Casting Doubt and Undermining Action
Citation: Sharon Beder, 'Casting Doubt and Undermining Action', Pacific Ecologist 1, March 2002, pp. 42-49.
This is a final version submitted for publication.
When the US withdrew from the Kyoto agreement on climate change in March 2001, the world was shocked. Kyoto represented the only mechanism obliging developed nations to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told the press that: "The president has been unequivocal He does not support the Kyoto treaty. It is not in the United States' economic best interest."
The announcement was not surprising considering the funding Bushs campaign received from the fossil-fuel industry. For example, one Democratic Congressional representative estimated that during the 2000 election campaign the coal industry contributed $US3.8 million, nearly 90 percent going to the Republicans. The oil industry is estimated by the Center for Responsive Politics to have contributed $US14million with $10million going to Republicans. The Seattle Times noted: "Bush began his business career in the West Texas oil fields, and he has received substantial support from the industry since entering politics in 1994."
The US withdrawal has been widely viewed as a disaster, but how much hope does the Kyoto Protocol really offer for preventing global warming, with or without US participation? The outcomes of the 1997 Third Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), embodied in the text of the Kyoto Protocol, were disappointing but not surprising given the strength of industry opposition to an effective treaty. Although the European Union had been pushing for average reductions of 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, the average reduction finally agreed upon turned out to be little more than 5 per cent, and three countries were, in fact, granted approval to increase their emissions, including Australia (by 8 per cent). Targets for developing nations remained voluntary. No enforcement measures were decided upon.
Whilst other countries continue to talk the talk, the US has admitted it will not comply. But are countries like Australia merely keeping up appearances whilst having no real intention of doing what it takes to meet emissions targets?
When nations met at the Hague at the end of 2000 to work out mechanisms for meeting reduction targets, none had ratified the Kyoto Protocol and few were on track to achieve the targets set for them (for the Protocol to be legally binding it has to be ratified by a minimum of 55 nations responsible for at least 55 per cent of emissionsa country that fails to ratify it is not bound by it).. In the US, greenhouse-gas emissions had increased by more than 13 percent over 1990 levels (compared with a target of 7% reduction) and in Australia they had risen 17 per cent since 1990.
The Hague talks collapsed when agreement could not be reached over the extent to which countries should be allowed to use forests as carbon sinks to offset their greenhouse-gas emissions. Agreement could not be reached because some countries believed that the excessive use of offsets and sinks would enable countries like Australia and the United States to continue increasing industry-based greenhouse emissions year after year.
The governments of the US and Australia, which produce the worlds highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases, have for many years obstructed international greenhouse-gas reduction. However, this obstruction reflects the power of industry in these countries rather than any lack of concern on the part of their citizens. Polls have shown that the majority of people in the US and Australia want their governments to act to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In Australia, a Sydney Morning Herald/AC Nielsen-McNair survey, conducted in November 1997, found that 90 per cent of Australians are concerned about global warming, 83 per cent believe it is a serious threat to humans and the environment, 79 per cent said that Australia should sign a treaty to cut emissions, and 68 per cent said that economic concerns should not prevent the Government from signing such a treaty.
However, politicians in both countries have not been responsive to peoples concerns, largely due to industry lobbying and the confusion corporate-funded scientists, front-groups and think tanks deliberately spread. Corporate influence goes far beyond the millions of dollars in campaign donations made by the fossil-fuel industry to politicians and political parties though these amounts are not insubstantial.
As the Kyoto Conference approached, 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. 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 during 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 US businesses, farmers and consumers would suffer.
In 1998 the New York Times reported internal American Petroleum Institute (API) documents showing that fossil-fuel interests intended to raise $US5 million over two years to establish a Global Climate Science Data Center as a non-profit educational foundation to help meet their goal of ensuring that the media and the public recognise the uncertainties in climate science. The documents state that victory will be achieved when climate change becomes a non-issue and those promoting the Kyoto Protocol using existing science appear "to be out of touch with reality."
