THE PR PLOT TO OVERHEAT THE EARTH
Fuel companies, automobile makers and other large-scale producers of
greenhouse gases are willing to spend huge sums of money on PR firms and
front groups to downplay the threat of climate change, in order to
maintain the lucrative status quo they enjoy.
By Bob Burton & Sheldon Rampton
In 1995, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - a working
group of 2,500 climate experts sponsored by the United Nations - bluntly
warned that the burning of oil, coal and gasoline has pushed the Earth
into a period of climatic instability likely to cause "widespread
economic, social and environmental dislocation over the next century".
To avert a catastrophe, IPCC called for policy measures to reduce
emissions of greenhouse gases to 20% below 1990 levels. Such changes, of
course, would seriously alter the lucrative status quo enjoyed by fuel
companies, automobile makers and other large-scale polluters.
In 1991, a US corporate coalition including the National Coal
Association, the Western Fuels Association and Edison Electrical
Institute created a public relations front called the Information
Council for the Environment. ICE launched a $500,000 advertising and PR
blitz to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)".
ICE was run by Bracy Williams & Co., a Washington, DC-based PR firm.
Bracy Williams identified "older, less-educated males from larger
households who are not typically active information-seekers" and
"younger, lower-income women" as "good targets for radio advertisements"
that would "directly attack the proponents of global warming".
To boost its credibility, ICE created a scientific advisory panel that
featured Patrick Michaels from the Department of Environmental Services
at the University of Virginia. Michaels has been the leading scientific
naysayer on global warming. The industry's propaganda campaign also
created a bevy of other front groups.
The group currently leading the charge is the Global Climate Coalition
(GCC), a creation of the Burson-Marsteller PR firm. From its founding in
1989 until the summer of 1997, GCC operated out of the offices of the
National Association of Manufacturers. Its members include Amoco, the
American Forest & Paper Association, American Petroleum Institute, Shell
Oil, Texaco, Chevron, Chrysler, the US Chamber of Commerce, Exxon,
General Motors, Ford and more than 40 other corporations and trade
GCC is also represented by the E Bruce Harrison Company, a subsidiary of
PR giant Ruder Finn. In the 1960s it was the Harrison firm that helped
lead the pesticide industry's attack on Rachel Carson and her
environmental classic, Silent Spring.
Since 1994, GCC has spent more than $1 million a year to downplay the
threat of climate change. The National Coal Association spent more than
$700,000 on the global climate issue in 1992 and 1993. In 1993, the
American Petroleum Institute paid Burson-Marsteller $1.8 million for a
computer-driven "grassroots" letter and phone-in campaign that blocked a
proposed tax on fossil fuels. The Environmental Defense Fund, the
Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Union of
Concerned Scientists and the World Wildlife Fund don't spend that much
on all their climate campaigns combined.
The GCC recognised early on that Australia would play a key role in its
campaign. Most major US PR firms - Edelman's, Burson-Marsteller, Hill &
Knowlton, Ketchum, Shandwick and others - have established a presence
Down Under. Australia accounts for more than 30% of world trade in coal
and has major metal smelting industries that belch greenhouse gases. As
a result, it has Asia's highest per capita emission of greenhouses gases
even though its population is only 1% of the region's 2.5 billion
In 1988, Australia had one of the "greenest" governments in the world.
Since then, however, corporations and their front groups have
systematically manipulated public opinion through frequent media
pronouncements by industry-funded scientists. These efforts, combined
with intensive mining industry lobbying aimed at Australian Prime
Minister John Howard, have successfully transformed the Australian
government from a green role-model to a green pariah. Rather than
agreeing to a call for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Australia
has announced plans to increase its emissions 18% by the year 2010.
Part of the campaign has been managed by Noel Bushnell of Hannagan and
Bushnell, which serves as a PR consultant to the Australian Industry
Greenhouse Network. Hannagan was formerly the public affairs manager for
the Aluminium Corporation of America (Alcoa). Alcoa is 40% owned by the
Western Mining Corporation, which also owns chemical plants and smelters
in Australia, Guinea, Suriname, Jamaica, Brazil, Germany, India,
Holland, Japan and the US.
One of the key people building the trans-Pacific campaign was R J Smith,
Senior Environmental Scholar with the Competitive Enterprise Institute
(CEI) - an industry-funded right-wing think-tank based in Washington,
DC. In a strategy meeting held in November 1996 at CEI headquarters, Ray
Evans from Australia's Western Mining Corporation, along with a senior
world vice-president for Ford Motors, American Petroleum Institute
executive director Bill O'Keefe and Dick Lawson, the executive director
of the US National Mining Association, decided to plan "a series of
conferences before Kyoto".
The first event - held on 15 July 1997 in Washington, DC - was called
"The Costs of Kyoto". It predicted staggering economic costs for any
policies aimed at restricting emissions. Speakers included Fran Smith
from Consumer Alert, an industry-funded front group; Patrick Michaels of
ICE; Australian Embassy Chief of Mission Paul O'Sullivan and Brian
Fisher from the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics
(ABARE), government-funded economic forecasting agency that has
predicted huge costs in jobs and income if emission reduction targets
For a contribution of $50,000, corporations can buy a seat on ABARE's
steering committee. "By becoming a member of the consortium, you will
have an influence on the direction of the model development," ABARE
states in promotional material to potential sponsors. Contributors to
ABARE's work include Rio Tinto, the world's largest mining company;
Texaco; Mobil Oil; Exxon; the Australian Coal Association; the
Australian Aluminium Council; and Statoil, the Norwegian oil company.
All told, ABARE receives $500,000 a year from the fossil fuel industry.
