Michael Klare: How Big Oil Is Responding to the Anti-Carbon Movement

Yves here. It should be no surprise that Big Oil is not about to go down without a big fight. And they continue to copy from the playbook used by Big Tobacco. Behind the scenes, they go to great lengths to trying to undermine the already strong and ever-increasing evidence of the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, including openly offering bribes to scientists to attack the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. In addition, frontally, they try to present their products and their social role as positive.

By Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Originally published at TomDispatch

Around the world, carbon-based fuels are under attack.  Increasingly grim economic pressures, growing popular resistance, and the efforts of government regulators have all shocked the energy industry.  Oil prices are falling, colleges and universities are divesting from their carbon stocks, voters are instituting curbs on hydro-fracking, and delegates at the U.N. climate conference in Peru have agreed to impose substantial restrictions on global carbon emissions at a conference in Paris later in the year.  All this has been accompanied by what might be viewed as a moral assault on the very act of extracting carbon-based fuels from the earth, in which the major oil, gas, and coal companies find themselves portrayed as the enemies of humankind.

Under such pressures, you might assume that Big Energy would react defensively, perhaps apologizing for its role in spurring climate change while assuming a leadership position in planning for the transition to a post-carbon economy.  But you would be wrong: instead of retreating, the major companies have gone on the offensive, extolling their contributions to human progress and minimizing the potential for renewables to replace fossil fuels in just about any imaginable future.

That the big carbon outfits would seek to perpetuate their privileged market position in the global economy is, of course, hardly surprising.  After all, oil is the the most valuable commodity in international commerce and major producing firms like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell regularly top lists of the world’s most profitable enterprises.  Still, these companies are not just employing conventional legal and corporate tactics to protect their position, they’re mounting a moral assault of their own, claiming that fossil fuels are an essential factor in eradicating poverty and achieving a decent life on this planet.

Improbable as such claims may seem, they are being echoed by powerful officials around the world — typically, the leaders of carbon-producing nations like Russia and Saudi Arabia or the representatives of American energy-producing states like Texas and Kentucky.  Count on one thing: this crew of fossil fuel enthusiasts is intent on ensuring that any path to a carbon-free future will, at best, be long and arduous.  While you’re at it, add top Congressional leaders to this crew, since many of the Republican victors in the 2014 midterm election are from oil and coal-producing states and regularly laud carbon production for its contribution to local prosperity, while pocketing contributions by Big Oil and other energy firms.

Unless directly challenged, this pro-carbon offensive — backed by copious Big Energy advertising — is likely to attract at least as much favor as the claims of anti-carbon activists.  At this point, of course, the moral arguments against carbon consumption are — or at least should be — well known.  The oil, gas, and coal companies, it is claimed, are selfishly pursuing mega-profits at the expense of the climate, the environment, our children and grandchildren, and even possibly a future of any reasonable sort for humanity as a whole.  “Basically [the big energy companies have] said, we’re going to wreck the planet, we don’t care what you say, we think we can, and we dare you to stop us,” observed climate activist and 350.org cofounder Bill McKibben in a recent interview.  This outlook was reflected in many of the signs carried by the estimated 400,000 demonstrators who participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City last September.

The fossil fuel industry is often also portrayed as the nucleus of a global system of wealth and power that drags down democracy and perpetuates grotesque planetary inequalities.  “Fossil fuels really do create a hyper-stratified economy,” explained Naomi Klein, author of the bestselling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.  “It’s the nature of the resources that they are concentrated, and you need a huge amount of infrastructure to get them out and to transport them.  And that lends itself to huge profits and they’re big enough that you can buy off politicians.”

Views like these animate the struggles against “fracking” in the United States, against the transport of tar-sands oil via the Keystone XL pipeline, and against the shipment of coal to ports in the Pacific Northwest.  They also undergird the drive to rid college and university endowments and other institutions of their fossil fuel stocks, which gained momentum in recent months, thanks to the decisions of both the Stanford University board of trustees to divest from coal company stocks and of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to eventually rid itself of its fossil fuel stocks and invest in alternative energy.

Once upon a time, the giant carbon companies like Exxon sought to deflect these attacks by denying the very existence of climate change or the role of humans in causing it — or at least by raising the banner of “uncertainty” about the science behind it.  They also financed the efforts of rogue scientists to throw doubt on global warming.  While denialism still figures in the propaganda of some carbon companies, they have now largely chosen to embrace another strategy: extolling the benefits of fossil fuels and highlighting their contributions to human wellbeing and progress.