This was just the latest phase in a corporate-funded campaign to discredit global warming predictions and undermine the political will necessary to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. It was a campaign conducted in the face of growing scientific evidence supporting the concept of global warming and the corresponding need for action
In September 1995 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which involves 2,500 climate scientists, issued a landmark statement representing a level of consensus that had not previously been achieved on the issue of global warming. IPCC stated that "the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate" and that climatic instability was likely to cause "widespread economic, social and environmental dislocation over the next century."
Yet it is not widely known that this level of consensus amongst the worlds climate scientists has been achieved 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.
Fostering doubt is a well-known public relations tactic. Phil Lesly, author of a handbook on public relations and communications, advises corporations that:
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 success of this strategy is evident in US Gallup polls in October and November 1997. These revealed that 37 per cent of those surveyed thought that scientists were unsure of the cause of global warming. A comparison with a poll conducted in 1991 showed that there had been a drop in public concern about global warming.
Perhaps nowhere has the fossil-fuel industry been more successful, however, than in Australia where the government presented the fossil-fuel industrys interests as being synonymous with the national interest. In 1988, when the National Greenhouse 88 Conference was held in Australia, there was unprecedented public interest in the issue. This has been systematically eroded, as we will see below, through a well-orchestrated international campaign to portray global warming as little more than a theory that scientists cant agree on. This strategy (see below) is aimed at crippling the impetus for government action to solve these problems, action which might adversely affect corporate profits.
Various front groups have been formed, particularly in the US, to oppose measures to prevent global warming. They include the Global Climate Information Project, the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), the Information Council on the Environment, the Global Climate Coalition and the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association, even the Greening Earth Society and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.
In the negotiating sessions leading up to the Kyoto Conference, industry representatives made up most of the observers. Industry representatives did not represent their firms at these meetings but rather corporate bodies or front groups such as the Global Climate Coalition and the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association.
The Global Climate Coalition, originally a coalition of 50 US trade associations and private companies representing oil, gas, coal, automobile and chemical companies and trade associations, put together with the help of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, has spent millions of dollars in its campaign to persuade the public and governments that global warming is not a real threat. On its home page the Global Climate Coalition said its concern was with the "potentially enormous impact that improper resolution [of global climate issues] may have on our industrial base, our customers and their lifestyles and the national economy."
GCCs activities began receiving unwanted publicity in 1997 and corporations began leaving it because of the adverse impact on their own reputations. First to leave was Dupont, then in 1997 BP, which argued that it was time to act to prevent greenhouse warming rather than continue to debate whether it would occur or not. Royal Dutch/Shell soon followed in 1998, then others including Ford in 1999, Daimler-Chrysler, Texaco and The Southern Company in 2000.
General Motors left in March 2000, three days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a report showing that the US had experienced the warmest winter since records had been kept 105 years. As time goes by the evidence of global warming becomes more compelling. On every continent ice is melting; in the Arctic Ocean the ice cap has shrunk by over 40% in 35 years.
By March 2000, so many companies had left the GCC because of its poor reputation and the increasing evidence of global warming that the GCC had to restructure itself to be a coalition of trade associations that individual companies cant join. The GCC has also softened its own public stance, arguing for voluntary measures to reduce emissions rather than disputing the need for measures.
The Worldwatch Institute has likened the exodus from the GCC to the demise of the Tobacco Institute, set up by the tobacco industry to undermine the certainty of the science that linked smoking with lung cancer and other disease. The Tobacco Institute closed shop in January 1999.
It is surprising, in these circumstances, to find a new group of Australian business people intent on continuing the program of greenhouse disinformation. The Lavoisier Group was formed in 2000 to cast doubt on global warming theory and oppose measures being taken to prevent global warming. It includes some high profile businessmen and politicians, including its president, Peter Walsh (former Labor Minister for finance 1984-90), Hugh Morgan (CEO of WMC previously Western Mining Corporation) and "ex-ALP and Liberal powerbrokers" Gary Gray and Tony Staley. The business leaders who are associating the names of their companies with the Lavoisier Group seem to be unable to learn from the experience of former members of the GCC.
