Any industry that generates billions in revenues while destroying nature’s assets, causing adverse health outcomes and destabilizing the planetary climate system will have its own website and media team to promote the industry’s many benefits to society. Inevitably, the information provided will include stories that combat “myths” being popularized by environmental, social and climate activists. Readers are provided with the actual “facts” of the matter.
The consequences of corporate propaganda are described in a paper by Kelly Brownell and Kenneth Warner.
“In 1954, the tobacco industry paid to publish the ‘Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers’ in hundreds of U.S. newspapers. It stated that the public's health was the industry's concern above all others and promised a variety of good-faith changes. What followed were decades of deceit and actions that cost millions of lives.”
Coal, oil and gas, power utilities and forestry corporations have picked up this playbook and perfected it. They adapted the tactics to be even more pervasive and aggressive. The scope of the oil and gas industry’s science-denial campaign is meticulously documented in Geoff Dembicki’s book, The Petroleum Papers.
Fake grassroots movements, scientists with questionable credentials and public relations experts from the tobacco industry were used to question climate research and share their self-proclaimed facts demonstrating uncertainty in the scientific findings.
Dembicki describes how the fossil fuel industry implemented a strategy to stifle action despite the overwhelming scientific evidence and governments signing major global co-operation agreements, starting with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Alberta’s Pathways Alliance has paid for full-page advertisements in Canada’s major newspapers to explain how seriously it is taking climate change and how carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) will reduce the oilsands' GHG emissions to net zero by 2050.
The group neglects to mention that the plan requires billions in government subsidies that would be better utilized to build renewable energy projects and expand the electrical transmission grid.
Big Oil’s latest campaign commits to being a partner in implementing climate solutions. It echoes the tobacco industry’s concern for public health expressed in their “Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers.” Given the fossil fuel industry’s track record, there is good reason to mistrust the motives behind the oilsands consortium’s sudden commitment to joining the fight against climate change.
Given the fossil fuel industry’s track record, there is good reason to mistrust the motives behind the oilsands consortium’s sudden commitment to joining the fight against climate change, writes Rob Miller @winexus #abvotes #abpoli #cdnpoli #CCS
The Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) funded by the Alberta government, has been running a series of stories busting the so-called myths created by climate activists. A recent piece from the CEC, “Matter of Fact: Canada’s oilsands companies remain committed to reducing emissions,” disputes a report from London-based think tank InfluenceMap that criticizes oilsands producers for greenwashing their net-zero commitments.
CCUS is the cornerstone of Pathway Alliance’s plans, but the technology only captures 20 to 30 per cent of the emissions. Significantly more GHG emissions occur when the fuel is burned.
A 2019 study published in Nature processed aerial measurements above oilsands operations and concluded: “The results indicate that CO2 emission intensities for [oilsands] facilities are 13 to 123 per cent larger than those estimated using publically available data.
“This leads to 64 per cent higher annual GHG emissions from surface mining operations, and 30 per cent higher overall [oilsands] GHG emissions (17 Mt) compared to that reported by industry, despite emissions reporting which uses the most up to date and recommended bottom-up approaches.”
The campaign to create an image of oilsands companies working hard to “clear the air” of GHG emissions is misleading because the same companies have nearly tripled oil production since 2008 and have no intention of slowing down.
The industry also has plans to “utilize” the captured CO2 by injecting it into reservoirs and squeezing out additional production. Burning that additional fossil fuel negates any benefit from emissions intensity reductions.
It’s important to be aware of the underlying strategies and motives when consuming Big Oil’s myth-busting “facts” from social media, traditional news outlets and political advertisements.
People should also be mindful of other strategies identified in the Brownell-Warner report.
Focus on personal responsibility. Ultimately, we are responsible for buying bigger homes and gas-guzzling SUVs, which lead to higher GHG emissions. But the fossil fuel industry also shares responsibility for reducing emissions. And yet, the industry continues to use its wealth and power to oppose efforts to transition to renewable energy and stoke opposition to carbon pricing through a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Even in a year when oil and gas corporations are generating record profits, they still lobby for government subsidies and industry tax credits. When considering our own contribution to the problem, we should not forget that British Petroleum invented the concept of your personal carbon footprint while later giving up on its plan to move “beyond petroleum.”
Stoke fears that government action attacks personal freedom. This is clearly part of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s election strategy as she attacks the federal government’s constitutional right to pass laws that apply to all provinces. Smith’s recent comments supporting the “Freedom Convoy’s” Coutts border blockade is a clear indication of her belief that her own government’s COVID-19 public health measures were an attack on personal freedom. These fears are conspiratorial and dangerous.
Attack industry critics and accuse them of trying to hurt the people. Former premier Jason Kenney launched an investigation into climate-activist organizations accusing them of “foreign funding” and attempting to destroy Alberta’s fossil fuel industry. The CEC’s myth-busting opinion pieces are also part of the strategy to attack industry critics.
Question the science and create conspiracy theories. This strategy may be running out of steam as the impacts of global warming become too frequent and severe to ignore. However, the zombie arguments and science denial still wander the realm of social media like a vaccine-resistant plague.
Create doubt whenever concerns are raised. Propagandists warn that we won’t be able to enjoy the same standard of living without fossil fuels. They question the viability of renewable energy, electric vehicles and net-zero solutions while pointing to problems with these technologies that are far less serious than the problems we’re already experiencing with climate change.
The strategies used by the fossil fuel industry worked for decades and continue to have great effect. These strategies include relentless and divisive propaganda where scientific consensus is challenged and questionable facts are created. The plan may not succeed forever, but it will ensure hundreds of billions in fossil fuel profits continue to roll in for as long as the public perception can be controlled.
The reality of climate change means that as we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the effects will continue to worsen. When we finally reach “peak disaster,” this new environment will persist for centuries. It’s a high price to pay for an industry that deliberately misleads the public and fights to continue producing more of its climate-wrecking fuels.
Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action.