Exxon's Greenwash

ExxonMobil recently launched a new ad campaign that is a significant flip-flop from their years of denial that climate change is not a problem. Perhaps this as good time as any to review some of Exxon's past conduct around climate change.

ExxonMobil has provided $23 million to the "climate denial industry" since 1998. They were implicated by the Union of Concerned scientists of funding a Big Tobacco-style PR campaign to misinform the public on climate science.

Exxon's conduct was so appalling that in 2006, the Royal Society in the UK asked in writing that the energy giant stop funding climate change deniers.

Greenpeace released a leaked email in 2003 alleging that the Exxon-supported Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) was colluding with White House to discredit the EPA's efforts to deal with climate change.

Specifically, this email indicated that someone in the White House had contacted the CEI to ask for "help". Myron Ebell of the CEI suggested in this memo that they might sue the EPA and call for the resignation of then EPA Chief Christie Whitman. The CEI has received over $2 million in funding from ExxonMobil since 1998.

In 2007, the Exxon-funded Amercian Enterprise Institute (AEI) offered scientists and economists $10,000 each to undermine the findings of the latest IPCC report. AEI asked for "articles that emphasize the shortcomings" of the IPCC report, which "is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science."

Leading sciensts were not amused. "It's a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims," said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Former head of Exxon Mobil Lee Raymond remains vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The energy giant finally stopped shoveling money to a number of the most odious climate change deniers and think tanks in 2007.

Of course Exxon can afford to spread a little money around. In the first three months of this year, they raked in a staggering $10.89 billion in profit. This is second highest quarterly profit in US corporate history – second only to the $11.66 billion Exxon earned in the previous quarter.

As for their record on renewables, Exxon shamefully lags far behind other energy companies. Shell Oil has invested over $1 billion in renewable energy technologies since 2000. BP, is now known as "beyond petroleum", and has invested over $1.5 billion in renewable energy, and is slated to spend another $8 billion over the next decade.

And Exxon? They have chosen to invest less that 4% of that amount - $300 million over the next ten years researching potential energy sources – many not related to renewables. Compare that to the $47 billion they spent between 2003 and 2006 developing dirty fuels such as oil and gas.

As for their new ad campaign, we at Desmog Blog can only look on with amusement as the company that has consistently apposed progress or even discussion about climate change, attempts to slip into a new public persona with all the dignity of an elephant trying to slip into a bikini.

This was published on Desmog Blog on June 13, 2008


Burn, Baby Burn

Feel like you’re doing your part for climate change? Changed your light bulbs? Riding your bike? Like many British Columbians, you are probably pitching in to try to reduce our collective carbon footprint.

Now if we could only get the natural-gas industry to stop dumping 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year due to gas flaring, we might be getting somewhere.

It is a little-known fact that the B.C. sector of this industry “flares”, or needlessly burns off, about 960 million cubic metres of natural gas every year. That remarkable waste of finite and relatively clean fuel is enough to heat more than 300,000 Canadian homes annually.

According to Steve Simons, corporate-affairs director of B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission, B.C. flares about 2.9 percent of annual production, which in 2007 was about 33.1 billion cubic metres of gas.

That means the B.C. gas industry flares almost one billion cubic metres of gas annually, producing about 1.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is approximately 2.8 percent of the total carbon emissions for the entire province.

Although British Columbia did manage to reduce flaring by 11 percent between 1996 and 2006, across its eastern border the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board managed to reduce gas flaring by 72 percent between 1996 and 2004.

So why do companies burn off the very resource they are drilling for? According to Lee Shanks, spokesperson for the Oil and Gas Commission, companies flare gas mainly to release pressure in their systems. “It’s sort of like a tea kettle; it’s to let the pressure off.” Gas is also flared during well testing and maintenance.

Shanks pointed out that the commission has just released new guidelines aiming to reduce gas flaring by 50 percent by 2011. The B.C. government also committed in the 2007 throne speech to eliminating gas flaring by 2016. However, the fact that Victoria made that commitment indicates that this type of waste is entirely avoidable.

Worldwide, this wasteful practice remains a huge problem. According to the World Bank, about 100 billion cubic metres of natural gas are burned off or vented every year—the equivalent of all the annual gas consumption in England, France, and Germany combined. It is also an enormous waste of money. Gas flaring squanders about $31 billion in natural gas annually.

Here in B.C., wasted gas was worth almost $300 million in 2007. The B.C. government would also have collected more than $49 million in additional gas royalties had that
public resource not been squandered or if royalties were charged on gas flaring. Even under the new guidelines to reduce flaring, royalties are not charged for wasted gas.

We should also not forget the human-health impacts of burning off unwanted and often unrefined gas in the atmosphere. Incomplete combustion from flaring can release many known carcinogens, such as benzene, toluene, xylene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a September 2007 report on this issue called Foot Off the Gas: Regulating B.C.’s Oil and Gas Industry As If the Environment Mattered.