Rather than setting a goal for all nations to lower their greenhouse
emissions by equal proportions, ABARE advocated "differentiated" goals
tailored to the economic characteristics of each country. According to
environmentalists, differentiation would scuttle any hope of effectively
capping worldwide emissions. At an August 1997 CEI-sponsored conference
in Canberra, former US Senator Malcolm Wallop declared: "This conference
is the first shot across the bow of those who expect to champion the
Wallop chairs the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, another
corporate-funded US think-tank. Joining Wallop at the conference were US
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), US Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), and
Richard Lawson, president of the US National Mining Association. In the
US, the countdown to Kyoto saw a dizzying array of activity from
industry front groups.
The Global Climate Information Project (GCIP), launched in September
1997 by some of the nation's most powerful trade associations, spent
more than $3 million in newspaper and television advertising. The GCIP's
ads were produced by Goddard* Claussen/First Tuesday, a
California-based PR firm whose clients include the Chlorine Chemistry
Council, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Dupont Merck
Pharmaceuticals and the Vinyl Siding Institute.
The GCIP is represented by Richard Pollock, former director of the
Naderite group Critical Mass, who now works as a senior vice-president
for Shandwick Public Affairs, the second largest PR firm in the US.
Shandwick's clients include Browning-Ferris Industries, Central Maine
Power, Georgia-Pacific, Monsanto, New York State Electric and Gas Co.,
Ciba-Geigy, Ford, Hydro-Quebec, Pfizer and Proctor & Gamble.
The Coalition for Vehicle Choice (CVC), a front for automobile
manufacturers, launched its own advertising campaign, including a
three-page ad in the Washington Post blasting the climate agreement as
an assault on the US economy. Sponsors of the ad included hundreds of
oil and gas companies, auto dealers and parts stores, as well as a
number of far-right anti-environmental organisations such as the
American Land Rights Association and Sovereignty International (which
claims that international environmental treaties are part of a UN
conspiracy to establish a "new world order" that will abolish private
property and personal freedoms).
CVC was originally founded in 1991 to fight higher fuel economy
standards. Its 1993 budget was $2.2 million, all of which came from
Ford, GM and Chrysler. The National Center for Public Policy Research,
another industry-funded think-tank, established the Kyoto Earth Summit
Information Center, issued an "Earth Summit Fact Sheet" and fed
anti-treaty quotes to the media.
On the eve of the Kyoto Conference, Steven Milloy, executive director of
The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), announced that more
than 500 physicians and scientists had signed an open letter to world
leaders opposing any climate change treaty. When asked to provide the
signers' names and credentials, Milloy told the authors that he had not
yet had time to "compile" the hard-copy list.
TASSC's funders include 3M, Amoco, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General
Motors, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lorillard Tobacco,
Louisiana Chemical Association, National Pest Control Association,
Occidential Petroleum, Philip Morris, Proctor & Gamble, Santa Fe Pacific
Gold and W R Grace.
The American Policy Center (APC), another far-right, industry-funded
non-profit organisation based in Washington, DC, worked to mobilise a
"Strike for Liberty", calling on truckers to pull over to the side of
the road for an hour and for farmers to drive tractors into key cities
to "shut down the nation"as a protest against any Kyoto treaty.
APC also issued the claim that "Al Gore has said abortion should be used
to reduce global warming" and charged that the global warming issue is
another Clinton attempt to replace private property with "socialism",
"bureaucracy" and "big government".
On the eve of Earth Day 1993, President Clinton announced his intention
to sign a treaty on global warming. Ever since then, he has played the
game of perpetually watering down the content of any such treaty.
Clinton's October 1993 "Climate Change Action Plan" turned out to be a
"voluntary effort" depending entirely on the goodwill of industry for
By early 1996, he was forced to admit that the plan would not even come
close to meeting its goal for greenhouse gas reductions by the year
2000. In June 1997, Clinton addressed the UN's Rio+5 Earth Summit.
Painting a near-apocalyptic picture of encroaching seas and killer heat,
he acknowledged that America's record over the past five years was "not
sufficient... We must do better and we will."
In October 1997, however, Clinton announced that realistic targets and
timetables for cutting greenhouse gas emissions should be put off for 20
years, prompting the London Guardian to editorialise that "champagne
corks are popping in the boardrooms of BP, Shell, Esso, Mobil, Ford,
General Motors, and the coal, steel and aluminium corporations of the
US, Australia and Europe..."
"In a stunning example of raw backroom power and political manipulation,
the 'death-row' industries showed who rules the economic world by
effectively killing any hope of combating global warming at the Kyoto
climate conference. The new limits are so weak... that two years of hard
work by 150 countries towards reaching an agreement in December are now
The treaty that emerged from Kyoto proposed a reduction of only 7% in
global greenhouse emissions by the year 2012, far below the 30%
reduction demanded by low-lying island nations that fear massive
flooding as melting polar ice leads to rising sea levels. As the New
York Times sombrely noted on 12 December 1997, even in the unlikely
event that the treaty were adopted and strictly observed by all the
participating nations, "many experts believe that it may already be too
late to avoid serious climatic disruption."
Third World Network Features
Sheldon Rampton is associate editor of PR Watch and co-author of Mad Cow
USA. Bob Burton is a reporter based in Australia.
The above article, which first appeared in Earth Island Journal (Spring
1998), was adapted from PR Watch [Center for Media & Democracy, 3318
Gregory St., Madison, WI 53711; (608)233-3346, fax: -2236] with
research provided by the Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and
Research [1718 Connecticut, NW Washington, DC 20009].
Douglas B. Johnson
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