At the moment, this carbon counterattack is most clearly and fully articulated in the speeches of top industry officials and in various corporate publications.  Of these, the most recent and authoritative, ExxonMobil’s The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040­, was released in December.  Described as a planning guide for future corporate investment and decision-making, the Outlook combines an analysis of global energy trends with a summary of the company’s pro-carbon ethos — and so offers us a vivid look at where Big Energy is heading in its counterattack on the climate movement.

If a climate movement is going to challenge the energy powers of this planet effectively, it’s crucial to grasp the vision into which Big Energy is undoubtedly planning to sink incredible resources and which, across much of the planet, will become a living, breathing argument for ignoring the catastrophic warming of the planet.  They present it, of course, as a glowing dreamscape of a glorious future — though a nightmare is what should come to mind.

Here, then, in a nutshell is the argument that Big Energy is going to seed into the planet for the foreseeable future. Prepare yourself.

No Growth Without Us

The cornerstone of the Exxon report is its claims that ever-increasing supplies of energy are needed to sustain economic growth and ensure human betterment, and that fossil fuels alone exist in sufficient quantity (and at affordable enough prices) to satisfy rising international demand.  “Forecasting long-term energy trends begins with a simple fact: people need energy,” the report asserts.  “Over the next few decades, population and income growth — and an unprecedented expansion of the global middle class — are expected to create new demands for energy.”

Some of this added energy, Exxon acknowledges, will come from nuclear and renewable energy.  Most, however, will have to come from fossil fuels.  All told, the Outlook estimates, the world will need 35% more energy in 2040 than it does today.  That would mean adding an additional 191 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs) to global supplies over and above the 526 quadrillion BTUs consumed in 2010.  A small percentage of those added BTUs, about 12%, will come from renewables, but the vast majority — estimated by Exxon at 67% — will be provided by fossil fuels.

Without fossil fuels, this argument holds, there can be no economic growth.  Here’s how Exxon CEO and Chairman Rex Tillerson puts it: “Energy is fundamental to economic growth, and oil is fundamental because to this point in time, we have not found, through technology or other means, another fuel that can substitute for the role that oil plays in transportation, not just passenger, individual transportation, but commercial transportation, jet fuel, marine, all the ways in which we use oil as a fuel to move people and things about this planet.”

Natural gas is equally essential, Tillerson argues, because it is the world’s fastest-growing source of energy and a key ingredient in electric power generation. Nor will coal be left out of the mix.  It, too, will play an important role in promoting economic growth, largely by facilitating a rapid increase in global electricity supplies.  Despite all the concern over coal’s contributions to both urban pollution and climate change, Exxon predicts that it will remain “the No. 1 fuel for power generation” in 2040.

Yes, other sources of energy will play a role in helping to satisfying global needs, but without carbon-based fuels, Exxon insists, economic growth will screech to a halt and the world’s poor and disadvantaged will stay immersed in poverty.

Propelling the New Global Middle Class

If there is one overarching theme to the new Exxon ethos, it is that we are witnessing the emergence of a new global middle class with glittering possibilities and that this expanding multitude, constituting perhaps one-half of the world’s population by 2040, will require ever greater quantities of oil, coal, and natural gas if it is to have any hope of achieving its true potential. 

Citing data from the Brookings Institution, the company notes that the number of people who earn enough to be considered members of that global middle class will jump from approximately 1.9 billion in 2010 to 4.7 billion in 2030 — representing what it calls “the largest collective increase in living standards in history.”  China and India will be the two countries adding most substantially to the global middle class, with each acquiring hundreds of millions of newly affluent citizens, but substantial gains will also be achieved by such “key growth” countries as Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The emergence of a middle-class bulge on a planetary scale, representing a kind of consumerism gone wild, is something to be celebrated the company insists in its new report, echoing the words of the U.N. Development Programme: “When dozens of countries and billions of people move up the development ladder, as they are doing today, it has a direct impact on wealth creation and broader human progress in all countries and regions of the world.”

For all this to occur, however, that rising middle class will need staggering amounts of added energy — of course, we’re talking about new supplies of the same old carbon-based energy forms here — to build and power all the cars, homes, businesses, appliances, and resorts that such consumers would undoubtedly crave and demand.  More income, Exxon explains, “means new demand for food, for travel, for electricity, for housing, schools, and hospitals” — and all of these benefits “depend on energy.”

By itself, an increase in world energy supplies could indeed be widely beneficial, if supplied largely by climate-friendly fuels.  But such genuinely “alternative” sources of energy (into which, by the way, the giant energy companies have invested next to none of their profits) generally cost more than fossil fuels to produce, at least initially, and that, says Exxon, creates a problem once you consider where demand will be coming from in 2040.

