As we hurtle into the twenty-first century, oil is still King. But it does not rule benevolently. Rather, the reign of those who control the politics of petroleum continues to undermine democracy while fostering human rights violations and environmental disasters across the Earth.
Now, by making a major contribution to a global problem that looms larger than perhaps any before it, big oil may well have met its match. Indeed, climate change (often referred to as global warming or the greenhouse effect) has the potential to radically damage entire ecosystems, agriculture, and the inhabitability of whole countries. Changing the climate affects everyone and everything.
Despite the efforts of a few transnational oil corporations (as well as their cohorts in the coal, chemical and car businesses) to dupe the public into thinking that global warming is not a real threat, the vast majority of the world's climate scientists and a growing body of evidence say it is. No longer does the scientific debate focus on if global warming will happen, but rather on how soon it will occur and on how bad it will be. And if the extraordinary number of extreme weather events the world has recently been experiencing -- killer hurricanes, floods and heat waves in places as far flung as Central America, Bangladesh and the East Coast of the United States -- are a harbinger of what is to come, the greenhouse world will be harsh indeed.
Climate change affects everyone and everything. Bound Brook, New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Floyd, September 1999.
Credit: Daniel/AP/WideWorld Photos, 1999
The common wisdom is that the modern consumer is at fault; excessive driving, homes packed with appliances, central heating and cooling, and failure to turn off the lights when leaving the house are what's ailing us. This is partly true. But the ability of individual consumers to radically change their lifestyle while participating in mainstream society is severely limited. U.S. residents cannot easily buy a solar-powered house or low emission car, many cannot take public transport to work, and economic incentives for conservation and efficiency are practically non-existent.
The ability of the individual consumer to influence climate is dwarfed by the impact of giant corporations which explore for, extract, transport, refine and distribute oil which is the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions - by far the major greenhouse gas. Just 122 corporations account for 80% of all carbon dioxide emissions. And just five private global oil corporations -- Exxon Mobil,1 BP Amoco,2 Shell, Chevron and Texaco -- produce oil that contributes some ten percent of the world's carbon emissions.3
While these five companies and their allies in Congress are busy blaming the American consumer for massive energy consumption, or the "Developing World" for not taking adequate steps to curb global warming, the emissions from the fuel they produce exceed the total of all greenhouse gasses coming from Central America, South America and Africa combined!
In addition to producing the oil which is bringing on global warming, these Greenhouse Gangsters contribute to and perpetuate the climate change dynamic in several other key ways:
- They are refiners and marketers of oil and gas.
- They use their political power to prevent technological transformation and maintain business as usual.
- They buy public and scientific opinion.
At the same time that the greenhouse gangsters are pushing the world to the edge of global ecological havoc, they continue to relentlessly destroy the health and well being of local communities and ecosystems where profits from oil are to be found -- be it in the mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta, the far reaches of the Amazon basin, or the fragile environs of the Arctic.
As Ecuadorian activist Paulina Garzon describes the petroleum industry's tremendous impacts: "Oil has changed the face of our land and the life of our people forever."4
Indigenous peoples and local communities are organizing to protect their human and environmental rights in almost every single place where Big Oil sucks crude from the ground. Unfortunately, they are often met with government repression carried out in complicity with oil giants like Shell or Chevron.
Meanwhile, tankers and pipelines belonging to corporations like Texaco and Exxon Mobil have leaked and gushed oil into rivers and the sea, devastating aquatic ecosystems, undermining the livelihood of local fisherfolk the world over, and, once again, generating resistance in communities across the globe.
Refineries run by the likes of BP Amoco and others have spewed toxic waste into the workplace, as well as the air and groundwater of neighboring communities, for decades. This behavior has severely affected the health and safety of refinery workers. It has left the refineries' neighbors -- often poor communities of color -- dirty water and air, low property values and depressing nick names such as "cancer alley." But it has also helped spawn a vibrant movement for environmental justice that has spread across the United States.
WHAT IS CLIMATE JUSTICE?
Climate Justice means, first of all, removing the causes of global warming and allowing the Earth to continue to nourish our lives and those of all living beings. This entails radically reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Climate Justice means opposing destruction wreaked by the Greenhouse Gangsters at every step of the production and distribution process -- from a moratorium on new oil exploration, to stopping the poisoning of communities by refinery emissions -- from drastic domestic reductions in auto emissions, to the promotion of efficient and effective public transportation.
Climate Justice in the United States means the solutions adopted to ward off global warming can't fall hardest on low income communities, communities of color, or the workers employed by the fossil fuel industry. Climate Justice means fostering a just transition for these constituencies to a healthier and more just environment to work and live in.
Climate Justice means providing assistance to communities threatened or impacted by climate change, such as the communities devastated by Hurricanes Mitch and Floyd.
Climate Justice means that while all countries should participate in the drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the industrialized nations, which historically and currently are most responsible for global warming, should lead the transformation. The United States, which emits about 25 percent of greenhouse gasses, must in particular be at the forefront of this transformation.
Climate Justice for developing nations means that international institutions such as the World Bank and World Trade Organization should halt their funding and promotion of corporate-led fossil fuel-based globalization and instead foster the transformation to sustainable and equitable development based on clean energy technologies.
