Man­u­fac­tur­ing doubt: the de­nial in­dus­try

Element - - Business -

What if doubt on cli­mate change is be­ing de­lib­er­ately pro­moted by the pol­lut­ing com­pa­nies with most to lose? One claim made by some who deny cli­mate change is an is­sue is that it is some kind of money-spin­ning con­spir­acy on the part of the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment. This seems to ig­nore which side most of the money is still on. Three of the top four earn­ing com­pa­nies in the world are oil com­pa­nies, part of the sec­tor with most to lose by curbs on cli­mate emis­sions. Exxon­Mo­bil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP earn about US$1.3 tril­lion be­tween them a year, about 10 times the en­tire New Zealand GDP. If Exxon­Mo­bil were a coun­try, its GDP would put it in the top third of na­tions world­wide. That sort of money gen­er­ates a lot of mo­men­tum and power. In com­par­i­son, WWF, recog­nised as one of the largest en­vi­ron­men­tal char­i­ties in the world, re­ceived US$600 mil­lion in 2011. The top three oil com­pa­nies match that about ev­ery four hours. Given the enor­mous stakes, the re­sources at their fin­ger­tips, and the le­gal obli­ga­tions for their top ex­ec­u­tives to pro­tect their share­hold­ers’ as­sets and in­ter­ests, it would be sur­pris­ing if the oil com­pa­nies didn’t do some­thing to com­bat this se­ri­ous threat to their ex­is­tence. To fol­low their in­flu­ence, it seems log­i­cal to fol­low their money. For ex­am­ple, in 2007 a prom­i­nent US or­gan­i­sa­tion that de­nies the threat of cli­mate change, The Heart­land In­sti­tute, gave US$25,000 (NZ$32,000) to the NZ Cli­mate Sci­ence Coali­tion, and US$45,000 (NZ$59,000) to the In­ter­na­tional Cli­mate Sci­ence Coali­tion, both staunch cli­mate change de­niers. The Heart­land In­sti­tute ac­knowl­edges that it re­ceived reg­u­lar fund­ing from Exxon­Mo­bil from 1998-2006. Heart­land also ac­knowl­edges that a pub­lic re­la­tions ad­vi­sor for Exxon­Mo­bil, Wal­ter Buch­holtz, served on Heart­land’s board of di­rec­tors while still work­ing for the oil firm. Exxon­Mo­bil ap­peared in a re­port re­leased just last month among many large US com­pa­nies sup­port­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions con­tin­u­ing to un­der­mine cli­mate change sci­ence, of­ten in con­tra­dic­tion of their own pub­lic en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies. But how does this af­fect us? Well, most of the re­cip­i­ents of this cor­po­rate largesse are es­sen­tially pub­lic re­la­tions com­pa­nies that do no sci­en­tific re­search of their own: their job is to get se­lec­tive in­for­ma­tion into the pub­lic do­main to sway pub­lic opin­ion on be­half of those who pay their bills. So mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion dis­trib­uted by them ap­pears on many web­sites, and even in the mouths of pun­dits who deny cli­mate change is an is­sue on ra­dio and tele­vi­sion. This does not mean ev­ery­body who de­nies cli­mate change has been paid to do so, that would be ridicu­lous and im­pos­si­ble. But it does mean that those who do hold th­ese views for what­ever rea­son have been pro­vided with more in­for­ma­tion and a much larger plat­form than the strength of their ar­gu­ments would oth­er­wise war­rant. And the key is that for their ef­forts to suc­ceed it is not nec­es­sary for peo­ple to be­lieve ev­ery­thing they say. It is only nec­es­sary that enough man­u­fac­tured doubt re­mains to pro­vide an ex­cuse not to take the con­certed ac­tion that is ur­gently needed, and would so se­ri­ously af­fect the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try. This is not the first time this has hap­pened. There is now am­ple ev­i­dence that sim­i­lar strate­gies were em­ployed by big busi­nesses to at­tempt to ward off reg­u­la­tions on cig­a­rette sales in the 1960s and the ban on lead in petrol in the mid-1990s, long af­ter their dam­ag­ing ef­fects were well un­der­stood. The Heart­land In­sti­tute, for one, still cam­paigns on the smok­ing is­sue. It ac­cepted years of do­na­tions from cig­a­rette com­pa­nies and a former board mem­ber, Roy Mar­den, worked for the cig­a­rette man­u­fac­turer Philip Mor­ris/Al­tria dur­ing some of his time on Heart­land’s board. So it comes down to this: who do you re­ally want to be­lieve?

WWF, one of the largest en­vi­ron­men­tal char­i­ties in the world, re­ceived US$600 mil­lion in 2011. The top three oil com­pa­nies match that ev­ery four hours.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.