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Big business & global warming

Posted in the database on Monday, July 24th, 2006 @ 12:45:09 MST (6148 views)
by Deirdre Griswold    Workers World  

Untitled Document
Image from Solcomhouse

Corporate manipulation moves to Phase II.

The huge corporations that have spent the last two decades lobbying forcefully to get government and the media to deny the existence of global warming and climate change have embarked on a new tack.

In the first phase of their campaign, these capitalist enterprises used every trick in the book to deny or belittle global warming. Since before the Kyoto Accords—which went into effect in 1994 and which the U.S. refused to sign—the energy companies in particular were setting up front organizations to dispute the scientific evidence.

These groups have had innocuous-sounding names like The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), Americans for Balanced Energy Sources (ABEC), Center for Energy and Economic Development, Cooler Heads Coalition, Global Climate Coalition, Global Climate Information Project and the Greening Earth Society.

There are many more. From a long list available at sourcewatch.org, the sampling provided here goes only as far as the Gs.

The wolf in sheep’s clothing

TASSC started as a front for Philip Morris. It morphed from disputing the danger of tobacco smoke to advancing “industry-friendly positions on a wide range of topics, including global warming, smoking, phthalates and pesticides.” (sourcewatch.org)

The Cooler Heads Coalition, according to its website, globalwarming.org, was formed in 1997 to “dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific and risk analysis. ... The risks of global warming are speculative; the risks of global warming policies are all too real.”

Before it disbanded in 2002, the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) “was one of the most outspoken and confrontational industry groups in the United States battling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” It collaborated with groups such as Sovereignty International, which believes that global warming is a plot to enslave the world under a United Nations-led “world government.”

The members of the GCC read like a Who’s Who of the largest U.S. industrial corporations and their organizations, including the American Petroleum Institute, Chevron Oil, Chrysler, Dow Chemical, Duke Power, DuPont, ExxonMobil, Ford, General Motors, McDonnell-Douglas, Shell Oil, Texaco and Union Carbide.

According to the Los Angeles Times (Dec. 7, 1997) the GCC spent $13 million on its 1997 anti-Kyoto ad campaign, an amount roughly equivalent to Greenpeace’s entire annual budget.

Common Cause has documented more than $63 million in contributions to politicians from members of the GCC from 1989 to 1999.

The Global Climate Information Project, sponsored by the GCC and the American Association of Automobile Man u facturers, among others, was created to sponsor an adver tising campaign in the U.S. against the Kyoto agreement.

The Greening Earth Society, funded and controlled by the Western Fuels Association, an association of coal-burning utility companies, claims that greenhouse gas emissions are a good thing because they will lead to greater plant growth and a greener environment.

For a while, this full-court press by U.S. big business fed the media with false information that kept a large part of the population confused. In this period, more than half the reporting by the U.S. corporate media echoed the well-funded industry lobbyists’ claim that climate change and global warming were just an unproved “theory.” They ridiculed the view that the combustion of fossil fuels—especially oil and coal—leads to an accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that then traps the earth’s heat.

But then came the hurricanes, the drenching rains leading to disastrous floods and mud slides, the tornadoes, the grapefruit-sized hail, the droughts, the wildfires, the melting of glaciers, the death of coral reefs, the shrinking of the polar ice caps, and the biggest “natural” disaster to hit a major U.S. city since the San Francisco earthquake—the flooding of New Orleans.

The Pasterze, Austria's longest glacier (below), was about 2 kilometers longer in the 19th C. This black & white photograph was taken in 1875 from an overlook on the Grossglockner High Road. It is compared with a photgraph taken from the same vantage point, showing the complete destruction of the Pasterze.

1875 Photo of the Pasterze Glacier

2004 Photo of the former location of the Pasterze Glacier

(Photos from World View of Global Warming)

Global warming is now virtually undisputed in the world’s scientific community, which has moved on to creating models to predict the impact of climate change on low-lying coastal areas, deserts, tundra, ocean currents and so on.

So what are the big corporations that spent hundreds of millions on disinformation doing now?

The wolf gets through the door

They are moving into the area of ecology and conservation in order to make sure that whatever is done is profitable for them.

Take something like the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. It is a product of the Pew Charitable Trusts, set up by the descendants of Joseph Pew, founder of the Sun Oil Co.

For generations, this super-rich family has funded a panoply of right-wing organizations, from the American Liberty League in the 1930s to the Christian Freedom Foundation and the John Birch Society in the 1950s and, more recently, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. This last organization was set up by William Casey, later to become Reagan’s CIA director.

Unlike the earlier industry-sponsored organizations, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change does not dispute global warming. Rather, it seeks to set the agenda of the environmental movement and any related legislation so businesses can take advantage of it.

Its website talks about “the emerging greenhouse gas market.” The center has set up a Business Environmental Leadership Council, which says that “companies taking early action on climate strategies and policy will gain sustained competitive advantage over their peers.”