Ultimately, Climate Justice means holding fossil fuel corporations accountable for the central role they play in contributing to global warming. This signifies challenging these companies at every level -- from the production and marketing of the fossil fuels themselves, to their underhanded political influence, to their PR prowess, to the unjust "solutions" they propose, to the fossil fuel-based globalization they are driving. Climate Justice means stripping transnational corporations of the tremendous power they hold over our lives, and in its place building democracy at the local, national and international levels.
The dynamics of corporate-led globalization are only magnifying this complex set of problems, and with it, the injustices. Big oil is riding the wave of globalization to more profits, power and pollution. With the help of institutions such as the World Trade Organization and subsidies from the World Bank, the Greenhouse Gangsters are expanding their exploration into new, uncharted, often pristine ecosystems populated by Indigenous peoples. Big Oil is also buying up newly privatized state-owned oil companies in countries like Russia, Brazil and Venezuela. What's more, the oil industry is making new investments in refining and distribution in these and other energy hungry countries -- fostering a greater global dependence on oil.
Meanwhile, in order to remain "competitive" in a global economy they themselves have helped shape, the Greenhouse Gangsters are cutting costs at home. To do so they are undermining worker health and safety, and shedding jobs. They are also merging with one another to form a group of "super major" companies -- oil behemoths of a scale not seen since the break-up of the Standard Oil empire nearly a century ago.
Big Oil's profits depend upon the perpetuation of local environmental injustices along this global chain of production that reaches from extraction, to transportation, to refining, to distribution. These activities lead up and contribute to climate change. In fact, the looming crisis of climate change represents the globalization of this chain of local ecological and human rights problems. In a sense, global warming is the explosion of this diversity of local problems into a full blown planet-wide disaster of unprecedented proportions.
What's more, catastrophic climate change itself will bring with it a new round of injustices. While the least powerful are the ones who are hit hardest by the oil industry's multitude of impacts today, it will once again be the poor and disenfranchised who will suffer the most severe effects of global warming. For instance, when Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America in 1998, it generated hundreds of thousands of environmental refugees. In the same year, nearly unprecedented flooding in Bangladesh severely impacted millions of people's lives in one of the poorest nations on Earth.
If, as scientists predict, sea levels rise while floods and droughts increase, the rich, middle class and poor will all be affected. Beach-front property on the East and West coasts will be inundated, agriculture and commerce will be disrupted, hunger and disease will spread. But it will be people in places like Bangladesh, along with those living in the already oil ravaged wetlands of Nigeria and Louisiana, who will have the least recourse as the oceans submerge their already toxified landscapes, while scarce services and relief supplies are channeled to the more privileged.
Defining Climate Justice
The severity and planet-wide nature of climate change represents a sort of an endgame for the global oil corporations. It sets up a showdown between the Greenhouse Gangsters whose activities are at the heart of the global warming crisis, and Climate Justice. The gathering forces of Climate Justice can be broadly defined as the interests of the vast majority of the world's people and that of the ecological stability of the Earth.
What can the average person do to promote Climate Justice? It remains true that each of us should consume the least resources possible, using energy efficient cars and light bulbs, etc. But just as important, each of us can join the effort to hold corporate climate culprits accountable for their role in what may well be the largest environmental justice issue of all time.
Climate Justice provides an alternative to the "solutions" corporations have proposed to the climate problem -- false solutions which are divisive, inequitable and unjust. Their response, detailed in this report, is not different from past corporate responses to environmental problems -- to DENY the problem, DELAY solutions, DIVIDE the opposition, DUMP their technologies on the developing world and DUPE the public through massive PR campaigns.
Building a framework for Climate Justice also creates an alternative to "solutions" to global warming -- such as emissions trading -- that do not take the social dimension of climate change into account.
Climate Justice integrally links human rights and ecological sustainability, recognizing that the communities fighting to live free of the environmental and social problems created by big oil are also on the front lines in the battle against climate change.
The ranks of those fighting for Climate Justice are filled by democracy movements struggling against oil interests around the world. They include communities polluted by refineries and working for environmental justice in the United States, as well as Indigenous people trying to maintain their cultures and their lands. Residents of smog-filled cities, and students seeking to reign in unaccountable university investments all can be advocates for Climate Justice. Activists working to generate democratic control over corporations and to reverse the destructive dynamics of globalization, along with those fighting the environmentally destructive policies of the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, are also advocates of Climate Justice.
Part 1: The Most Powerful Industry on Earth
Preventing climate change will take nothing less than a monumental collective effort to wean society from fossil fuels, which are currently the very lifeblood of our economies, and even our daily lives. We all must change. But how?
As we enter the new millennium, governments are looking to the world's most powerful economic actors, the transnational corporations, for technological and market oriented solutions to our environmental problems. Many of the most active environmental pressure groups, from the relatively mainstream Environmental Defense Fund to the more radical Greenpeace, routinely discuss the need to steer the private sector toward solutions. Ethical investors approach the same goal using the persuasion of capital. The transnational corporations, with their vast resources and technical capabilities, can invent and implement solutions faster than government agencies, perhaps faster than we can imagine. Their behavior will determine our future.