The Greening Earth Society was established in the US in April 1998 by the Western Fuels Association to convince people that "using fossil fuels to enable our economic activity is as natural as breathing." Another recent addition to the campaign has been the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which, according to CLEAR, the Washington-based Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research, seems to have a strong working relationship with both the Western Fuels Association and the Greening Earth Society.
Corporations and their front groups have utilised a handful of dissident scientists to cast doubt on the likelihood of adverse impacts arising from global warming. These scientists, who oppose the general scientific consensus on global warming, have had their voices greatly amplified by fossil-fuel interests.
Such scientists do not disclose their funding sources when talking to the media or before government hearings. One example is Patrick Michaels. Generally described in the media as being from the University of Virginia, Michaels edits the World Climate Report, which is funded by Western Fuels Association (a consortium of coal interests) and associated companies; has received funding for his research from the Western Fuels Association, the Cyprus Minerals Company, the Edison Electric Institute and the German Coal Mining Association; and is on the advisory board of the Greening Earth Society. He was also at one time on the advisory board of other front groups including TASSC and the Information Council on the Environment. Michaels was featured in New Scientist in July 1997 as "a climatologist at the University of Virginia" and one of the "worlds top scientists." His criticisms of global warming models are cited in the article, but without any mention of his funding sources. He in turn cites the New Scientist article as supporting his views without mentioning the article was based on an interview with him.
Michaels told an Australian business audience that global warming would lead to milder winters, longer agricultural seasons in cold climates and little extra heat in warmer climates. He was referred to in the Sydney Morning Herald as "a leading American climatologist" from the University of Virginia. The paper quoted him as saying: "Youd have a very hard time saying it [global warming] was a net negative . . . I find it very hard to believe that the folks in the Pacific Islands wont adapt to a 30 centimetres sea level rise."
Other scientists involved in the campaign to discredit emission-reduction targets include Drs Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Sallie Baliunas and S Fred Singer. Lindzen, who was also featured in the New Scientist article and in the Australian Institution of Engineers Engineering World as "an independent scientist" is a consultant to the fossil-fuel industry, charging $US2,500 a day for his services.
Balling is also heavily funded by fossil-fuel interests. He is reported in the Arizona Republic as saying that he had "received more like $700,000 over the past five years" from coal and oil interests in Great Britain, Germany and the US. Balling, like Michaels, is on the panel of scientific advisors for the Greening Earth Society and was also on the advisory council for the Information Council on the Environment.
Fred Singer is executive director of the "think tank," the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP). SEPP argues that global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain are not real but rather are scare tactics used by environmentalists. Singer speaks and writes prolifically on these subjects and is in demand by anti-environment groups. He has made at least two trips to Australia (in 1990 and 1992) to publicize his views on global warming. He has also worked for companies such as Exxon, Shell, and Arco. According to the Environmental Research Foundation:
For years, Singer was a professor at the University of Virginia where he was funded by energy companies to pump out glossy pamphlets pooh-poohing climate change. Singer hasnt published original research on climate change in 20 years and is now an 'independent' consultant, who spends his time writing letters to the editor, and testifying before Congress, claiming that ozone-depletion and global warming arent real problems.
Because these and a handful of other scientists have been used so much by those trying to discredit the scientific consensus on global warming, and because their industry funding and associations have been exposed by organisations such as Ozone Action, efforts have been made to find new "clean" scientists to play this role. The recently uncovered API documents reveal a new plan to:
Identify, recruit and train a team of five independent scientists to participate in media outreach . . . this team will consist of new faces who will add their voices to those recognized scientists who are already vocal.
SEPP is just one of the many conservative think tanks in various parts of the world that seek to undermine the case for global warming preventative measures. Think tanks are generally private, tax-exempt, research institutes that present themselves as providing impartial disinterested expertise. However think tanks generally tailor their studies to suit their clients or donors.
Corporate-funded think tanks have played a key role in providing credible "experts" who dispute scientific claims of existing or impending environmental degradation and therefore provide enough doubts to ensure governments "lack motivation" to act. These dissident scientists, usually not atmospheric scientists, argue there is "widespread disagreement within the scientific community" about global warming (see below). Most conservative think tanks have argued that global warming is not happening and that any possible future warming will be slight and may have beneficial effects.
