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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Climate Change Misinformation Campaign Charges

Air Date: Week of May 1, 1998

The Global Climate Coalition is a prominent oil industry group opposed to the Kyoto climate accord. At a recent meeting at the Washington D.C. headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute, a campaign to counter the emerging consensus of climate researchers was set in motion. Steve Curwood spoke with Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, a Washington DC advocacy group, to discuss the effort. Mr. Clapp says he was given correspondence about the campaign by industry insiders. (Living On Earth did contact the American Petroleum Institute for a response. William O’Keefe, an API vice- president says meetings at his headquarters and correspondence about them were the personal initiative of a low-level employee.)

Transcript

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In a recent issue of Nature magazine, scientists document that the 20th century is the warmest in the last 600 years, and the 1990s the warmest decade since 1400. That's the latest in a growing stack of studies that show that human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, are changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and heating up the entire planet. Even some of the big oil companies are taking note. Last year British Petroleum unveiled plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and last month Royal Dutch Shell announced it was withdrawing from the Global Climate Coalition, a prominent industry group opposed to the Kyoto climate accord. But so far, most major oil producers remain unconvinced, and recently, at a meeting at the headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, DC, a campaign was devised to counter the emerging consensus of climate researchers. We asked Philip Clapp, President of the National Environmental Trust, a Washington advocacy group, to discuss the effort. Mr. Clapp says he was given correspondence about the campaign by industry insiders.

CLAPP: It's a very insidious plan. It is exactly what the tobacco industry did for thirty years on the science of smoking and lung cancer. It's a plan in which the industry lays out step by step methods to undercut all of the mainstream science on climate change and try to convince politicians and journalists that there is no science showing that our climate is changing.

CURWOOD: Mr. Clapp, from what you have seen and read and heard from the folks at the American Petroleum Institute, what exactly is it that they want to do here? Can you give us some details of their plan?

CLAPP: Yes. Among the things that they're planning to do is spend about $600,000 to recruit a variety of scientists, train them in public relations skills, and put them on airplanes all over the country to talk to reporters, put them on radio programs like this one. They are planning to create something called the Global Science Data Center, which would attempt to magnify any studies that might come out that would question the science of climate change. They were planning to do briefings for governors, state legislatures, members of Congress, with scientists who question the mainstream view on climate change. They were planning to spend several million dollars of that prior to the Buenos Aires negotiating session in an attempt to undercut what is really the completion of the Kyoto Accord in November of '98.

CURWOOD: Now, in this country we do have the First Amendment that allows people to question, to petition, to write and talk. There are in fact some scientists who have sincere doubts about global warming. Isn't the American Petroleum Institute plan just an effort to be sure that those views are heard?

CLAPP: It would be fine if the American Petroleum Institute were just making itself heard. In reality, however, what they're trying to do is extemely deceptive. There is...an overwhelming majority of the climate scientists in the world have warned us very strongly that we need to move to take action to cut our emissions of greenhouse gases now. Twenty-five-hundred scientists signed onto a statement like that made by the inter-governmental panel on climate change which was convened by the UN. What the American Petroleum Institute is talking about doing is taking the views of a very tiny minority of dissenting scientists and trying to make them appear as if they are the dominant majority view. That's deceptive.

CURWOOD: Why is the oil industry doing this now?

CLAPP: They have no reason to want any reduction in the growth of their sales of their fossil fuel products, and that's simply what controlling greenhouse gas emissions means. It doesn't necessarily mean that the consumer has to change their lifestyle. What it means is we have to have more fuel efficient cars. We have to have more fuel-efficient homes. And all those things are going to lead to a slowing in the growth of sales of oil. It's that simple.

CURWOOD: Philip Clapp is President of the National Environmental Trust in Washington. Thanks so much for taking this time with us today.

CLAPP: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth did contact the American Petroleum Institute for a response. William O'Keefe, an API vice-president, says reports of the public relations plan have been blown out of proportion. He says meetings at his headquarters and correspondence about them were the personal initiatives of a low-level employee.

O'KEEFE: I have not seen the document. I did not ask that it be prepared. This was an informal brainstorming activity. It wasn't something that people were told to go off and develop a plan or that it is somehow that we want to manipulate the media.

CURWOOD: The American Petroleum Institute's William O'Keefe.

 

 

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