Let’s Talk More About: Oil and Gas Hate- Does it Help With Climate or Not?

Mike raised some interesting questions last week in this comment to this post.  Here’s what he said:

Mike: It seems like you keep pointing at the enviros as the groups that are being unreasonable. I agree, many of these groups are over the top with their apparent hatefulness towards the oil and gas industry, but the industry has brought this upon themselves with their disinformation campaigns, lobbying efforts to thwart legitimate environmental regulations, disregard for human health issues near oil/gas fields, and the list goes on and on.

I’m just pointing out that the energies feel like hate and scapegoating.  Is hate and scapegoating helpful?  Does my 2007 car use gas due to industry lobbying or disinformation?  Does the county snowplow? Probably not.

Now,other TSW readers know more about the industry than I do, but I don’t think that there is one “industry”.  There are the folks that were hauled before the hearing and questioned about oil prices ( I think they may be called the “majors” but not sure), plus there are all kinds of other businesses involved. So I’ll call them the O&G complex.

I think every industry has environmental impacts, and every one lobbies to reduce regulation, and every one tries to make money.  In our state, for example, we recently legalized marijuana- clearly that has environmental and health impacts.  Including weakening indoor air quality laws (smoking tobacco indoors is bad, marijuana, not).

And then there’s  expansion of wind turbines in Eastern Colorado

Harman doesn’t see much difference between her activism against wind and solar in Washington County and someone fighting an oil and gas well in a Denver suburb. When it comes to approving new industrial land in any community, she said strong local regulations will help ensure people are “good neighbors.”

And the wind industry has shown disregard for human health issues.. like oil and gas, there are controversies among pro and con scientists and health care providers, e.g. this study.

In Ontario and elsewhere, some individuals have reported experiencing adverse health effects resulting from living near IWTs. Reports of IWT-induced adverse health effects have been dismissed by some commentators including government authorities and other organizations. Physicians have been exposed to efforts to convince the public of the benefits of IWTs while minimizing the health risks. Those concerned about adverse effects of IWTs have been stereotyped as “NIMBYs” (not in my backyard).,

In terms of the wind industry exhibiting lack of concern, check out many stories on the Stop These Things blog, originated by Australians.

I’m not saying that the O&G complex is any better or worse than any other industrial complex.  But why are some so hated, and others seem to get a relatively free pass (except for our remarkably consistent friends at CBD and some other groups)?  I’m thinking ranchers and the forest products industry.  And many critique OHV users, while thinking the Outdoor Recreation industry is swell. We seem to assume the worst about some industries and overlook the problems of others.   The only thing they have in common is perhaps a history of having donated to “the wrong” political party.  But I’m open to other hypotheses.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas folks apparently did lobby for a carbon tax with dividends also.


Mike: How can for-profit mega-corporations who answer to oligarchs, investors and shareholders with the primary desire of maximizing profits be trusted to work in good faith to transition to a carbon neutral world?


I wonder about media corporations also .. how can we trust them to tell us stories fairly and not focus on emotional content that drives clicks?

Or pharmaceutical companies not to downplay risks of drugs? Or even scientific disciplines and NIH to police themselves around dangerous research (see this excellent Vanity Fair article exploring various scientists circling wagons after the Covid outbreak).

I guess the answer is regulation and enforcement thereof.  That’s the way it works for cars and airplanes and pharmaceuticals and so on.  That way there are sideboards, and you don’t really have to trust. Still, there are other forces, like the ESG movement. From Tisha Schuller :

The divest-or-engage debate came to a head in February with two interesting decisions. First, the New York State Pension Fund (NYSCRF) announced a $238 million divestment from oil and gas companies it saw to be “unprepared to adapt to a low-carbon future.” This group of companies included about one-half of the oil and gas companies owned by NYSCRF. The decision to divest from select oil and gas companies reflects public-sector investors’ attentiveness to how companies are embracing the energy transition in their strategies, a stance we saw earlier this year in private equity announcements, covered in this Both True.

Environmental and social activist groups applauded NYSCRF’s move as progress towards a greener future. But two of the nation’s largest pension funds — the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) — oppose such moves as less than constructive. “When you divest you don’t solve climate change, you don’t solve the issues,” said CalPERS managing director Simiso Nzima in response to NYSCRF’s divestment.

CalPERS and CalSTRS, which together control over $42 billion in fossil fuel investments, prefer to “constructive engagement” to communicate their concerns while maintaining maximum return.

I agree it would be a wonderful thing for everyone to sit down and do some collaborative problem solving, to come up with a solid transition plan, to put real money towards the transition efforts, and to persevere to stay the transition course, but I don’t see it happening without the heavy hand of government.

