The Common Good

"CO2 is Green": More Big Oil Propaganda

Big oil and big coal are worried about the upcoming climate change legislation. They're especially worried about what it will do to their bottom line. So worried, in fact, they're willing to set up faux non-profits to try to "educate" us into believing rising levels of CO2 are okay -- and that the overwhelming consensus of the world's scientific community is wrong.

Some might call that a difference of opinion -- but really, it's just propaganda for profit.

The front group "CO2 is Green" launched an advertising campaign this week with a half-page ad in The Washington Post urging people to pressure their senators to vote against the Senate's "cap and trade" bill because, the ad says, "The bill is based on the false premise that man-made CO2 is a major cause of climate change."

Anne Mulkern, who writes for Greenwire, has a great article in The New York Times about the fossil fuel industry's latest foray into wishful thinking:

"CO2 is Green spokesman H. Leighton Steward sits on the board of directors of EOG Resources Inc., an oil and natural gas development company. He also is an honorary director at the industry trade group American Petroleum Institute, according to a biography on EOG's website ..."

EOG Resources goes farther to describe Mr. Steward, a graduate of Southern Methodist University, as:

"Former Chairman of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Natural Gas Supply Association ... and currently an author-partner of Sugar Busters, LLC, a provider of seminars, books and products related to helping people follow a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, and Chairman of the non-profit foundations Plants Need CO2 and CO2 Is Green, providers of information related to carbon dioxide's impact on the global climate and the plant and animal kingdoms."

Additionally, David Di Martino, a spokesperson for Clean Energy Works, a coalition of about 80 faith and environmental groups who support climate legislation, told Mulkern, "CO2 is Green is bankrolled by Corbin J. Robinson, chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources."

According to a Mother Jones article from September 2009, "Natural Resource Partners is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the scandal-plagued coal front group currently under investigation for its role in the forged letters sent to members of Congress criticizing the House climate bill."

Steven Mufson at The Washington Post also wrote about these guys back in September 2009, saying:

"Steward has joined forces with Corbin J. Robertson Jr., chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine in return for royalties. Its revenues were $291 million in 2008. They have formed two groups -- CO2 Is Green designated for advocacy and Plants Need CO2 for education -- with about $1 million. Plants Need CO2 has applied for 501(c)(3) tax status, so that contributions would qualify as charitable donations, said Natural Resource Partners general counsel Wyatt L. Hogan, who also serves on the group's board."

(If you want to read more on the "populist" uprisings against climate change regulation and who's bankrolling them, see Greenpeace's excellent report "Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine".)

So it looks like the oil, coal, and natural gas corporations have developed two new front organizations: "Plants Need CO2" is the 501(c)(3) (education) nonprofit and "CO2 is Green" is the 501(c)(4) (advocacy) nonprofit.

These two "not-for-profit" organizations are rolling out propaganda advertisements that are bankrolled by oil company profits ("I'm not getting a penny for this," said Steward, who said he owned oil company stocks but no coal stocks, according to The Washington Post. "It's just something I thought people should know.") in order to influence votes in the Senate on climate legislation that will directly impact the financial bottom line of those same oil companies.

There is something wrong with that. Maybe it's the "lying to people for profit" angle.

In the interest of using this column to educate rather than obfuscate, however, let's quickly review the climate change facts as laid out by the world's best scientists (see The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report):

1. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal." (It's happening.)

2. "Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750." (It's happening because of high concentrations of CO2.)

3. "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-induced] greenhouse gas concentrations." (It's happening mostly because of CO2 waste produced by us, not trees.)

4. "Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible." (It's happening and if we don't do something we are really, uh, up a galaxy without a planet.)

5. "A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change." (It's happening, and we could do something to slow it down, but our most effective legislative options are being eaten away by the greed of the energy companies.)

Let me be clear. I'm sure that Mr. Steward and Mr. Robinson feel morally justified in what they are doing. I'm sure that they deeply believe that they are correct in informing the public to their way of thinking. But that is why we have ethical codes, particularly business ethics, to safeguard the societal common good from the egoistic self-interest of the corporate few.

If energy, oil, and coal companies -- and the people who run them -- want to critique climate change legislation, then let them do it openly -- not from behind a curtain of green smoke. I suggest they fund a new ad for The Washington Post:

"Climate change is not our problem -- satisfying our stockholders is. Won't you vote 'no' on climate change legislation? Because when Papa's happy, everybody's happy." This ad is brought to you and paid for by Big Oil and Sons.

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She's the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood available at store.sojo.net.

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