According to the Outlook, virtually none of the expected increase in global energy demand will come from the older industrialized countries, which can afford more costly alternatives; rather, its source will be developing countries, which generally seek cheap energy quickly — that is, coal and natural gas for electricity generation and oil for transportation.  Of the 201 quadrillion BTUs in added energy required by the developing world between now and 2040, predicts Exxon, 148 quadrillion, or 74%, will be provided by fossil fuels — a statistic that, if accurate, should chill us to the bone in climate change terms.

The role of fossil fuels in satisfying the aspirations of the world’s growing middle class is especially evident in the field of transportation.  “Rising prosperity will drive increased demand for transportation,” the Outlook notes.  “An expanding global middle class means millions of people will buy a car for the first time.”  Between 2010 and 2040, the human population is expected to grow by 29%, from approximately seven billion to nine billion people; the global population of cars, SUVs, and other light-duty vehicles, however, is projected to grow by more than 100%, from 825 million to 1.7 billion.  And while an increasing number of these vehicles will be powered by gas-electric hybrid engines, the majority will still be fueled by petroleum, pushing up the demand for petroleum and pumping ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

A rising middle class seeking more consumer products, urban amenities, and travel opportunities will also require a commensurate fleet of trucks, buses, trains, ships, and planes.  Reliance on trucks and container ships for moving goods around the world will, in turn, generate a huge demand for diesel and heavy oil, while all those low-cost air carriers (like ill-fated Air Asia) will only up the requirement for aviation fuel.

Finally, the new global middle class will want more computers, flat-screen TVs, air-conditioners, and other appliances, stoking a soaring demand for electricity.  Among the advanced nations that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a growing share of the energy used in generating electricity will indeed come from renewables and natural gas, while coal use will decline sharply.  In non-OECD countries, however, the drive for electrification will be accompanied by a significant increase in the consumption of coal — from 54 quadrillion BTUs in 2010 to 82 quadrillion in 2040.  This means that the non-OECD’s contribution to global warming will continue to soar, although that’s not a point that Exxon is likely to emphasize.

Carbon Humanitarianism

Nor does the Exxon blueprint neglect the needs of the world’s poorer citizens.  “The progress enabled by modern energy has not reached everyone,” the Outlook notes.  “One out of every five people in the world still has no access to electricity.  Even more lack modern cooking fuels.”

This is the basis for what can only be termed “carbon humanitarianism” — the claim that cheap carbon-based fuels are the best possible response to the energy-poor of the planet (despite everything we know about the devastation climate change will cause, above all in the lives of the poor).  This vision of Big Energy as the Good Samaritan of our world was articulated by Rex Tillerson in a June 2013 address to the Asia Society Global Forum.  “Approximately 1.3 billion people on our planet,” he said, “still do not have access to electricity for basic needs like clean water, cooking, sanitation, light, or for the safe storage of food and medicine… [which means that] the need to expand energy supplies has a humanitarian dimension that should inform and should guide our energy policy.” 

Asked whether climate change didn’t pose a greater challenge to the world’s poor, Tillerson chose to demur.  “I think here are much more pressing priorities that we… need to deal with,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations in June 2012.  “There are still hundreds of millions, billions of people living in abject poverty around the world.  They need electricity… They need fuel to cook their food on that’s not animal dung… They’d love to burn fossil fuels because their quality of life would rise immeasurably, and their quality of health and the health of their children and their future would rise immeasurably.  You’d save millions upon millions of lives by making fossil fuels more available to a lot of the part of the world that doesn’t have it.”

In fact, Exxon predicts that reliance on fossil fuels will grow fastest in the poorest parts of the world — precisely the areas that are expected to suffer the most from climate change.  Africa, for example, is expected to witness a 103% increase in net energy consumption between now and 2040, with 83% of that increase supplied by fossil fuels.

We Can Do It Better

The final part of the industry’s counterattack is the claim that, for all their purported benefits, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power are just not up to the task of providing the necessary extra energy needed to sustain economic growth and propel billions of people into the middle class. 

The problem, Exxon claims, is that wind and solar are more costly than the fossil fuel alternatives and so are not growing fast enough to meet rising world demand.  Even though the energy provided by these renewables will expand by 315% between now and 2040, it still represents such a small share of the total global energy mix that, by the end of this period, it will only reach the 4% mark in its share of total world energy consumption (compared to 77% for carbon fuels).  Renewables are also said to be problematic as they provide only intermittent sources of energy — failing at night and on windless days — and must be bolstered by other fuels to ensure uninterrupted energy output.