Regulation is part of the heavy hand of government. But we can certainly have regulations without hate.. see non-hated industries. Ben and Jerry’s?

Mike: I personally prefer more measured, thoughtful dialogue, but it seems the shrillness of environmental groups is required to get people’s attention to put pressure on politicians to do what is needed to minimize (a relative term) extinctions, loss of entire ecosystems, and human suffering moving forward.

Apocalypticism (or “doomism”) has been discussed pro and con among climate activists.

Example: AP story by Seth Borenstein:

Mann said doomism has become far more of a threat than denialism and he believes that some of the same people, trade associations and companies that denied climate change are encouraging people who say it is too late. Mann is battling publicly with a retired University of Arizona ecologist, Guy McPherson, an intellectual leader of the doom movement.

McPherson said he’s not part of the monetary system, hasn’t had a paycheck in 13 years, doesn’t vote and lived off the grid for a decade. He said all species go extinct and humans are no exception. He publicly predicted humanity will go extinct in 2026, but in an interview with The Associated Press said, “I’m not nearly as stuck on 2026,” and mentioned 2030 and changes to human habitat from the loss of Arctic summer sea ice.

So Mann’s kind of implying that the O&G folks are promoting doomism.. oh well.  And AAAS gave him an award for science communication.

To me, empirically, shrillness hasn’t worked. It’s been thirty years now, at least. There’s that old saw about “if you keep doing what you always did, you’re going to get what you always got.”

And ENGO’s do have a variety of strategies, including more collaborative ones, as with Environmental Defense Fund and reducing methane.

Here’s a podcast with Mark Brownstein from EDF and here’s a link to what they’re doing.

Framing is a choice. We could also frame the climate problem as 1) it’s difficult to change the world economy, which is now dependent on fossil fuels. Especially in a just way with countries in deep poverty.  2) Transition strategies and adaptation are important. 3) it’s complicated and we don’t know the right answer yet, 4) we can’t kick entire industries out of the boat and expect to row as fast, and 5) promoting hatred and division doesn’t ultimately help solve complex problems where we need all hands on deck.

Mike also linked to this article in which the author Robert Rapier (a chemcial engineer) says something similar.

These are issues in which there seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding — which leads to finger-pointing — between the Biden Administration and the oil industry. Given the circumstances, as I wrote previously I believe the Biden Administration should convene a summit with the heads of the major oil companies. There should be frank dialogue, and the outcome should be clearly communicated to the world.

Trust is built by making agreements, making them transparent to the public, and living by them. That might actually be easier for companies to do than for politicians. Agreement also need to be realistic, and involve doers as well as talkers, writers and exhorters.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk More About: Oil and Gas Hate- Does it Help With Climate or Not?”

  1. Sharon. I could write a lengthy response hitting each of your points, but I’m going to keep it a bit more simple than that. I’m not sure you are interpreting my points correctly, but that is probably because I didn’t take the time to really flesh them out.

    I should probably introduce myself a little more so you know I’m not a quack. I have degrees in forestry, soil science, biology and education. My greatest areas of knowledge and experience are in human behavior, education and communication. My work in environmental education received recognition at regional, national and international levels primarily due to my philosophy/methodology combining emotional and cognitive learning. Over the last few years, while in retirement, I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on disinformation and misinformation and how humans respond to it.

    People who are driven by making tons of money, power and/or, the over-powering belief that their cause is just can be found in the oil and gas industry, land management, environmental organizations, politics and renewable energy industries (and many more, of course). For that reason, there will always be examples of nefarious actions in all these business, government and NGO categories.

    Some big players in the oil and gas industry have allegedly been funding disinformation about climate change for decades in an attempt to slow down action that would lead to reduced dependence on fossil fuels. I first read about it in the early 1990s and have been following ever since. In a court case a few years ago, the big five (or was it six) multi-national oil and gas corporations were asked by the judge to provide their own research on climate change. All of them were aware that the burning of fossil fuels was leading to climate change in the early 1980s or earlier. Yet they still funded disinformation to create doubt that humans could cause the climate to change. They have been highly successful and we now find ourselves in a place where humans need to act decisively sooner than later to minimize the drastic change that many scientists believe will occur. Some of this change is already happening and some is baked into the future even if we become carbon neutral tomorrow.

    In an earlier post, when your comment about moralizing targeted people speaking out about the O&G industry, I could not think of anything more deserving of moralizing over (is that a real expression?). To use a sports analogy (sorry), we now find ourselves on own 5 yard line instead of maybe the 50 with dealing with human release of greenhouse gases. That seems like a pretty big deal to me, especially considering the global consequences. I’m not a doomsayer, but based on the science I have been reading, I believe we are headed towards increased extinctions and much human suffering. Humans are generalists and capable of manipulating their environment for survival, so I think humans will be around for a long time unless conflict leads to all out nuclear war. But human suffering has already begun tied to human-influenced climate change.

