In the lead up to the
Kyoto conference on global warming the fossil fuel industries in the US
and Australia stepped up their campaign to prevent a treaty being signed
that involved greenhouse gas reduction targets for both countries. A US
consortium of 20 organisations launched an anti-climate treaty campaign
in September 1997. These industry groups representing oil, coal and other
fossil fuel interests spent an estimated $US13 million on television,
newspaper and radio advertising in the three months leading up to the
Kyoto conference to promote public opposition to the treaty. Speaking
at a news conference on this campaign, the President of the National Association
of Manufacturers, Jerry Jasinowski, argued that the treaty would mean
energy prices would go up, jobs would be moved to developing countries,
and businesses, farmers and consumers would suffer.
The high level of consensus
amongst the world's climate scientists is not widely known because the
corporations that would be affected by measures to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions have waged a deceptive campaign to confuse the public
and policy-makers on the issue. They have used corporate front
groups, public relations firms
and conservative think
tanks to cast doubt on predictions
of global warming and its impacts, to imply that we do not know enough
to act and to argue that the cost of reducing greenhouse gases is prohibitively
expensive. The US National Coal Association spent $US700,000 on this
in 1992/93 alone. Also in 1993, the American
Petroleum Institute (a trade
association representing companies such as BP Oil, Shell, Chevron and
Exxon) paid PR-firm Burson-Marsteller $US1.8 million. Burson Marsteller
helped it defeat a proposed tax on fossil fuels.
Fostering doubt is a well known public
relations tactic. Phil Lesly (1992), author of a handbook on public
relations and communications, advises corporations:
People generally do not favor
action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced
on both sides and there is a clear doubt.
The weight of impressions on the public
must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to
take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information
into the stream from sources that the public will find credible. There
is no need for a clear-cut 'victory.'...Nurturing public doubts by
demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of
the opponents usually is all that is necessary. (p. 331)
The success of this strategy is evident
in US Gallop polls in October and November 1997. They found that 37
percent of those surveyed thought that scientists were unsure of the
cause of global warming. The poll also showed a drop in concern about
global warming since 1991.
Throughout 1998 vested interests lobbied
against the US ratification of the Kyoto Treaty. The Republican-chaired
House Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and
Regulatory Affairs held a series of hearings entitled "Kyoto Protocol:
Is the Clinton-Gore Administration Selling Out Americans?" to which
many business people testified, including executives from the American
Petroleum Institute, the Ford Motor Company, The American Coal Company
and the National Mining Association. Those opposed to the Treaty emphasised
the costs to Americans in terms of jobs and prices.
1997, 'Industries launch
anti-climate treaty ad campaign', Reuters News Service, 10 Sept
CLEAR, 1998, Western
Fuels Association's Astroturf Empire Coal industry campaign multiplies
efforts to re-spin global warming,
Lesly, Philip, 1992, 'Coping with
Opposition Groups', Public Relations Review, Vol. 18, No.
Stevens, William K. 1998, 'The
Ad Campaign: Global Warming, or Hot Air?', New York Times,
3rd October, p. 6.
Corporate Watch, October 1998.
the Machine, Greenpeace Report
on corporate funding of US politicians.
Ties that Blind III: How the Public Interest was Lost,
Ozone Action, Washington D.C., 1996.
and Global Warming, Ozone
Action, Washington D.C., 1998.
Center on Global Climate Change