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    Jekyll And Hyde: Climate Change Denial And Preparedness In Corporate America
    By Holly Moeller | May 17th 2012 12:30 AM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Holly

    I'm a graduate student in Ecology and Evolution at Stanford University, where I study ecosystem metabolics and function. In particular, I'm interested...

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    End-of-year academic stress getting you down? Here’s a spirit-lifting tip: Open your browser and Google “Heartland billboard.”

    You’ll quickly find The Heartland Institute’s latest propaganda piece: a mugshot of Ted Kaczynski next to the words, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” Heartland’s not-so-subtle subtext: If you think the climate is changing, you’re no better than terrorists like the Unabomber.

    The billboard, which appeared alongside a Chicago highway, was the first in a series that, Heartland said, would have included other standout characters like Osama bin Laden and Charles Manson.

    But the message was so outrageous (almost humorously so – see Grist.org for some telling spoofs) that the backlash – which included public withdrawals of funder support – convinced Heartland to cancel the ad within hours.

    The incident is the latest in a series of ethical quandaries that have cropped up since the think tank switched on its climate change denial machinery. The Heartland Institute bills itself as a pro-business non-profit with a $6 million annual budget for education, lobbying, advertising, and regular installments of its “International Conference on Climate Change,” which features climate skeptics from around the world. Recent leaked internal documents describe (mis)education plans and public opinion campaigns designed to perpetuate the embarrassingly pervasive American disbelief in human-driven climate change, despite overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary.

    Heartland is just one part of the pervasive climate change denial machine, which spans think tanks, interest groups, and political parties. Its financers represent an even broader spectrum, from private donors to corporations built on fossil fuel usage. But it’s getting harder and harder to figure out who’s paying for which messages because, as evidence for climate change mounts, Americans are getting more suspicious. For example, in 2005, Heartland stopped naming its funding sources, pulling another shroud between its messages to the American public, and those who fund them.

    Given Heartland’s position on climate change, it’s not surprising to note that, since 1998, the think tank has received more than half a million dollars from ExxonMobil – a multinational energy company that would do particularly well by convincing us not to worry about our carbon footprints.

    Though in 2006, rocked by public relations scandals surrounding its support of climate change denialism, ExxonMobil reportedly cut ties with Heartland, it’s still a key member of the American Petroleum Institute. The API is the political voice of the oil and natural gas industry in the United States. Backed by 400 member corporations – including ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell – it spends $3 million lobbying in Washington each year, and more on ad campaigns convincing Americans of the critical importance of fossil fuels.

    The bottom line is simple: If you sell oil, coal, or gas, acknowledging climate change is bad for business.

    But what all these companies also understand, very clearly, is that climate change is happening, and that it can, in itself, be bad for business. For example, melting permafrost threatens the stability of the Alaskan oil pipeline. And intensified hurricanes increase damage to Gulf of Mexico drilling rigs.

    And then there’s the elephant in the room: fossil fuel supplies are finite, and we’re already on the downhill side of production. Major oil and gas companies are adding alternative energies to their portfolios, hoping to ensure their survival in the post-fossil fuel world.

    Perhaps that’s why in 2002, long before it froze out Heartland, ExxonMobil committed $100 million in research funds to Stanford’s own Global Climate and Energy Project. The company also invests in energy conservation research at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and other research universities. 

    Exxon is not alone. Consider BP, now self-styled “Beyond Petroleum.” Or flip through the API’s seven-page list of the ways its member corporations are addressing climate change. Many of these efforts have been in the research pipeline for a decade or more, occurring behind the scenes at companies whose public relations machinery busy denying climate change.

    This year, investors at ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips have filed multiple shareholder resolutions asking for management transparency. They want to know what plans are being made for climate change, whether greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced, and if hydraulic fracturing is really still on the table. They want to know how their stock portfolios will sustain growth in an unsustainable market space. 

    These focused demands, and gradual opinion change of the American public, have forced many energy corporations to green their image, highlighting renewables research and hiding ties to the Heartlands of the world.

    It’s our job as consumers – of oil, and of advertising – to see those ties anyway. Because as long as environmental concerns threaten the profits of these big corporations, a very powerful Mr. Hyde will be working in Dr. Jekyll’s shadows.

    Front page image: Shutterstock.com
































    Comments

    just stumbled on this article. What exactly is climate change anyway? If this was so bad, wouldn't they have covered this in the news or something by now? Please explain what you are talking about. thanks

    Great post--it's unfortunate that the business community continues to have such a two-faced approach to climate change. They know it's real and are factoring it into their business plans, but some corporations have continued to fund deniers. That needs to change.

    If the folks that campaign about climate change would start coming out with something other than buying carbon credits, I might get behind them. But they don't, at least not the ones you constantly hear.

    How about unplugging your remote controlled TV from the wall? Simple idea, that remote wakes the TV, but the TV is always listen for the wakeup call.

    How about the IWhatever you have, gotta charge that battery somewhere, eh?