Oil produced by Shell alone accounts for more carbon dioxide than most countries in the world.
But what if a group of companies were so powerful that they could control world politics and markets to such a degree that it became impossible to steer them, even for governments? What if the policies of those companies are the reason that we as individuals are locked into fossil fuel use? What if their leaders believed, like John D. Rockefeller before them, that "It is not the business of the public to change our private contracts?"16 Should we then look to them to voluntarily steer themselves, or should we try to gain democratic control over their activities?
In a world increasingly dominated by transnational corporations, the oil industry is the largest business on earth.17 Fully integrated corporations such as Exxon Mobil, BP Amoco, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and Texaco generate hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue every year. They have a vested interest in all stages of the industry, from exploration and production to transport, refining, and marketing final products such as gasoline. Their tentacles reach deep into the political process of almost every country on Earth. And their product is the primary source of global warming.
Overall, almost 80 percent of human produced carbon dioxide emissions come from just 122 private and state owned corporations.18 The oil produced by the five Greenhouse Gangsters accounts for some 10 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions.19 If we look at other measures such as refining or control of key regional markets, the role of this group of five fossil fuel corporations is considerably greater.
For example, the Saudi Arabian state-owned Aramco corporation is the single largest corporate climate culprit, responsible for nearly 7 percent of global emissions. But most of the oil the Saudi Aramco produces is refined and distributed in Europe, the US and Japan by three of the Greenhouse Gangsters: Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Texaco.20
Similarly, BP Amoco alone, after its acquisition of Arco, will control 59% of US refining and marketing and 28% of European refining.21 Texaco has 3,200 gas stations in Brazil, a 13% retail market share.22 Exxon and Mobil combined have 22% of the US gasoline market, and BP Amoco has 16%.23
Another way to look at the role of these companies is to compare their production to country emissions. When we do so, we find that while many of the greenhouse gangsters are busy insisting that the Third World reduce its emissions, these corporations produce oil that is responsible for far more greenhouse gasses than most countries.
Oil produced by Shell alone emits more carbon dioxide than most countries in the world, including Canada, Brazil, Mexico, France, Australia and Spain. BP Amoco's production accounts for emissions that surpass those of its home country, Britain, while Exxon Mobil emissions equal some 80% of those from all of Africa or South America.
"Getting Their Way"
The oil industry's power cannot be measured merely by sales, assets, or barrels of oil produced. We must also look at their political influence. In the United States, these companies are used to "getting their way," as The New York Times puts it. The Times calls Exxon and Mobil "rich in cash, aggressive in style...effective in pursuing their agenda...at the highest level of government and through arm-twisting in Congress."25
Other Corporate Climate Culprits
The Auto Industry
Automobiles and trucks use a great deal of the world's oil. In the US, transportation overall accounts for about 31% of CO2 emissions, the most of any sector in the world. In the US especially, millions of drivers have been "sold" on the need for gas guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles and luxury models. The auto manufacturers have instigated, aided and abetted this preference because Sport Utility Vehicles create higher profit margins. Meanwhile, they have consistently resisted and delayed switching to fuel-efficient models.
Worldwide, General Motors and Ford combine to control nearly 1/3 of the market for cars and light trucks, and could affect world-wide carbon emissions substantially by focusing on creating and marketing fuel cell, hydrogen based or fuel efficient cars. Both companies have concentrated more on beefing up sales of luxury cars.
In March 1999, DaimlerChrysler announced the welcome news that they have developed a fuel cell car to be marketed in the year 2004. However, in the meantime, every car manufacturer is making big engined SUVs as fast as it can make them, while lobbying to exclude these vehicles from fuel efficiency standards.32
Besides oil and natural gas, coal makes the largest contribution to global warming. In addition, coal can cause severe local pollution, both from mining and from burning. Coal producers supply 25 percent of the world's primary energy demand. A number of giant coal companies -- Peabody, Cyprus Amax, Rio Tinto, CONSOL, BHP, and Arch Coal-compete with the oil giants for the dubious distinction of greenhouse gangsters. Together these six transnational corporations are responsible for nearly five percent of all global carbon emissions.33
As they globalize their mining operations, expanding throughout the Third World, these corporations are fostering many countries' dependence on carbon intensive coal for their energy needs. These same corporations are also aggressively working to undermine the Kyoto Protocol through their industry association, the World Coal Institute, as well as through the Global Climate Coalition.34
Electricity generation is another sector that plays a giant role in global warming. Like that of motor vehicles, the responsibility of utilities overlaps with oil companies. Much of the utilities' fuel is oil, and the general public is the ultimate consumer of the product. Still, the electric utility companies must become part of the solution to global warming. The top three electric utilities emit over 100 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. These companies' emissions are comparable with the burning of oil and gas from Texaco, or with all the emissions from Argentina.35
American Electric Power (AEP)
The Southern Company
Tennessee Valley Authority
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the oil industry as a whole spent $62 million on lobbying Congress in 1997, the fourth largest amount of any industry.26 On top of this, between 1991 and 1996, the oil and gas industry contributed over $53 million to candidates and Political Action Committees, with most going to Republicans. One analysis showed that these contributions were steered strategically to members of key Senate committees.27 In return for this investment, the oil industry receives more than five billion dollars a year in corporate welfare from the US government.28 Not a bad deal, for them.