Facing the Challenge

Put together, this represents a dazzling vision of a future in which growing numbers of people enjoy the benefits of abundant energy and unlimited growth.  You can already imagine the heartwarming TV commercials that will be generated on a massive scale to propagate such a message: pictures of hard-working individuals of all genders and hues enjoying the American Dream globally thanks to Exxon and its cohorts.  Needless to say, in such imagery there will be nothing to mar the promise of unbridled prosperity for all — no horrific droughts, colossal superstorms, or mass migrations of desperate people seeking to flee devastated areas.

But this vision, like so much contemporary advertising, is based on a lie: in this case, on the increasingly bizarre idea that, in the twenty-first century, humanity can burn its way through significant parts of the planet’s reserves of fossil fuels to achieve a world in which everything is essentially the same — there’s just more of it for everyone.  In the world portrayed by Exxon, it’s possible for a reassuring version of business-as-usual to proceed without environmental consequences.  In that world, the unimpeded and accelerated release of carbon into the atmosphere has no significant impact on people’s lives.  This is, of course, a modern fairy tale that, if believed, will have the most disastrous of results.

Someday, it will also be seen as one of the more striking lies on whatever’s left of the historical record.  In fact, follow this vision to 2040, burning through whatever fossil fuels the energy companies and energy states can pull out of the earth and the ballooning carbon emissions produced will ensure planetary warming far beyond the two degrees Celsius deemed by scientists to be the maximum that the planet can safely absorb without catastrophic climate effects.

In fact, those dreamy landscapes in the new pro-carbon version of the planetary future will, in reality, be replaced by burning forests, flooded coastlines, and ever-expanding deserts.  Forget the global rise of the middle class, forget all those cars and trucks and planes and resorts, forget the good life entirely.  As climate conditions deteriorate, croplands will wither, coastal cities and farmlands will be eradicated, infrastructure will be devastated, the existing middle class will shrink, and the poor will face ever-increasing deprivation.

Preventing these catastrophes will involve sustained and dedicated effort by all those who truly care about the future of humanity.  This will certainly require better educating people about the risks of climate change and the role played by fossil fuel combustion in producing it.  But it will also require deconstructing and exposing the futuristic fantasies deployed by the fossil fuel companies to perpetuate their dominance.  However fraudulent their arguments may be, they have the potential to blunt significant progress on climate change and so must be vigorously repudiated.  Unless we do so, the apostles of carbon will continue to dominate the debate and bring us ever closer to a planetary inferno.  This is the only way to thwart and discredit those who seek to perpetuate the Reign of Carbon.

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  1. digi_owl

    I really do wonder how growth has gone from a observed phenomena to a life or death goal of economics.

    1. Jef

      Exactly digi – Taken in context with the bigger lie that the only way to save humanity from poverty, starvation, sickness, and death is to grow our way out of it, then Fossil Fuels is the only answer.

      Oh and taken in context with the fact that 10% of the population demands to consume more than half the worlds finite resources, then war IS also the answer.

    2. James

      Because of the debt that funded it. No or slow growth and debts don’t get repaid and bad things happen, as we are seeing now. But the whole game has always been just an elaborate inter-generational ponzi scheme sold under the banner of ‘infinite resources enabling infinite prosperity’ in the first place. We’re just the first to see it revealed so plainly. Lucky us!

    3. Kiers

      @digi_owl: “a life or death goal of economics” IS EXACTLY WHAT IT IS!

      a simple dialog:

      Own any equity? What is a “share”? It is a piece of inert paper “backed” by a companies earnings. Why would anyone buy (with “real” money) this otherwise USELESS paper? (A) To acquire control over the company, or (B) to invest. Well how does owning said piece of inert paper help invest? Doesn’t investment mean getting still more back from SELLING said worthless paper? YES! Because a companies earnings will ALWAYS grow, you can buy the growth. That’s the ENTIRE purpose of the stock market for investment (and not co. control) purposes.