The Heritage Foundation is one of the largest and wealthiest think tanks in the US. It gets massive media coverage in the US and is very influential in politics, particularly amongst the Republicans who dominate the US Congress. In October 1998 it published a backgrounder entitled. "The Road to Kyoto: How the Global Climate Treaty Fosters Economic Impoverishment and Endangers US Security." It began:
Chicken Little is back and the sky is falling. Or so suggests the Clinton Administration . . . By championing the global warming treaty, the Administration seeks to pacify a vociferous lobby which frequently has made unsubstantiated predictions of environmental doom.
In the 1999 edition of its Environmental Briefing Book for Congressional Candidates, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) argues that "the Kyoto Protocol is a costly, unworkable, and inappropriate policy to suppress energy use around the world" and that the US Senate should reject it. It argues that the "scientific case for an international climate treaty has collapsed" and anyway, "no one should worry about a modest warming, should it occur" as it is likely to result in beneficial impacts.
One of CEIs publications, The True State of the Planet, was partially funded by the Olin Foundation, created by Olin Chemical. In it Robert Balling claims that:
(the) scientific evidence argues against the existence of a greenhouse crisis, against the notion that realistic policies could achieve any meaningful climatic impact, and against the claim that we must act now if we are to reduce the greenhouse threat.
CEI is an active member of the Cooler Heads Coalition. The Cooler Heads coalition was founded by the corporate front group Consumer Alert and distributes a bi-weekly newsletter, published by CEI. Its object is clear: "The Cooler Heads Coalition focuses on the consumer impact of global warming policies that would drastically restrict energy use and raise costs for consumers."
Think tanks in other parts of the world are also seeking to cast doubt upon global warming predictions. The Australian Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which gets almost one-third of its budget from mining and manufacturing companies, has also produced articles and media statements challenging the greenhouse consensus. In IPA Review, Aaran Oakley has accused Australias public broadcaster, the ABC, of bias because "ABC reporters made the assumption that global warming is real, some even making assertions to that end." He complains that ABC reporting therefore "represents a pernicious mixture of science and environmentalism."
However the ABC has given air time to IPA Senior Fellow, Brian Tucker, previously chief of the CSIRO division of atmospheric research. In 1996 in a talk on the ABCs Ockhams Razor he stated that "unchallenged climatic disaster hyperbole has induced something akin to a panic reaction from policy makers, both national and international." In the talk he ignored the scientific consensus represented by the IPCC 1995 statement and argued that global warming predictions are politically and emotionally generated:
[T]here is little evidence to support the notion of net deleterious climate change despite recent Cassandra-like trepidation in the Australian Medical Association and exaggerations from Greenpeace. Why then has so much alarm been generated? The answer is complicated. In my opinion, it is due partly to the use and abuse of science to forment [sic] fear by those seeking to support ideological positions, and partly due to the negative and fearful perspective that seems to characterise some environmental prejudices.
Tuckers article, "The Greenhouse Panic," was reprinted in Engineering World, a magazine aimed at engineers. The article, introduced by the magazine editor as "a balanced assessment," argues that "alarmist prejudices of insecure people have been boosted by those who have something to gain from widespread public concern." This article, which would have been more easily dismissed as an IPA publication, has been quoted by Australian engineers at conferences as if it were an authoritative source.
Think tanks have been so successful at clouding the scientific picture of greenhouse warming and providing an excuse for corporations and the politicians they support that they have, to date, managed to thwart effective greenhouse reduction strategies being implemented by governments in the English-speaking world.
Australian politicians and bureaucrats have travelled the world looking for allies for the countrys renegade position on global warming, particularly during 1997 as the Kyoto conference approached. Whilst it has found few governmental allies it has found support amongst US industry interests and US senators. In July 1997 the Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, John Anderson, met with some top fossil-fuel industry executives in the US who praised Australias position on global warming.
That same month the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Australian Embassy in Washington addressed a CEI conference on "The Costs of Kyoto." He claimed Australian businesses were strongly behind their governments stance in opposing uniform greenhouse emission targets for industrialised countries. Also speaking at the conference were Patrick Michaels, contrarian Wilfred Beckerman from Oxford University and others who gave reasons for not agreeing to emissions reductions at Kyoto.