This mutually supportive relationship between Congress and Big Oil undermines the ability of the US government to effectively deal with the most serious, and potentially calamitous, environmental issue in history. And it further undermines a democratic process already corrupted by overwhelming corporate influence.
What's more, as The New York Times once again points out, the power of Big Oil is greater than the sum of its parts because the industry is often "marching, and lobbying, in lockstep."29 Or as Exxon Chief Lee Raymond told an audience of his colleagues: "united we stand, divided we fall." Raymond has called for "cooperation" to prevent a "fall" on critical issues such as climate change. The models for these campaigns include working with other trade groups, employees, and even consumers. Raymond has underscored the importance of allying with the auto industry in confronting the Kyoto Protocol.30
This alliance of corporate climate culprits extends beyond lobbying to coordinated public relations campaigns. These PR initiatives, run under the guise of front groups like the Global Climate Coalition or industry associations such as the American Petroleum Institute, have also had profound effects on the US government's ability to seriously address climate change.
For instance, in the run-up to the original Kyoto Protocol meeting in 1997, industry ran a $13 million dollar advertising campaign aimed at undermining support for the climate treaty. Then, in April 1998, the National Environmental Trust discovered a $5 million plan by industry, including Exxon and Chevron, to train climate science skeptics in public relations so as to convince the public that climate change was not real.31 These efforts may well be just the tip of the PR iceberg -- the ones that have come under public scrutiny. Certainly we can expect that below the surface many more exist.
Oil, Globalization and Climate Change: How Free Trade, Mergers and Privatization Magnify Big Oil's Power
In the early days of the oil industry, John D. Rockefeller became the richest and most reviled man in America by gaining a near monopoly on the US oil industry for his corporation, Standard Oil. Meanwhile in Asia, Royal Dutch and Shell competed for dominance before combining. The break up of Standard Oil in 1911 led to the emergence of a larger group of still very big companies known as the Seven Sisters, though there were actually eight major players.36 For much of the century, the Seven Sisters ruled the world's oil industry. But the dominance of the multinationals was weakened by the formation of OPEC and the nationalization of the oil industry in the 1970's in the largest oil producing countries.
The largest oil producers in the world today are still the national oil companies of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and Mexico.37 The top ten national oil companies control some 70% of the world's reserves.38 But now the pendulum of power is swinging back toward the Greenhouse Gangsters as they once again move to rule the industry. The swing of the pendulum is speeded by the process of corporate-led globalization.
Globalization supports the interests of transnational oil corporations in at least four key ways:
MERGER MANIA, which is sweeping the industry, is one way. This consolidation is occurring as the big corporations attempt to increase their competitiveness in the world economy. It also represents a shift in power back toward Big Oil, as the former "seven sisters" attempt to "unmake history," in a sense reversing some of the break up of Standard Oil which occurred nearly 90 years ago.39 Assuming regulatory approval, three of the four largest oil companies in the world will be formed by recent mergers or acquisitions.40 Although there are still thousands of oil companies in the world, at the beginning of the 21st century a few supermajors will dominate the industry to an extent not seen since Standard Oil's heyday.
STRUCTURAL ADJUSTMENT PROGRAMS, imposed by the World Bank and IMF, are a second support for the oil transnationals. This, combined with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, has led to the widespread privatization of national oil companies. Oil privatization is a major piece of what author Daniel Yergin has called the "greatest sale in the history of the world."41 The big oil companies are snapping up interests in these Third World and Eastern European companies (and their markets) left and right. For instance, Russia's Gazprom, just recently privatized, is now the single largest privately owned corporate contributor to climate change, responsible for more than 4 percent of world carbon emissions. Shell and others have bought significant stakes in Gazprom.42
Other state-owned oil companies have formed joint ventures with
private sector companies. Mobil's joint venture with PDVSA for exploration in Venezuela's Orinoco Delta is one example.43 Chevron's James Simpson believes we will see more joint ventures, or even mergers, between the multinational and national oil companies.44
FREE TRADE AND INVESTMENT AGREEMENTS and institutions, such as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO), are the third plank of globalization that supports the oil industry. For example, NAFTA -- the North American Free Trade Agreement -- promotes the oil industry over ecological sustainability in two key ways. First, it explicitly encourages governments to subsidize oil and gas mega-projects by exempting these subsidies from challenge as "unfair barriers to trade." Meanwhile, NAFTA gives no such protection to government support for energy efficiency, conservation or alternatives -- leaving clean energy exposed to the whims of NAFTA's secretive, undemocratic dispute resolution panels. Under the guise of "free" trade, NAFTA also virtually eliminates countries' ability to control the development of their energy resources for export markets -- in essence threatening to make Canada and Mexico virtual "resource colonies" for the United States' nearly insatiable energy demand.45
Meanwhile the WTO is lowering barriers to trade and investment around the world, and encouraging the expansion of countries' increasing dependency on fossil fuel based transportation, agricultural and energy development. This creates ever expanding markets for the oil industry.