According to its author (and occasional Straight contributor), Ben Parfitt, flaring is symptomatic of a wasteful industry mindset fostered by a long history of government subsidies to encourage growth. B.C. gas production has increased by more than 40 percent during the past 10 years, a pace he feels cannot be maintained.

“We need to be very focused on the fact that the resource being exploited is finite, that it might only have a shelf life of only 17 years or so if we see a doubling of gas production,” Parfitt said in an interview. “Therefore we need to be doing everything we can to ensure that we get fair dollar value for the gas being pulled from the ground and that we don’t waste it.”

Parfitt and the CCPA feel that immediately charging industry a royalty on every unit of gas that is flared would be a step in the right direction. “That would send a message right away to industry that they need to find a way to end those practices,” Parfitt said.

Ending subsidies to this already lucrative industry would be another positive move. Every year, the B.C. taxpayers shovel about $260 million to the oil-and-gas sector. Much of this largess is to encourage questionable practices, such as developing marginal deposits or drilling muskeg-damaging wells in the summer when the ground is not frozen.

Is Victoria moving to reduce these subsidies? No. In fact, in the most recent budget, they are slated to increase by 24 percent in 2008-09, to $327 million.

Although the government should be commended for significant changes, such as introducing a carbon tax, their continued coddling of the natural-gas sector only undermines efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. We should note that the carbon tax is a retail tax that only applies to you and me. Flared gas is not taxed for carbon emissions. Neither is the entire industry.

To put this issue in perspective, lets have a closer look at the total carbon emissions resulting from gas flaring in BC. 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 is quite a bit. What would the rest of us have to do to pick up the slack for the BC gas sector needlessly wasting all that gas? I did that math for you. The options are endless.

- We would have to replace approximately forty million conventional light bulbs with compact fluorescents.

- 1.2 million people would have to quit eating meat and become vegans.

= 440,000 people would have to give up their cars.

= 20 million additional people could take up recycling.

- 8 million households could wash their clothes only in cold water.

- 13 million households would have to switch to low flow showerheads.

Rather than go to all that trouble, maybe it would be simpler to bring in meaningful regulation to force gas companies to stop squandering a public resource, and using the atmosphere as a free dumping ground for CO2.

This piece was pubished in the Georgia Straight on June 5, 2008


Scientists Warn, Politicians Scorn

The world’s leading scientists this week issued yet another statement urging immediate action on climate change. The latest call to action was authored by the Science Academies of all the G8 nations, as well as China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa.

While all this has been said before, the world’s political leaders appear to have a hearing problem. Last week, US Senate killed the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act after Republican members forced the clerks to read the entire 492-page bill.

This ate up nine hours set aside for debate and led to an inevitable and ignoble defeat of the best effort yet by the US government to get serious about climate change. To add insult to injury, the Republicans’ claimed they were only protesting Democratic foot-dragging around Bush’s court nominations.

On the Canadian side of the border, Parliament passed a remarkable bill last week committing Canada to reducing greenhouse gases by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. This is what scientists are saying is required to deal meaningfully with this crisis. The only problem? The bill is meaningless because the ruling conservative party can ignore it since they not required to spend money on such “private members bills”.

The gulf between truth and action is closing – slowly. With a new president in the Whitehouse, hopefully some meaningful progress can be made to deal with climate change. The Conservative government in Canada is also badly out of step with public opinion on global warming. Last week, the two biggest provinces in Canada grew so fed up with perpetual inaction from Ottawa, they signed their own cap and trade deal.

Change is coming, but it seems to happening from the bottom up. Some day, national politicians may actually listen when the world’s leading scientists tell them it is reckless not to act. In the meantime, the fight continues.


Whitehouse Slammed in New York Times Editorial

The Bush administration’s to manipulate climate science took another hit this week. The New York Times ran a editorial highlighting the damning report just issued by The Inspector General of NASA showing that political appointees from the Whitehouse were apparently massaging the messaging around climate science.

Specifically, the Inspector General found “NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public…”

The New York Times was not amused and ran a scathing editorial titled The Science of Denial:

“The Bush administration has worked overtime to manipulate or conceal scientific evidence — and muzzled at least one prominent scientist — to justify its failure to address climate change.”

In the waning days of Bush Administration, the mainstream press is becoming increasing critical of Whitehouse’s ham-handed manipulation of climate science, including efforts to silence scientists speaking the truth about climate change.

The Times said of the Whitehouse’s propaganda efforts:

“Its motives were transparent: the less people understood about the causes and consequences of global warming, the less they were likely to demand action from their leaders. And its strategy has been far too successful.”

The Bush Administration has also missed mandatory reporting requirements around the progress and implications of climate change. According to the editorial:

“A 1990 law requires the president to give Congress every four years its best assessment of the likely effects of climate change. The last such assessment was undertaken by President Clinton and published in 2000. Mr. Bush not only missed the 2004 deadline but allowed the entire information-gathering process to wither. Only a court order handed down last August in response to a lawsuit by public interest groups forced him to deliver this month.”