In August the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, a conservative corporate-funded US think tank, organised a conference in Canberra in conjunction with the Australian APEC Study Centre. The conference, "Countdown to Kyoto," was organised, according to The Australian, to "bolster support" for the Governments increasingly isolated position on global warming in preparation for the Kyoto Conference. US Senator Chuck Hagel, who co-sponsored the Senate resolution condemning ratification of any treaty agreement in Kyoto which harmed the US economy or failed to include commitments by developing nations (see Introduction above), was a speaker, as was US Congressman John Dingell. Other speakers included the Chairman of Australian multinational BHP and the Director of the local think tank, the Tasmania Institute.
Malcolm Wallop, who heads the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, chaired the conference with Hugh Morgan, Chairman of WMC. Wallop, a US Senator for 18 years, boasts of his achievements in promoting SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars") and opposing welfare, progressive taxation, Social Security, and government funding for higher education. Wallop said in a letter to US conservative groups: "This conference in Australia is the first shot across the bow of those who expect to champion the Kyoto Treaty."
He also stated that the conference would "offer world leaders the tools to break with the Kyoto Treaty." The conference was opened by the then Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fisher, who argued that tough emission-reduction targets could put 90,000 jobs at risk in Australia and cost more than $150 million.
Patrick Michaels argued at the "Countdown to Kyoto" conference that the science to support "expensive and potentially disruptive policy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. . .is sorely lacking." Michaels also gave the "good news" about global warming to a global warming seminar organised by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia, when he visited Australia in 1997. He has travelled the world on behalf of anti-climate-treaty interests. In October 1997 he attended a conference similar to Canberras Countdown to Kyoto in Vancouver organised by Canadian conservative think tank, The Fraser Institute. Also attending this conference was Robert Balling and Sallie Baliunas.
In both the US and Australia, think-tank economists have been influential in the debate over the costs of greenhouse-gas abatement. In Australia the Commonwealth government has relied heavily on figures provided by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE)a governmental agency. ABARE was set up by the Commonwealth Government but now bills itself as an "independent" research agency. It relies on both government and industry funding. For its economic modelling of the impacts of meeting greenhouse-gas targets, ABARE raised $1.1 million from oil companies and industry lobby groups by offering them the opportunity to pay $50,000 to sit on the steering committee and "have an influence on the direction of the model development" (as stated in ABAREs literature).
Those who took advantage of the offer included Mobil, Exxon, Texaco, BHP, Rio Tinto, the Australian Aluminium Council, the Business Council of Australia, and the Norwegian oil company Statoil. The Australian Conservation Foundation, which could not afford the $50,000, requested a waiver of the fee to be on the steering committee but was refused. According to Clive Hamilton, from the Australia Institute (an environmental think-tank), 80 per cent of the funds for ABAREs climate-change modelling come from the fossil-fuel industry.
Not surprisingly, ABAREs model (MEGABARE) predicted huge costs in jobs and income if emission-reduction targets are to be met. This is disputed by environmentalists and alternative energy experts, as well as by 131 Australian economists who signed a joint statement that noted:
the economic modelling studies on which the Government is relying to assess the impacts of reducing Australias sgreenhouse-gas emissions overestimate the costs and underestimate the benefits of reducing emissions.
Professor Mark Diesendorf, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, claims that ABAREs model has serious flaws because it neglects the role of technological change as well as the benefits of different energy paths such as the new industries created. And several Australian studies over the last few years have shown that emissions could be cut in Australia by at least 20 percent without cost. In fact an earlier 1991 ABARE study "concluded that emissions could cost-effectively be cut by 30 percent."
In 1997, when it left the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), BP earned the reputation of being environmentally progressive in an industry that largely refused to accept that global warming was likely to occur. In several speeches made that year CEO, John Browne argued that it was time to act to prevent greenhouse warming rather than continue to debate whether it would occur or not.