Of course, it is no coincidence that fossil fuel industry associations and corporations, including Greenhouse Gangster Texaco dominate the official US government trade advisory committee for energy issues. There are no human rights, labor or environmental groups on this committee, and only one renewable energy industry association. By contrast there are fourteen oil, gas, electric utility and mining companies and industry associations on the committee.46 These climate culprits are working hand in glove with the US Trade Representative to forge a new round of WTO negotiations focusing on energy deregulation. Just as the WTO's logging accord will increase deforestation rates, thus undermining, not only biological and cultural diversity, but also the role that the world's forests play in stabilizing the global climate, an energy agreement will likely have the effect of accelerating destructive global warming trends.
The WTO can also be used to stifle countries' efforts to comply with the Kyoto climate treaty. For instance, the US and the European Union are threatening to go after Japan's new fuel efficiency standards -- rules that are designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions -- as unfair barriers to trade.47 Government subsidies for energy efficiency, "green" government purchasing programs, and government labeling of goods whose production contributes to climate change are all at risk of being struck down by the WTO.48
NEW FRONTIERS, including ecologically fragile areas, are opened up to oil exploration by globalization. As free trade and investment accords tear down international economic barriers, transnational corporations are rushing into a number of new areas. The Greenhouse Gangsters are amassing cash to expand their reach to the developing countries of the South, to the remote rainforests, to the deep sea, to the forbidding Arctic, literally "to the ends of the earth."49
Oil exploration is monumentally expensive. Even with record low oil prices, in 1998 the industry spent $88 billion in exploration.50 Prices rebounded in 1999, and exploration budgets are likely to soar even higher. Even Shell and BP agree, on paper, that renewables are the wave of the future. Yet Big Oil's long-term strategy is still dictated by the urge to explore. Why?
Many oil executives seem to share the feeling that "without oil...civilization as we know it could not exist."51 Certainly their companies could not exist, at least not without a transformation. One traditional measure of success for these companies is how well they replace production with new discoveries. This brings pressure on the oil companies to look harder for more oil.
Yet there is good reason for the oil companies to resist this logic and allow discoveries to lag behind production. The reason is we have too much oil. This is true in the short term, as the glut of 1998 and OPEC's decision to curtail production in early 1999 showed. But it is also true in the long term. The scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate that in order to stabilize CO2 concentrations at current levels we would need to cut back on carbon emissions by some 60%.52 There is simply no way to do this without a massive cutback on fossil fuel consumption and development of alternate energy. The world's proven oil and gas reserves, if fully exploited, would far exceed the earth's capacity to absorb carbon emissions. In other words, it is impossible to safely burn even the fossil fuels we already have, let alone those still undiscovered.53 Yet the oil giants continue their expensive and destructive search for new oil and gas fields, even in some of the most remote places on the planet.
Corporate-led globalization is accelerating the pace of climate change.
This drive toward new oil exploration has come up against a movement for human and environmental rights. The oil industry has profound impacts not only on the global climate, but on local ecology and the struggle for democracy. Currently, new exploration and oil or gas pipelines continue to threaten the survival of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin, Southeast Asia, North America and other centers of Indigenous life. These people and their supporters have been actively resisting the encroachment of oil and gas exploitation on their land.
Such movements are attempting to combat the economic globalization fueling the Greenhouse Gangsters' expansion by building a process of "grassroots globalization," an informal network of Indigenous people, economic justice advocates, human rights defenders and environmental groups which coordinate efforts to curtail destructive oil development. Recognizing that new oil exploration threatens both the global climate and local ecology and culture, members of this network have called publicly for a moratorium on new oil exploration.54 As Nigerian human rights attorney and activist Oronto Douglas has put it, "a stoppage of oil in the frontiers and fragile environments" can serve as "a first step towards arresting climate change."55
In sum, globalization has fostered the consolidation of the oil industry in an ever smaller number of mega-corporations. It has allowed these oil giants to buy up former state-owned companies. While through NAFTA, the WTO and other accords, it has fostered a deregulation of trade and investment which is providing the oil industry with the opportunity to continue to expand its exploration and its markets. As a result, globalization increases the Greenhouse Gangsters' responsibility for climate change, both in the United States and around the world.
Part 2: The Corporate Response -- The Five "Ds"
"There is no an effective consensus among the world's leading scientists and serious and well-informed people outside the scientific community that there is a discernable human influence on the climate, and a link between the concentration of carbon dioxide and the increase in temperature...The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is conclusively proven...but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are a part. We in BP have reached that point."
--John Browne, CEO, British Petroleum56
The words of BP's John Browne sound reassuring, especially coming from one of the most influential executives in the oil industry today. Surely they are a step forward from the total denial that climate change is a problem, which has been issued by most oil executives until recently. But what do they mean in real terms? Has John Browne put his company's money where his mouth is? How about the other oil giants? Will they act soon enough, and vigorously enough, to play their part in preventing climate change?
