardheaded economic perspective.

The global insurance giant Swiss Re warned in a 2005 report that "Climate change will significantly affect the health of humans and ecosystems and these impacts will have economic consequences."

"We found that impacts of climate change are likely to lead to ramifications that overlap in several areas including our health, our economy and the natural systems on which we depend," said Dr. Paul Epstein, the study's lead author and Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. "Analysis of the potential ripple effects stemming from an unstable climate shows the need for more sustainable practices to safeguard and insure a healthy future." The study is available here.

With nearly $40 billion in reported profits last year, Exxon can afford to run all the ads, hire all the lobbyists and chip in for all the junkets it takes to persuade Congress not to curb the industry’s practices or profits. Unfortunately, consumers and their advocates don’t have the resources to fight on the same playing field.

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