      Turn it around: imagine P/Es in the market are benchmarked at 10 presently. “Perpetuity Inc” only makes a strictly CONSTANT profit, forever. (Understand: it does NOT make a loss, only a *constant* profit, no growth). IF “Perpetuity Inc” is 51% owned by the founders and tightly held forever, then what are the 49% of publically traded shares of “Perpetuity Inc” worth? answer: ZERO! Imagine Perpetuity inc makes $10/Share in earnings every year forever. You paid $100 (remember, P/E =10). One year later, how much do you think you can offload your precious share of “Perpetuity Inc” for? Yes! You get the same $100. What kind of investment is that? answer: it’s NOT an investment. So you become clever, you say “I want a 10% discount”. Great. You buy at $90 now. One year later, you expect to sell at $100 (the “fair” price). ASK YOURSELF: Who will buy at $100? They get no return at all. So you become more clever. You ask for a $20 discount! But still this “game” will not work. THE EQUILIBRIUM PRICE of “PERPETUITY INC” is ZERO.

      Imagine all the equity in the United States! Imagine all the equity in your mortgage and multiply THAT. Now you are getting the picture, yes?

      Now do you understand why the wolves of wall street behave the way they do? Do you understand why “GROWTH” is like a cancer? How far can growth be extrapolated? Fair question. The USA will go to war, simply to hold onto a “Growth” position in the world. Thus immigration, war are the solutions. no matter what. A vote will not be taken on this subject. capiche?

      1. Kiers

        You can embellish the ZERO value of investment equity still further: imagine a pleasantly and solidly “growing” company. You can imagine, the intelligent “stock market” is all abuzz about this co. Reports are printed by ivy league educated analysts. The CEO brings groupies to Earnings calls etc.

        Can this company grow forever? Of course not! All companies come to a point of decline, eventually. Well let’s be generous. Say the growing company will never truly “decline”; it will turn into “Perpetuity Inc.” What is the non-controlling “investment” in this co. worth, knowing the earnings will plateau?

        I once blogged about this scenario: but due to html problems at blosgspot it didn’t format nicely.
        see if you can bare iwth (forgive) my formatting issues (can’t handle computers too well).

  2. rjs

    sales of RVs were up 15.6% in the 3rd quarter, which was before oil prices fell…latest light vehicle sales show that consumers are buying more gas guzzlers already…fleet MPG is down, averaging 25.1 miles a gallon in December, down from 25.3 mpg in November and 25.8 mpg in August.

    1. James Levy

      When you build an economy on dreams (and that’s what the advertising-driven consumer economy is built on) this is the result. People think and act aspirationally, with no thought of their real predicament. Notions of “the good life” based on Madison Avenue hucksterism got reified in the 1950s and now inform our every action. It is so damned hard for all of us (me included) to grow the hell up and face reality and its limitations. We can’t have what we want just because we want it. That used to be the realization every person reaching adulthood came to grips with. But Madison Avenue and Hollywood taught us from infancy that we should want, demand, whatever it is that would make us “happy” and provide us with “fun”. The result is a population that insists on eating its cake and having it, too. And the rich are the worst, both because they should know better because almost all of them got a solid education and because they have so much it could not possibly objectively hurt them to sacrifice for the common good. Nature, however, cannot be fooled, and will force change upon us no matter how much we clap for Tinkerbelle to get better.

      1. Jeff Conklin

        Eloquently stated, James. Our culture hasn’t really equipped us for dealing with the bad news of finally having to pay the bill we’ve run up. But I’m fascinated by the level of avoidance and denial that the spectre of global warming is evoking. There’s also something very normal and human about trying to dispel the fear, grief, helplessness, and guilt associated with the horrendous Earth changes that are being foretold. One of the greatest needs we all face in these times is for each of us to find solace and support for ourselves, to “grow up” and face the death of our collective dream of “the good life”, feel whatever pain and despair is there, and take responsibility for helping those around us cope with their feelings and their very natural impulses to avoid and deny the bad news of AGW.

    2. Ben Johannson

      Well, if you buy used and need a larger vehicle, wait until Q3-Q4 when fuel prices rebound. They’ll be dumped en masse.

      1. rjs

        actually, i’m shopping for a used small car now….

        but my point was that the people are just as culpable as the oil companies for the increase in carbon pollution…

    3. James

      Just paid 1.69/g after $.20/g discount at local Smith’s. Yeah I drive a gas guzzler and I know I should be ashamed, but DAMN if a $25.00 fill up didn’t bring a smile to my face!

  3. Carolinian

    For a bit of a rebuttal let’s turn to the blog Naked Capitalism. Timeline: just the other day.

    I think that extreme views on either side of the renewable energy issue will have to moderate. On the one hand, renewable advocates are unrealistic about how quickly and easily the world can get off of fossil fuels. On the other hand, fossil fuel advocates ignore the fact that government is already on board with renewables and that, despite the economic issues that they raise, renewables are going to move forward albeit at considerable cost.