To begin to answer these questions, we invite you to study the reaction of the climate culprits to the news of climate change, and compare it to the behavior of other industries faced with the conundrum of a product which provides profits but also damages health and the environment. That behavior, typically, can be summarized as: Deny, Delay, Divide, Dump, and Dupe -- the Five "D"s. These often overlapping tactics and strategies form the core of the corporate response to environmental issues and are all on prominent display in the global warming debate.
"There is no harm to human health or the environment." Sound familiar? This phrase is stock in trade for corporate spokespeople whenever there is a release, spill, or accident of any kind.
It is also the first reaction of manufacturers to scientific or anecdotal evidence that their products are causing long-term damage. For example, DuPont, which was the top manufacturer of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for most of the century, denied the connection between CFCs and ozone destruction for 14 years after that connection was first discovered.57 Only after evidence was so overwhelming that dissent evaporated did DuPont finally announce its own decision to phase-out CFCs.
In the case of leaded gasoline additive, too, the industry which made it fought tooth and nail against the phase-out despite evidence of childhood lead poisoning, denying that the additive was the cause. The asbestos industry has a similar history of denying the connection between asbestos products and cancer.58
Currently, the chlorine industry as a whole is still in the midst of denial that its products are at the root of many of the world's most toxic and persistent chemicals.59
Oil's response to global warming is classic: Deny, Delay, Divide, Dump and Dupe
Typically, these industries use a scientific sounding approach to bolster their denials of harm. Most infamous in this regard is the tobacco industry, which claimed that there was no proven connection between smoking and lung cancer despite the overwhelming evidence of such a connection.
A former speechwriter in the auto industry recalls the policy at General Motors: "If we were accused of contributing to air pollution, we would simply say nothing had been proved."60
Strictly speaking, that was true. But what does it really mean?
The "no proof of harm" defense is a misleading use of scientific sounding language. "No proof of harm" may sound to the unsuspecting ear like "there is no harm." But that is not what the scientist means. In the laboratory, to prove a hypothesis, the scientist must prove cause and effect, and must be able to replicate results. In the real world, it is difficult to create the conditions to prove, beyond a scientific doubt, that a certain chemical causes a certain ailment. "No proof of harm" is not the same as "no harm." The industry understands this, yet they use the scientific language of "no proof" to imply that there is no cause and effect.
Waiting for scientific proof is morally wrong, because by definition the proof of cause and effect comes after the damage is already done. The toy industry, in recent years, kept vinyl toys on the shelves saying there was no proof of connection between vinyl toys and harm to health of children. But parents understood that there was a strong possibility of a problem. The companies agreed to phase out dangerous vinyl additives even though advocates could not name a single child who had been affected by the chemicals.61
This principle of avoiding harm even when there is no absolute
scientific certainty is the precautionary approach. The precautionary approach is endorsed by many international agreements, including the Rio Declaration, and even, in theory, by Shell and BP.
Denial by the Greenhouse Gangsters
The theory of climate change due to human activities became well-known in 1988, when a scorching summer and other events brought environmental issues to the fore. It was also the year of the first major international conference on climate change. The meeting helped create the IPCC, a large group of the world's best climate scientists. At this conference, industrialized countries' governments pledged to voluntarily cut CO2 emissions by 20% by the year 2005.
By the time of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the Climate Convention was one of the most important international treaties on the table. The reaction of the oil companies was predictable. Climate change was not proven, the science was not scientific, there was no cause for alarm, etc. In short, full denial of the problem.
An industry lobby group, the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), was formed to spread the notion that global warming is a dangerous myth. Until recently, the GCC was the main voice of the oil industry at climate negotiations and in key capital cities. Although other industry associations have formed with more sophisticated positions, the GCC continues to rely on the old habit of inappropriately emphasizing the lack of proof.62
This trick is still used by Mobil and others, who stress the lack of certainty as a reason to delay actions.63
Currently, outright denial by the Greenhouse Gangsters has weakened a bit. For example, Shell and BP have left the GCC. They agree that actions should be taken even when there is scientific uncertainty. However these words have not translated into significant actions to protect the climate. The US majors, Exxon, Mobil, Chevron and Texaco are all still in the "deny" mode, stressing the uncertainty of the scientific studies as a reason to delay action, while admitting there is "concern."64
Exxon turns the precautionary principle on its head, comparing the supposed uncertainty of the science of climate change to the alleged certainty of "serious adverse consequences for economic development and growth around the world" if fossil fuel use is curtailed.65 This rhetorical trick still sounds like precaution, but actually is an old-fashioned cost-benefit assertion. For Exxon, the economic disruptions of climate protection are more costly than the benefits of climate protection.
In the case of lead fuel additive, asbestos and CFCs, eventually the evidence became so overpowering, and society so overwhelmingly in favor of phase-out, that the industry was forced to abandon their denials, or the denials were simply ignored. Once denial has been abandoned, the industry puts more of its effort into delay.
The delay strategy relies a great deal on the value to society of the product in question. Issues of jobs, convenience, and consumer prices are brought in to show that there will be a downside to the phase-out. In this way the public is divided -- workers against environmentalists, people adversely affected versus those who gain convenience, rich versus poor -- and momentum for phase-out is temporarily slowed. All of these products are useful to at least one constituency, and their replacements are generally less proven. Users and consumers are scared into thinking that their refrigerators or cars will not work, and begin to support a gradual sunsetting of a product rather than an immediate ban.
