Aug 1 1998

Global Smokescreen

As evidence continues to emerge that global warming is already occurring (Nature, 4/23/98), the oil industry is gearing up to try to convince the public that science is still uncertain. Representatives from the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon, Chevron and from corporate-backed think tanks got together to produce a “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan,” a copy of which was obtained by the New York Times (4/28/98).

Part of the plan includes the creation of a $5 million think tank set up specifically to spread the word that we just don’t know whether global warming is happening or not, or what could possibly be done to stop it. Another aspect of the plan calls for spending $600,000 to try to sway the media to the industry point of view that “scientific uncertainties” about global warming make it reckless to try to curtail the burning of fossil fuels.

Here’s one point from the plan: “Produce, distribute via syndicate and directly to newspapers nationwide a steady stream of op-ed columns and letters to the editor authored by scientists”–scientists, that is, who take the industry line on global warming. Don’t look for any of these op-eds or letters to the editor to mention that they were arranged by the oil industry.

Likewise, when the plan manages to place the industry’s hand-picked scientists on talk radio, or gets them quoted in newspapers, don’t expect to see these sources identified as agents of big oil. The plan is carefully designed to hide the fact that the main motive is not the search for truth about climate changes, but protection of the oil business’s profits.

Regular readers of Extra! may be interested to note that only one journalist is mentioned by name as being particularly likely to do a story with the oil industry’s point of view: That’s ABC’s John Stossel.