    Time is rarely considered adequately. Renewable energy accounts for a little more than 2% of U.S. total energy consumption. No matter how much people want to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy, we cannot go from 2% to 20% or 30% in less than a decade no matter how aggressively we support or even mandate its use. In order to get to 50% or more of primary energy supply from renewable sources it will take decades.

    I appreciate the urgency felt by those concerned with climate change. I think, however, that those who advocate a more-or-less immediate abandonment of fossil fuels fail to understand how a rapid transition might affect the quality of life and the global economy. Much of the climate change debate has centered on who is to blame for the problem. Little attention has been given to what comes next namely, how will we make that change without extreme economic and social dislocation?


    While I’m no fan of Exxon and certainly do believe in global warming, I find self righteous moral certainty found in posts such as the above a bit much. You can’t really expect the world economy to turn on a dime based on predictions and computer models regardless of whether those models are most likely true. Indeed it’s this very moral certainty that is likely doing more than anything else to drive the pushback from the rightwing trogs. The truth is that Exxon does make a few good points and you can’t just dismiss them. It’s a very complicated problem.

    1. wbgonne

      Indeed it’s this very moral certainty that is likely doing more than anything else to drive the pushback from the rightwing trogs

      Nonsense. The reason is money, just as it was with the tobacco industry, its shills and flacks. Only now the neoliberal/corporatist propaganda machine runs with megaton engines. And if science doesn’t provide a legitimate basis for “moral certainty” then we may as well accept that we have entered a New Dark Age, one where money is god and all else genuflects.

      1. Carolinian

        Seems like I was reading in comments just yesterday about how science was the thing causing the New Dark Age. Head spinning.

        And yes of course it’s about money to Exxon. For the rest of us we are going to have to come to some consensus on this problem before anything gets done. That’s Berman’s view as well per the above. Confrontation is appropriate when one side is clearly in the wrong as with our various recent wars. My position is that when it comes to AGW things aren’t quite so crystal clear.

        1. wbgonne

          My position is that when it comes to AGW things aren’t quite so crystal clear.

          The science is settled so your “position” is an opinion repudiating the scientific consensus. And your opinion is based on what, exactly? Feelings? Read Merchants of Doubt by By Naomi Oreskes and you may realize that your anti-science opinion has been manufactured by Big Oil.

          1. Carolinian

            Oh please. If you will re-read my comments you will see that I explicitly say that I do believe in global warming. What isn’t crystal clear is what to do about it and I’m not seeing too many constructive ideas coming from the many people up on their high horses. Really, posturing and patronizing remarks are not a counter argument.

            1. wbgonne

              What to do about it is to stop doing the thing that is causing it. Stop using fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. Simple as that. I’m sorry if you find that patronizing but perhaps the reason you are offended is that it is so bloody obvious. I welcome frank discussions of the best manner to curtail fossil fuel usage but I abhor phony arguments based on manufactured doubts.

              1. susan the other

                Use oil to build the new infrastructure. Wind, solar, water, and geothermal and highly effective passive solar. To build a new decentralized grid. To build public transportation networks not based on the use of coal and oil. A reclamation of nature and a focused recycling industry. A new decentralized low energy agriculture. Let them build the scaffold for their own hanging.

                1. susan the other

                  Can anyone imagine the impeccably lobotomized Rex Tillerson to ever advocate for the conservation of oil as a precious resource that must be extended far into the future? No. Rex is Mr. Exorbitant Profits personified. Don’t expect him to reflect on the realities.

    2. James Levy

      What you say makes some sense, but we’ve known about this problem for at least two decades and for much of that time groups like EXXON have lied, delayed, and cast aspersions on their opponents. It is tough to take them seriously at this late date. It is hard to know if what they say is just another delaying tactic or not. Right-wingers love to sound reasonable when they tell you how everything positive can’t be done. And all defenses of the status quo are now defenses of the 1%. So, although it might be good to heed some of their advice, it is hard for me to do so in 2015.

    3. Noonan

      I believe in global warming as well. The globe has been warming for 20,000 years, from a state in which a permanent ice sheet covered the midwestern U.S. This warming occurred without any significant CO2 contributions from humans.

      1. wbgonne

        And now humans are accelerating the warming by putting greehouse gases into the atmosphere that trap heat. This isn’t real complicated. BTW: Ignorance isn’t bliss: it’s ignorance.