    My point about the shrillness coming from some environmental groups is based on the understanding that a percentage of people will respond to that type of emotional messaging and reduce their own carbon footprints, open their wallets and/or contact their political representatives. Like you, I am not fond of that methodology, but it is partially in response to the well funded disinformation campaign that has been waged by the O&G industry. That still doesn’t excuse it.

    Disinformation and the resulting sharing of misinformation has reached new levels with the wide scale use of the internet and social media. Additionally, some local and national media are knowingly putting out disinformation. They all provide some level of misinformation due to mistakes or purposeful lack of fact checking. When I consider which media outlets to mostly get my news from, I don’t only look at their bias, but especially their fact checking record.

    The big megaphone of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media of all sizes has allowed for a proliferation of disinformation, misinformation and seemingly outrageous conspiracy theories. It has also increased polarization. This is a short and easy to read article I came across the other day about why people are susceptible to even outrageous conspiracy theories


    Arguing about “whataboutism” concerning environmental groups and renewable energy companies doesn’t change the fact that the oil and gas industry has had the biggest impact on slowing down our collective efforts towards reducing our carbon emissions. The Supreme Court Citizens United decision provided the industry (I’m using that as the “big tent” industry) with one more avenue to keep their interests moving forward. Money has a way of convincing many politicians to vote in a manner that does not consider the greater well-being of the majority of their constituents while disinformation helps convince their constituents they really are. As you pointed out, others lobby politicians too, but their pockets aren’t as deep nor do the employ as many people.

    You may be interested in this article about industry “green washing.” Here is a quote that summarizes what the article is about: “Financial analysis reveals a continuing business model dependence on fossil fuels along with insignificant and opaque spending on clean energy.”


    It would be wonderful to have a bunch of really smart people representing industry, NGOs, climate science, government, etc. to sit down and hash out a plan to move forward with reducing greenhouse gases. And then have it result in real action that is sustained through multiple presidential administrations. But I won’t hold my breath – look what happened to the multi-state Sage Grouse agreement after an administration change.

    People who know me well would say I am an optimist, but my optimism has taken a hit over the last six years due to the level and success of disinformation and misinformation. Disinformation and misinformation has always been around, but communication technology combined with an understanding of how to manipulate people is being used so effectively by people who don’t have humanity’s greater interest at heart that I am struggling with maintaining that optimism. I feel like all I can do is take care of my own happiness and be kind to those around me while witnessing what is happening in the world. Well, also vote and shine a light on misinformation on social media.

    • Mike, thanks for this information on your background. I agree that misinformation is rampant and that’s one of the reasons for The Smokey Wire. We try to hear both sides and find out what the facts are, even though we may disagree (and often do) on how to put the facts together to form a narrative. I like to think of it as putting beads on a necklace.

      I think Sage Grouse is an interesting example of this.. first of all I noticed things in the media didn’t seem to add up https://forestpolicypub.com/2019/08/06/the-sage-grouse-story-a-more-complete-view-i-not-all-about-trump/
      and then I interviewed a person suggested by a WGA staffer

      since then, I have spoken to other folks who were involved who have stated that that was the way they remember it. It was collaborative with the States.. until it wasn’t. And perhaps the Sec didn’t get the dynamics of the States the same way Salazar would have. And folks thought Hilary would win… so what could the States do? Anyway from my sources, it’s a much more complicated and nuanced story than that told by media sources. In fact, my source told me he had told his story in interviews with the WaPo and other major outlets and non used what they gave him.

      The only way we can combat disinformation is to put better information out there and be a trusted source. Sometimes that’s trying to get the facts and compare sources, sometimes that’s separating facts from spin, and sometimes it’s even doing our own interviews and fact-finding.

  2. In the interest of putting better information out there, let’s check this: “Meanwhile, the oil and gas folks apparently did lobby for a carbon tax with dividends also.”

    Here’s an article two months after the article you linked.
    Keith McCoy, a senior director in Exxon’s Washington government affairs team, was recorded on video in May saying that the company backs a carbon tax “as an easy talking point” and an “advocacy tool” because “there is not an appetite for a carbon tax” and that Republican legislators who oppose taxes in principle will never let it happen… “But there’s nothing illegal about that. We were looking out for our investments, we were looking out for shareholders.”

    Why should we expect them to ever “come to the table” without an agenda of maximizing profits?


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