How oil companies downplayed climate change

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Fishnut
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How oil companies downplayed climate change

Post by Fishnut » Thu Nov 18, 2021 11:16 pm

Merchants of Doubt is a book that reads like a conspiracy theorist's wet dream, except that this conspiracy theory has receipts. Hundreds of pages of documents from tobacco and oil companies discussing how to cover up the harmful effects of their products. And they were hugely successful.

Now one of the authors, Naomi Oreskes, has co-authored a piece in the Guardian about how oil companies used advertising to obscure, downplay and distract people from their central role in climate change. It features a selection adverts, starting in 1962 when Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil) actually boasted about their glacier-melting abilities!

They routinely ran advertorials in publications such as the New York Times across the 80s, 90s and 2000s.
Between 1996 and 1998, for instance, Mobil ran 12 advertorials timed with the 1997 UN Kyoto negotiations that questioned whether the climate crisis is real and human-made and 10 that downplayed its seriousness. “Reset the alarm,” one ad suggested. “Let’s not rush to a decision at Kyoto … We still don’t know what role man-made greenhouse gases might play in warming the planet.”
The concept of the "carbon footprint" was created for a marketing campaign for BP in 2004. According to the PR agent, BP was "the first energy company to acknowledge global warming" in 2005 (after the carbon footprint campaign began). The campaign only ended in 2010 due to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

I find the next set of ads, which the authors term "we're part of the solution!", particularly interesting.
In contradiction to the science of stopping global heating, big oil asserts that fossil fuels will be essential for the foreseeable future. The “all of the above” energy mantra was – as BP’s advertising creative put it – “co-opted by politicians in 2008” and became a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s energy policies. The campaign also positioned methane as a “clean bridge” fuel.
That's because it's an argument I realised I've bought into, as shown in COP26 thread. I don't see many adverts - I have ad-blockers on my laptop, I rarely watch TV, I don't read much print journalism - yet I still have managed to absorb this idea that we will need fossil fuels while we transition to renewables.

The final set of ads show fossil fuel companies such as Shell as being at the forefront of renewables. Yet,
Between 2010 and 2018, 98.7% of Shell’s investments were in oil and gas.
The article is based on a journal article the authors published earlier this year which is available here. They also acknowledged the work of William Lamb and colleagues that was published last year and is available here. I've not read them yet but hope to soon. Both are open access.
it's okay to say "I don't know"

plodder
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Re: How oil companies downplayed climate change

Post by plodder » Fri Nov 19, 2021 9:27 am

Thanks Fishnut. And of course this idea that it’ll all be ok and we just need to ever-so-slowly slowly ween our way from fossil fuels also slows down the roll out of non-sexy but hugely practical things like home insulation, car sharing, encourage cycling, tackle consumerism etc.

They really have got their hooks in.

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