          1. wbgonne

            Various causes over history, including massive amounts of GHGs from natural phenomena due to volcanic activity, etc. That it has happened before mankind existed doesn’t mean mankind can’t cause it too. That is specious reasoning. We are causing global warming. The science is settled, the seas and temperatures are rising. Only the willfully blind or the monumentally ignorant don’t see.

            1. Luke The Debtor

              The IPCC states that the majority in the increase in the rate of global warming is human induced. Global climate change patterns over the course of 10,000s and 100,000s of years are known as Milankovitch cycles: eccentricity (orbital path around the sun), obliquity (angle of equitorial tilt) and precession (wobble, rotation about the axis of rotation).

              Besides, things like solar storms, rain, earthquakes, etc are amoral. Giving connotation to such distant future climate possibilities called politicization. Does anyone know if these things will be good for human civilization or bad for human civilization? No. As was mentioned earlier, there was an enormous ice sheet covering the northern mid-west United States up to 14000 years ago.

              1. wbgonne

                Does anyone know if these things will be good for human civilization or bad for human civilization? No.

                Good grief. Global warming will be good for civilization?! Are you mad? It’s one thing for the world to cook before we have arrived and built our cities and countries. It’s quite another to cook the planet after everything is in place. We require the type of stable climate we have had for thousands of years to create civilization in the first place. Do you really think it feasible to move all our coastal cities inland? Or north? Or to have agriculture chasing climate change around the globe? Fish stocks are collapsing, coral reefs are dying, plants and animals are migrating away from the Equator until what, they run out of latitudes to move to? This will be disaster that is unimaginable.

    4. James

      I think you’re probably right. The sad fact is that there simply are no quick short term solutions, and very possibly no long term palatable solutions (those that don’t involve a massive human die off) either. Quite a predicament we find ourselves in, for sure!

    5. Dave

      Whether one agrees or disagrees with what you say, the sad fact remains that we really aren’t doing anything significant to enact necessary change. True, the current economy can’t turn on a dime, but we’ve been just kicking the can down the road for a few decades now, wasting time and letting the corporate agenda prevail. So, how much longer do we try to take comfort in the delusion that we have no choice but to continue on as we have? Every change has to start somewhere, but we’re not advancing, we’re falling further behind.

  4. cnchal

    Right on cue . . . we have the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat with 707 HP and 200+ MPH top speed.

    Muscle car for the middle class.

    1. skippy

      More like a terrifying but strangely exciting ride off the first sharp corner… in a attempted suicide request.

      Skippy…. if that don’t kill ya the running costs and depreciation will…. snort!

    2. James

      All that said, that is a decidedly marginal, low unit, high end car. But it is indicative of what we tend to do with efficiency gains in general. Plow them right back into more power, and thus more profits, for the same efficiency.

  5. rusti

    Carbon Humanitarianism is an interesting sort of mental gymnastics, but I’d wager that oil industry executives genuinely believe their own propaganda on this front in the same manner that Michael Bloomberg says with a straight face that he’s earned his spot in heaven after supporting a few token social issues while firmly propping up the oligarchy and police state. Or how Neocons can cite some examples of people who are better off with Saddam pushing up daisies and forcibly ignore the hundreds of thousands of dead and the millions of refugees.

    The carbon industry equivalent is to emphasize the people who could greatly benefit from the sort of stability that a refrigerator or gas stove can bring while ignoring, as just one example, the victims of authoritarian regimes propped up by oil interests. Of course the overwhelming majority of fossil fuel consumption goes into feeding vanity rather than lifting anyone out of poverty, but it’s easy to pay selective attention when there are billions of dollars to be made.

  6. Brooklin Bridge

    Fascinating article. An amazing peak into the mindsets of the Big Oil executives. For some reason the process reminds me of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers when they buy a run down old farm and drop acid on their first day. Utopia soon dissolves into buildings at near collapse, and mud and dirt everywhere as the acid wears off. Of course the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers make the “pop” as they wake to reality hilarious; the fantasy of Big Oil on the other hand, when reality becomes impossible to ignore will be a true global nightmare with zero chance of reversal. I guess what fascinates me is just how crude and simplistic the story line is. Are these executives brilliant minimalists or just plain thugs in suits or did they escape from an asylum? (Opps, forgot we got rid of those.)

    This begs the question of just how much of their own fantasy the executives buy into. It is known, for instance, that those at the top of the tobacco industry were pretty well aware of the truth regarding the toxic chemicals they put into tobacco to make it addictive all while spending vast sums of money on propaganda and purchase of scientists to slow down and confound those uncovering the truth. That is, they were aware that tobacco killed large numbers of people. Are those at the top of Big Oil aware that they are effectively locking civilization into irreversible death camps horrific in suffering beyond belief and do they even care?