The latest possible phase-out date is sought, so that the maximum use can be made of equipment and technology which already represents investment for the firms. Meanwhile, the firms work feverishly to control the market in the successor products. DuPont did this brilliantly, having already established a dominant market share for CFC replacements like HCFC 31, even as they were wringing the last profits out of CFCs. DuPont flourished during the phase-out of CFCs by delaying it long enough to plan its own dominance of replacement chemicals.
Delay by the Greenhouse Gangsters
Delay is also an important tactic for the Greenhouse Gangsters. Mobil laid its cards on the table in a series of ads just before and after the Kyoto meeting in December 1997. On the op-ed page of The New York Times, Mobil emphasizes the "high degree of uncertainty" over the impact of human carbon emissions. It says we "don't know enough about global warming;" it scares us with predictions of job loss and "difficult choices" for Americans, such as "How much prosperity are Americans willing to forgo?" and "How much more tax will they have to pay?" It warns that the Protocol could put "the U.S. at a disadvantage." And it claims that actions to prevent climate change "could wreak havoc on nations." This is the set up. Mobil then advises us not to take any "quick-fix" measures, and to "Stop, look and listen before we leap." In other words, delay.66
To implement the delay, the entire strategic arsenal is on display. Contributions to right wing legislators; alliances with other industries such as the auto industry and with some labor unions such as the United Mine Workers of America; lobbying for US rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, even after weakening it by calling for late action; the formation of the Global Climate Coalition and other lobby groups which are very active at the climate negotiations -- these are all aimed at delaying changes.
Delay is self-perpetuating. Mobil notes that the 7% carbon cuts between 2008 and 2012 which the US would require under the Kyoto Protocol really represent 41% cuts, because the 7% are below 1990 levels. It uses the 41% figure to frighten the public into thinking that affluence and modern convenience are at stake. Mobil does not mention that its own denials and delays are part of the reason that carbon emissions are still growing in the US Its own policies are part of the reason that the relatively modest 7% goal will be more difficult to reach.67
Here it is also interesting to note the role of BP and Shell, the two Greenhouse Gangsters that have admitted that climate change is a serious problem. These companies have stated that precautionary action is appropriate to the situation; that is, carbon emissions should be reduced even though they believe there is no scientific certainty that human activities are causing harmful climate change. They have received positive attention for these statements, and for a stated commitment to investment in solar energy.
Shell and BP, as European-based companies, were quicker to understand the meaning of a precautionary approach, and quicker to include it in their rhetoric. In their home countries, where climate change has become a big issue, the political climate encourages such political positioning. But these companies' relatively minor efforts to promote alternative energy may, more than anything else, help alleviate the growing political pressure on them, serving to delay real measures to address global warming.What's more, Shell and BP are content to allow the American Petroleum Institute do their dirty work for them. API continues its role in denying the problem of climate change and delaying solutions.68 In doing so, API represents both BP Amoco and Shell Oil. The positions of the more reactionary companies like Exxon, and of industry associations like API, allow Shell and BP to sound progressive and environmentalist without having to make substantial changes to their business plans. Or, as The Wall Street Journal puts it, "oil companies play on both sides of the global warming debate."69
Pollution Trading -- Another Way to Delay
To prevent climate change, reducing fossil fuel use is the crux of the matter. Yet the US government and industry have gone to great lengths to come up with schemes to avoid or delay doing just that while still getting credit for carbon reductions. These schemes are based on the principle of emissions trading.
In its broadest sense, trading takes several forms, which are known as Flexible Mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol. These include Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Joint Implementation allows the industrialized countries to buy the credit for another country's reductions rather than having to reduce emissions at the source. The CDM allows the industrialized countries to avoid domestic reductions in exchange for participating in developing country projects which would produce lower emissions than otherwise would have been emitted. For example, the US could buy "credit" for carbon absorbed by carbon "sinks," like forests, in the South, or for global warming gas reductions in the former Soviet Union, where economic downturn is causing reductions anyway.
Experience with emissions trading in air pollution has shown that
pollution trading can create phantom reductions, reward the worst historical polluters, promote fraud, and undermine technology innovation. Emissions trading schemes do not address the local polluting effects of carbon emitting facilities like refineries, and therefore can exacerbate environmental racism both within the US and across borders. And the trading system puts southern countries at a disadvantage when they begin making carbon cuts, since the easiest cuts will have already been purchased and credited to northern countries.70
Even some climate science skeptics such as Jack Kemp realize that emissions trading is "a cynical bargain between big business and the Federal Government" which will "divide the business community between winners...and losers, who will face the full brunt of any emissions controls."71
The Greenhouse Gangsters are by no means the only proponents of emissions trading as a solution to climate change. It is supported by some environment groups such as Environmental Defense Fund and Union of Concerned Scientists. But to an extent, this support reflects the realpolitik of climate change. It presupposes that we cannot force the fossil fuel industry to change if we cannot make it profitable to do so, and this assumption is based on the knowledge of the industry's tremendous power. Questions of justice and fairness become secondary in the realpolitik calculation. Trading schemes, as one columnist puts it, provide a "pretense of action to the public while giving winking assurance to industry that the status quo is not disturbed."72
The embrace of emissions trading as a solution reflects the desperate lengths to which the US government feels it must go to avoid and delay making actual reductions in our dependence on fossil fuels and our emissions of carbon. The emissions trading system allows the least challenge to the power of the Greenhouse Gangsters and their allies, while undermining the creation of real solutions to climate change.