Browne earned the praise of environmental groups such as Greenpeace. Management Today magazine announced "Sworn enemies BP and Greenpeace have done the unimaginabletheyve joined forces to develop solar power as a clean energy source." The Earth Day Network 2000, which includes organizations such as the World Watch Institute and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) gave BP a 1999 Earth Day award for its progressive approach to global warming.
The question is whether BPs move was an indicator of environmental leadership or a cynical attempt to manage its reputation. At the time BP was receiving adverse publicity and criticism from human rights groups because of its activities in Colombia. The dramatic break with other oil companies on the issue of global warming provided a useful diversion. In 1997, a year in which BP had adverse publicity about its activities in Colombia and favorable publicity about its stance on global warming, BPs share price and profit were up.
Certainly BPs record of environmental protection has not been any better than other oil companies. It has contributed more than its share of oil spills and pollution. BP was cited as most polluting company in the US in 1991, based on the EPA's toxic-release inventory. One local residents' group claimed: "BP has treated us as a PR problem instead of taking our concerns seriously." In 1992 Greenpeace International named BP as one of Scotlands two largest polluters. BP is "a Potentially Responsible Party for 23 hazardous waste Superfund sites in the United States."
Nor has BP become a model company since its apparent environmental conversion in 1997. In 1999, BP was charged with burning polluted gases at its Ohio refinery and agreed to pay a $1.7 million fine. In July 2000 BP paid a $10 million fine to the US EPA and agreed to reduce the air pollution coming from its US refineries by tens of thousands of tons. The agreement, although voluntary, was taken to head off EPA enforcement action. In return for the agreement the EPA "has offered a "clean slate" for certain past violations."
BPs activities in Alaska, both existing and proposed, have been of concern to indigenous people and environmental groups: "Between January 1997 and March 1998, BP Amoco was responsible for 104 oil spills in Americas Arctic." In 1999 BP admitted illegally dumping hazardous waste at its "environmentally friendly" oil field in Alaska and was fined $500,000 for failing to report it. It also paid $6.5 million in civil penatlies to settle claims associated with the disposal of the hazardous waste.
In 1999 six senior employees of the company that operates the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), in which BP has a majority ownership stake, warned that irresponsible operations could cause an environmentally damaging rupture of the 22 year old pipeline. In a letter to CEO Browne they alleged falsified inspection reports, intimidated workers and "persistent violations of procedures and governmental regulations."
BP has, however, invested heavily in solar power and introduced a program to reduce its own greenhouse-gas emissions. So does this represent "a new brand of progress for the world," as its advertisements claim, or is this more reputation management?
Despite its investment in solar energy, bp remains committed to ever increasing production and usage of oil and gas. Director of Policy David Rice told the Global Public Affairs Institute in London: "we make no secret of our intention to grow our core exploration and production business, and to continue our search for new sources of oil and gas."
Whilst bp has promised to reduce its own greenhouse-gas emissions it does not accept the need to reduce the emissions arising from the products it sells. "As a company, our contribution is small,"Browne argues. "If one adds up the emissions from all of BPs operations and from all the products we sell, it comes to around one percent of the total emissions from human activity." However this is a huge amount for one company to be responsible for, and certainly a more important contribution than that of bps own operations. Yet Browne is using the very argument used by recalcitrant countries like Australia (which also contributes about 1%) to argue against the need for reductions.
By 1999, BPs emissions were "greater than those of Central America, Canada or Britain." And BPs recent acquisitions mean bp is now responsible for about 3% of worldwide greenhouse emissions.
The bp corporation continues to explore for more oil, often in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Atlantic Frontier, the foothills of the Andes and Alaska. It is seeking US government permission to explore in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), one of the last remaining pristine wilderness areas in Alaska. It does this through direct lobbying and funding of politicians and through funding the lobby group Arctic Power. The bp corporations Northstar project involves the first undersea pipeline in the Arctic and the US Army Corps of Engineers calculates that "the total probability of one or more large oil spills . . . is approximately 11% to 24%" during its fifteen-year lifetime.