    If so, it seems only reasonable to conclude that they are quite literally insane by any sober even moderate definition and by extension our so called elite should probably be right there with them in white suits with arm and leg restraints in padded rooms for their own, and our, protection.

    1. James

      All the same, I think it’s probably unreasonable to expect big oil execs operating under a capitalist system to be totally forthcoming about what they undoubtedly know about the remaining supply of oil. They’re just being, first and foremost, good capitalists, as they will if they want to keep their jobs and raking in the loot. In an ideal world they’d at least have the dignity to resign and go do something else, but of course that ideal world doesn’t happen to be the world in which we actually live.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        I’d just like to know how aware of the hype they are. Do they really think oil is going to usher in the new super middle class? Doubt it – just like I doubt the tobacco executives were fooled for a minute into thinking smoking was safe or that the relationship to cancer was questionable.

  7. c1ue

    Quite an amusing missive from an organization and a movement which have collectively received tens of millions, of not hundreds of millions or billions, directly from Big Oil.

    1. Noonan

      I assume you mean to say that Carbon Dioxide is awful. On the contrary, it is a necessity for the existence of life on Earth.

    2. James

      Climate change aside, I think there has always been a large well of hate for Al Gore out there available to be tapped. Especially in retrospect.

  8. PQS

    Oh, the top executives have convinced themselves that they are Good People with Good Ideas….plus, bonus! They are also making themselves fabulously wealthy at the same time! And I wouldn’t put oppo research and blackbloc techniques beyond them. They have the money, and when they feel really threatened, they’ll deploy it. And not in a friendly way. Neither did the tobacco companies, although they probably moderated their position as foreign markets opened up to them….what’s a few hundred million Americans when there’s a billion Chinese to hook?

    Sorry the rest of this article is for subscribers, but this was a great portrait of Exxon from the LRB:

    And I love the title: “Burning up the World”. I use it all the time.

  9. PQS

    Oh, the top executives have convinced themselves that they are Good People with Good Ideas….plus, bonus! They are also making themselves fabulously wealthy at the same time! And I wouldn’t put oppo research and blackbloc techniques beyond them. They have the money, and when they feel really threatened, they’ll deploy it. And not in a friendly way. Neither did the tobacco companies, although they probably moderated their position as foreign markets opened up to them….what’s a few hundred million Americans when there’s a billion Chinese to hook?

    Sorry the rest of this article is for subscribers, but this was a great portrait of Exxon from the LRB:

    And I love the title: “Burning up the World”. I use it all the time.

  10. financial matters

    As Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben point out, these efforts against the fossil fuel companies highlight the loss of the democratic process. These corporations come in and say they will do what they like with the local population’s land and water no matter how strongly they may vote or protest against it. Part of this is supported by the legal aspects of trade agreements and part by the backing of corrupt politicians. Governments can take back control and overrule trade agreements that threaten the very lives of their constituents.

  11. Luke The Debtor

    You know, states and municipalities can raise gasoline and diesel taxes on their own without federal permission. Nobody stopping them from building the transportation energy of the future.

    1. Vatch

      I don’t think municipalities have the resources to do this. Most states don’t either. And the politicians in the few states that do are afraid of what will happen when tax paying voters find out that their state raised fuel taxes, but neighboring states didn’t.

  12. JW

    The response of the ‘believers’ to the points made by Luke above make it easy to see why they can be regarded as ‘religious zealots’ with AGW as their new religion.
    The major flaw in the AGW ‘science’ is that the Earth is most definitely not a closed system. Energy leaks out as well as in, all the time, irrespective of minute increases in CO2 levels. This is basic Physics, a ‘real’ science, not a collection of factor analysis correlations from computer programmes. Correlation of manufactured vectors is far from the same as Causation.
    It is sensible to plan for a future with many various energy sources, to reject fossil forming a significant part of that future is silly. This is besides the undeniable fact that any electricity generating merit order has to contain generating units that can ‘load follow’ . No ‘renewable’ energy source can presently perform these duties. Without them the lights will literally go out.
    Of course some ‘zealots’ may prefer a ‘dark-age’ future, it goes well with self-flagelation.

  13. wbgonne

    The response of the ‘believers’ to the points made by Luke above make it easy to see why they can be regarded as ‘religious zealots’ with AGW as their new religion.

    Let’s see. The people who accept science are religious zealots while those who reject science are not. Got it. And that is the highpoint of your otherwise unintelligible comment.

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