In fighting environmental regulation, corporations do not merely advocate delay, but bring out the entire arsenal of tactics to effect the delay. Among the most important of these tactics is to DIVIDE the opposition. Perhaps the most important division exploited by business in the last 30 years has been between the environment and labor movements. From the infamous spotted owl versus lumberjacks debate in the Pacific Northwest to the closing of chemical plants, jobs versus environment is the traditional wedge for business.
Some environment and labor advocates believe this wedge is becoming even more powerful, due to rising job insecurity.73
Greenhouse Gloom and Doom
In the case of global warming, the threat of job loss and other economic forecasts of doom have been an effective way to divide critics of the fossil fuel industry. In the US, the economic doom forecast by the industry should the Kyoto Protocol move forward has successfully divided environmentalists from at least a portion of the labor community, despite that fact that workers have not fared well at the hands of the fossil fuel industry, and despite efforts by the AFL-CIO to keep open a dialogue between the labor and environmental movements.74
Job loss in the US has been the most effective scare tactic industry has used in opposing climate protection in general and the Kyoto treaty in particular. Let's look at those claims.
According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry employs nearly 1.5 million people in the US75 API, whose members include all the major oil companies, has actively raised the specter of job loss due to the Kyoto Protocol.76
In 1997, a study by the Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates forecast wildly gloomy consequences if the US were to sign the Kyoto Treaty. These included the loss of 2.4 million jobs, $300 billion in GDP, and an average loss of $2,700 per household.77 The study was cited by the American Petroleum Institute, Mobil and other companies as evidence of the hardships combating climate change will bring.
Big oil's rush to profits comes at the expense of jobs, community health and the environment --their tactic is to play these groups against one another. Credit: Sam Kittner/Greenpeace.
The Economic Policy Institute examined the study and found the authors had included portions of the Kyoto Protocol which were not agreed to and made other unduly pessimistic assumptions.78 The National Environmental Trust discovered connections between Wharton and the GCC, API, Shell and Texaco. API funded the study.79
API also co-sponsored a study by Ronald Sutherland, which concludes that the Kyoto Protocol would cost Americans thousands of jobs -- 23,000 in the aluminum industry alone, 5,800 in the cement industry, 7,500 to 75,000 in the chemical industry, and thousands more in steel, paper and petroleum refining. The study says that the jobs would migrate overseas, to countries with less stringent commitments under Kyoto.80
Again, a gloom and doom scenario. The tone of these studies and ads implies that the industry is just fine as it is, and the Kyoto Protocol is the main threat to its health. In reality, the fossil fuel industry is already shedding jobs, without influence from the Kyoto Protocol.
In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that from 1990 -1996, oil and gas extraction lost 76,000 jobs net. According to the Bureau, between Oct. 1997 and March 1999, 52,000 jobs -- some 15% of the workforce -- were lost in oil and gas production alone, and many will not be replaced. Exxon chief Lee Raymond says 450,000 oil jobs were lost between 1981 and 1996, though he blames US environmental regulations for the loss.81 Many of the job losses are among the small producers, who are hardest hit by low prices.82
But giant oil companies are cutting jobs as well
The Oil and Gas Journal believes that most of the 51,500 oil jobs lost from December 1997 to February 1999 were layoffs at large companies.83 BP Amoco's purchase of Arco will lead to approximately 2,000 jobs lost, mostly in California.84 Two months before the announcement of the ARCO acquisition, BP Amoco had already laid off 400 Alaska workers.85 In January the company announced a loss of 900 jobs in Britain and in February 1,500 Chicago area jobs.86 The Exxon Mobil merger will involve at least 9,000 jobs lost.87 And Exxon has already been cutting jobs at the rate of 4% annually for over a decade.88
Neither climate change nor the Kyoto Protocol are a current cause of job loss in the fossil fuel industry. Rather, management's own plans for mergers and other restructuring to maximize competitiveness and profit, are the main forces behind job loss in the industry.
The predicted future losses are also misleading. The API studies and related advertising campaigns assume that the Kyoto Protocol will be signed without policies to mitigate the job loss. That is a preposterous assumption, and there are many policies available.
The Sutherland study asserted that jobs in the steel, paper, cement and refining industries would migrate to developing countries with less stringent Kyoto commitments. It is true, though reprehensible, that some of the dirtiest industries have migrated to developing countries when health and safety regulations make it more difficult or more expensive to operate in the US
Fossil fuel corporations are misleading the American public by playing off their fears and blaming the "Third World."
But ironically, it is these industries, including the members of API, which support the ability of US companies to freely move wherever on earth they wish. Instead of arguing for some control on the export of polluting and hazardous industries to the South, they now argue that we can't afford regulations because indust