The legacy of the Bush Whitehouse is being etched in editorial ink all across the nation. The Times summed it up nicely:

"This administration long ago secured a special place in history for bending science to its political ends. One costly result is that this nation has lost seven years in a struggle in which time is not on anyone’s side."


NASA Slammed for Fudging Climate Science

A scathing report from NASA this week slammed their own PR department for systematically misleading the public on climate science.

The Inspector General of NASA penned the investigation in response to a complaint by fourteen US Senators, alleging that NASA was colluding with the White House to downplay the known dangers of climate change. Specifically, the Senators wanted NASA “to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the suppression of science and censorship of scientists at [NASA].”

The Inspector General confirmed major and systemic problems with how NASA was portraying climate science to the public: “NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public…”

The heavy hand of the Bush Administration was plainly evident in the findings of this report:

“The supporting evidence detailed in this report reveals that climate change scientists and the majority of career Public Affairs Officers strongly believe that the alleged actions taken by senior NASA Headquarters Public Affairs officials intended to systemically portray NASA in a light most favorable to Administration policies at the expense of reporting unfiltered research results.”

In other words, the free and open flow of scientific information, on the most pressing issue facing the planet, was apparently downplayed in an effort to suck up to the White House.

The report also turned their attention to the infamous gagging of Dr. Jim Hansen by NASA brass in December 2005:

“Our investigation confirmed that, contrary to its established procedures, the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs declined to make one of NASA’s scientists, Dr. James E. Hansen, available for a radio interview with National Public Radio in December 2005. Our investigative efforts revealed that NASA’s decision was based, in part, on concern that Dr. Hansen would not limit his responses to scientific information but would instead entertain a discussion on policy issues.”

NASA PR flacks maintained that there was nothing untoward in this decision, made by a political appointee in the public relations department. The report however concluded: “The evidence, however, reflects that this appointee acted in accord with the overall management of climate change information at that time within the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs.”

The investigation further found that such political appointees to the NASA public relations department were seemingly at the root of many of the problems:

“Relations between NASA’s climate change science community and the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs had somehow deteriorated into acrimony, non-transparency, and fear that science was being politicized—attributes that are wholly inconsistent with effective and efficient Government. The investigation also uncovered that one of the underlying contributing factors of these problems may have, in fact, been in the very structure of the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs, where political appointees were placed in the seemingly contradictory position of ensuring the “widest practicable” dissemination of NASA research results that were arguably inconsistent with the Administration’s policies, such as the “Vision for Space Exploration.”

It seems that Bush’s (bird)brainchild of sending a human to Mars is still casting a long shadow on the science program of NASA. Perhaps this boondoggle was contrived as a distraction and resource drain on the NASA Earth Sciences program? The oil lobby might not want NASA uncovering inconvenient truths about the progress or causes of climate change…

All of this seems consistent with what some NASA scientists have been saying for years. Last year, Jim Hansen delivered a damning critique of such White House interference in testimony to Congress:

"Interference with communication of science to the public has been greater during the current administration than at any time in my career. In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now.”

These revelations about political meddling in the important business of climate science are shocking, but not a big surprise. One only wonders what else will fall from the tree in the waning days of the Bush administration. Perhaps we might learn more about the reasons of why the $100 million Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) was strangely canceled, after completion but before it was launched. Stay tuned…


Family Feud at Exxon

The descendants of John Rockefeller are trying to steer their great grandfather’s company away from the dinosaur mentality that has tarred the image of world’s largest corporation.

This week, a number of the Rockefeller clan will be supporting shareholder resolutions aimed at forcing Exxon Mobil take the issue of climate change much more seriously, study it’s effects on the developing world and explore alternative fuel sources.

Exxon Mobil needs to reconnect with the forward-looking and entrepreneurial vision of my great-grandfather,” Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, a Tufts University economist, said in a statement to reporters.

The truth is that Exxon Mobil is profiting in the short term from investments and decisions made many years ago, and by focusing on a narrow path that ignores the rapidly shifting energy landscape around the world,” she added.

Exxon Mobil is seen by many as having the worst corporate record in dealing constructively with climate change. They have been dubbed by Greenpeace the “the world’s number one climate criminal ” stating that they have “done more than any other company to stop the world from tackling climate change”.

They were also implicated by the Union of Concerned scientists of funding a Big Tobacco-style PR campaign to misinform the public on climate science.

Given that the family of J. D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, now Exxon Mobil are seeking to shove this company into the 21st century, who is left to oppose progress at the world’s biggest company?

Things must be getting pretty lonely for the few holdouts still maintaining that the company policies are defendable in the court of public opinion.

One wonders what J. D. Rockefeller would have thought of this whole thing. On one hand, he was well known as a ruthless businessman who once saidDo you know the only thing that gives me pleasure? It's to see my dividends coming in.

On the other hand he is also credited with stating : “I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man who devotes all the hours of the waking day to the making of money for money's sake.

Perhaps the senior executives opposing these important resolutions should reflect on the words of J.D. Sometimes, it is only your family that can tell you when you are really screwing up.