    Keep to the facts. If you want to talk about the Heartland stuff be honest.
    -The planning document from heartland was a fake, even the source admitted it didnt come from heartland, so stop quoting it, it damages your credibility.
    - Second, if you actually looked ta the documents, as opposed to reading grist, you would know that the 6 million budget was spread over dozens of areas of interest, not just AGW. So stop pretending this anti-AGW campaign is well funded.
    -Third, oil companies don't see this as a huge threat. They know that we still need the fuels (ethanol, solar and wind depend on cheap fossil fuels) and that if you raise CO2 taxes, you and I will pay them in the end, not the companies.
    - Fourth. Don't pretend that the alarmists don't use the same tactics as the billboards. 10:10 exploding anyone not interested in AGW - Trying to tie the Norway killer to all skeptics - trying to equate flying on a plane to drowning kids in bangladesh....etc.

    Plus you like to forget about the huge money in green circles. WWF has 3/4 billion to play with. Greenpeace has 250 million. Sierra about 100 million. NRDC about 100 million. This is per/year. That is a huge vested interest in its own right. Point out industries vested interested, but don't be so blind to the vested interests on the other side. Neither can be trusted.

    "Recent leaked internal documents" -- this gives the misleading impression that documents deceptively obtained by Peter Gleick came from someone on the inside. No, they did not. Gleick impersonated someone else to obtain the documents. And the most "damning" of the documents has been shown to be a forgery, probably done by Gleick himself.

    "since 1998, the think tank has received more than half a billion dollars from ExxonMobil" -- more than 500 million dollars from Exxon alone? I'd like to see some documentation for this astounding figure.

    "fossil fuel supplies are finite, and we’re already on the downhill side of production" -- Really? Evidence, please. Or did you mean something other than production is declining?

    "intensified hurricanes" -- Please supply proof that (1) hurricanes are becoming more intense, (2) such intensification is due to human influence.

    "embarrassingly pervasive American disbelief in human-driven climate change, despite overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary" -- are Americans more skeptical than others of "human-driven climate change"? I don't know that they are. But if so, good on them! And what "overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary" do you refer to -- outside of pigs feeding at the trough? Surveys have shown that people with post-secondary education are more, not less, skeptical of claims for catastrophic man-made climate change and of proposals for a wholesale revamp of the world's economy.

    Hank
    "Recent leaked internal documents" -- this gives the misleading impression that documents deceptively obtained by Peter Gleick came from someone on the inside. No, they did not. Gleick impersonated someone else to obtain the documents. And the most "damning" of the documents has been shown to be a forgery, probably done by Gleick himself.
    Well, sure. It's only "illegally obtained" when it is done to the CRU at East Anglia.  Or Wikileaks.  

    That said, Americans are inherently more skeptical than Europeans - those people think a genetically modified potato will change their immune system.  The people who liked having elites in Europe picking winners and losers stayed there and the disenfranchised, politically, economically and religiously, came here.  Missouri is the 'Show Me' state but 40 out of 50 are a lot like that.  It does take more convincing but it clearly can work when people know the data is there, like with acid rain and CFCs and even general pollution.
    hollyvm
    I'm hesitant to take Heartland at their word, and at any rate, there have been other instances of "leaked" documents (e.g., http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/may/08/conservative-thinktanks-obama-energy-plans) -- all of which anyone could, of course, call a forgery, but as suspicious Americans, I think we should be suspicious of these think tanks as well.

    The information on Exxon's donations should read "half a million," as per _http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Heartland_Institute, so thank you for your correction.

    Re: "intensified hurricanes", I refer to the IPCC Extreme Weather report, which deals with our level of certainty about the likelihood that various things (including hurricanes) will intensify as a function of a warming atmosphere. See: http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/
    To the author: thank you for taking the time to respond to questions. Okay, so, billion was a typo, happens to the best of us.

    I am confused as to your response regarding the faked Heartland Institute document. Are you saying it was not a forgery? (The other documents were apparently genuine.) In any case Gleick's career and reputation are in tatters. I hope you are not aspiring to follow in his footsteps.

    Thank you for the link to the IPCC page. My internet connection is too rickety to download the 594-page PDF full report, so perhaps you could quote the relevant passages here? On the Nat'l Oceanic and Atmmospheric Administration website, I found this November 2005 article which concludes: "claims of linkages between global warming and hurricane impacts are premature." http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pdf/05pielke.pdf

    Also on the NOAA website, there is http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pdf/nws-nhc-6.pdf , titled "THE DEADLIEST, COSTLIEST, AND MOST INTENSE UNITED STATES TROPICAL CYCLONES FROM 1851 TO 2010 (AND OTHER FREQUENTLY REQUESTED HURRICANE FACTS)", from August 2011. This document notes that "no major hurricanes hit the United States during the past 5 years" (p. 6). In terms of intensity, Hurricane Katrina (2005) ranks third. The no. 1 and 2 hurricanes in terms of intensity were in 1935 and 1969. Although "mean global temperature" went up for most of the 20th century, there appears to have been no corresponding increase in hurricane activity, either in number or intensity, if I read the text right.

    I take it that you are no longer insisting that we are "already on the downhill side of fossil fuel production"?

    Again, thank you for taking the time to respond.

    JohnK.
    How does this get attention?  There will always be those that do foolish things in a heated and long-term discussion.  Encouraging silliness only degrades the discussion and if there is one topic that needs a better discussion it is global warming.  For contrast...  read this.

    http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2012/05/is_the_holocaust_denialclimate.php?utm_source=mostactive&utm_medium=link

    Comparing a scientific disagreement to holocaust denial makes the Heartland look tame.  Discuss the science and not the bad behavior of either side.