Whilst it has been attacked for its Arctic exploration, BP has emphasized its solar investments. In March 1999 BP launched its "Plug in the Sun" program based on its investment in solar energy and the installation of solar panels on petrol stations around the world. In its advertisements it said, "We can fill you up by sunshine" although it was still petrol people were putting in their cars.
For this program, it was awarded a Greenwash award by Corporate Watch, which stated that "the company hopes that by spending just .01% of its portfolio on solar as it explores for more oil and sells more gasoline, it can convince itself and others of its own slogan: BP knows, BP cares, BP is our leader." BP invested $45 million in the solar firm Solarex, compared to $120 billion over two years to acquire Amoco, Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) and Burmah Castrol.
In a similar satiric vein, Greenpeace USA gave CEO John Browne an award for "Best Impression of an Environmentalist." Greenpeace noted that BP planned to spend $5 billion over the next five years on exploring for and producing oil in Alaska even though the planet could "not afford to burn 75% of the fossil fuels weve already discovered, if we are to avert catastrophic global warming."
But would a company spend hundreds of millions of dollars in solar investment just to enhance its reputation? Well, bp has spent that just on rebranding. In 2000, the transnational oil giant BP Amoco was rebranded as "bp, beyond petroleum," part of an effort to portray BP as an energy company rather than an oil company, one that incorporated solar energy in its portfolio and was willing to move away from oil as a source of energy. Research and preparation for the rebranding cost $7 million and bp intends to spend $200 million over two years rebranding its facilities and changing signs and stationery. Hundreds of millions more will be spent over the next few years advertising bp petrol.
BPs move from the GCC to other coalitions, such as the Business Industry Council of the Pew Climate Change Center and the Safe Climate, Sound Business coalition, as well as its involvement with groups such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the US Presidents Council on Sustainable Development, has enabled it to lobby for environmental protection measures that are gradual, market-based and do not interfere with profits and economic growth.
The Safe Climate, Sound Business Coalition recommends ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions without reducing economic growth. It affirms its intention of meeting "growing needs for energy" and emphasizes the need for "gradual transition" so as to "avoid the need to retire existing equipment prematurely."
Browne concurs: "Actions that seek, at a stroke, drastically to restrict carbon emissions or even to ban the use of fossil fuels would be unsustainable because they would crash into the realities of economic growth." He also argues the timetable of change should be "compatible with capital stock turnover in the energy sector and the wider economy" and constrained by "the magnitude and age of existing energy infrastructure."
In Australia, bp has joined with other industry leaders to lobby the government not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol unless the US does so first. The industry leaders also urged the government to guarantee that no jobs will be lost to greenhouse reduction measures (interesting given the massive job losses that resulted from BPs recent acquisitions) and to seek the most "liberal" rules for meeting targets which include the use of carbon sinks.
Browne has called for policy instruments that enable multinational corporations to have the flexibility to reduce emissions in countries where "the marginal cost of such curbs is lowest." As an example of this, bp is involved with forest conservation programs in Turkey and Bolivia in order to offset its own greenhouse-gas emissions. It is debatable that conserving forests that already exist does much to solve the climate change problem. However, other more effective policies that involve less reliance on fossil fuels, such as support for public transport and the development of hybrid or electric cars, would threaten the profits of a company such as bpbp depends on an increasing demand for oil and gas for the bulk of its profits.
The public conversion of fossil-fuel companies to mainstream greenhouse science is no real indication that they are committed to contributing to the reduction of global greenhouse emissions, particularly where that interferes with their profits.
Clearly, corporations and industries that depend on fossil fuels for the greater part of their profits are doing their best to obstruct and undermine effective measures to reduce greenhouse gases. The front groups, scientists, economists and think tanks on their pay roll need to be exposed for what they arethe voices of vested interests. In addition, the voice of the public needs to drown out the influence of corporations, their lobbyists, advertisements and their political donations. Unless politicians are swamped by protests, letters and phone calls demanding action to prevent global warming, it will be too easy for governments to accede to corporate interests.
References available in the original
Professor Sharon Beder is a visiting professorial fellow at the University of Wollongong.
Sharon Beder's Publications can be found at http://www.uow.edu.au/~sharonb