“The BELC,” they go on, “is now the largest U.S. based association of corporations focused on addressing the challenges of climate change, with 40 members representing $2 trillion in market capitalization and over 3 million employees.

“Many different sectors are represented, from high technology to diversified manufacturing; from oil and gas to transportation; from utilities to chemicals. We accept the views of most scientists that enough is known about the science and environmental impacts of climate change for us to take actions to address its consequences.”

And what kinds of actions do they propose?

“Businesses can and should take concrete steps now in the U.S. and abroad to assess opportunities for emission reductions, establish and meet emission reduction objectives, and invest in new, more efficient products, practices and technologies.

“The Kyoto agreement represents a first step in the international process, but more must be done both to implement the market-based mechanisms that were adopted in principle in Kyoto and to more fully involve the rest of the world in the solution.”

These words may sound innocent enough—to someone unfamiliar with the crafty and devious nature of the class of robber barons who, in a relatively short period of time, have become fabulously wealthy by disregarding the health and well-being of millions of workers and their families.

On closer examination, however, it should be clear that this wing of the ruling class has decided that there is a lot of money to be made from new technologies that may, or may not, slow down global warming. They want to push “market-based mechanisms” because that’s where the money is. And the targets of much of their “analysis” on global warming are developing countries like China, India and Brazil, which they want to “fully involve ... in the solution.”


Photo from Solcomhouse

According to Environment News Service, these three countries emit only one-tenth the amount of greenhouse gases per capita as North America. That hasn’t stopped the U.S. government, which is bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists, from opposing the Kyoto Accord largely on the grounds that it doesn’t demand enough of poorer countries. The corporate media, always ready to blame the Third World, is stoking the fires with dire speculation on what the world will be like when every Chinese family has a car, etc.

In fact, even though its opening of a market economy in many areas to spur development has brought grave problems to China—from the growth of bourgeois values to a widening income gap, unemployment and horrendous conditions in its older, privatized coal mines—there is a robust environmental movement in China that has a great deal of input into government planning. (We will discuss this in our next article.)

Challenge facing environmental movement

The biggest challenge facing the environmental movement here is to break free of the clutches of big capital, whose embrace is really the kiss of death. Too many of the “mature” environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, are tied in directly to the ruling class. Its library, for example, is named after William E. Colby, the first secretary of the Sierra Club and a director for 49 years. Colby launched the Accelerated Pacification Campaign during the Vietnam War and was named director of Central Intelligence by Richard Nixon in 1973.

This dependence on the largess of the very rich makes such groups look for solutions amenable to big business. It promotes the idea that the interests of the mass of people and of the billionaire owners of capital can be conciliated.

That approach may work when the object is to preserve a beautiful piece of wilderness for fortunate hikers to enjoy, or to keep a pristine lake unpolluted.

But the predicted catastrophes that will follow global warming and climate change are far too big to yield to this class-collaborationist approach. Climate change has the potential of producing disasters on a scale that we have seen only during the all-too-frequent imperialist wars of the last hundred years or so.

To politically prepare for what lies ahead, it is necessary to understand the mechanisms of the capitalist system and why even the most illogical, anti-scientific courses of action can become the norm under the pressure of the profit needs of big capital.

(Photos and text added by Axis of Logic)


Why the fox mustn’t guard the henhouse

By Deirdre Griswold
Workers World

Are exploitation and national oppression the major factors driving climate change?

Global warming is no longer a prediction. Its long-term effects are already unfolding across the planet. There are scads of scientific and news reports showing how serious it has already become for tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people.

In the literature dealing with this grave crisis, few if any references to the current social system can be found. Yet that doesn’t mean it is not the basic issue that has to be addressed in order to find a solution.

Perhaps the reason the issues of class exploitation and national oppression are not discussed is because control over billions of people, their labor and resources by a few fabulously wealthy corporations and banks is taken for granted.

Since most of these mega-firms are rooted in highly developed capitalist countries and, in addition to exploiting workers at home, also super-exploit the rest of the world—creating the most malicious, self-serving and racist ideologies to justify their right to do so—the issue of social change really becomes one of overturning not just local class domination but the entire imperialist world order.

Most of the scientists and technical people dealing with the subject of global warming are looking for what they believe to be practical solutions, and the notion of changing social relations on a grand scale is not on their agenda. Even those sympathetic to various struggles of the workers and oppressed for improvements in their conditions of life are not at this time looking to a revolutionary restructuring of the world.

Yet their own predictions as to the gravity of what is to be expected unless human economic activity is profoundly altered should drive them to look beyond the very small steps that they themselves admit are mere band-aids. Certainly, any social movement around this issue must tackle the question of profits versus human needs and survival.

Not a personal but a social problem

However well intentioned, appeals to people on an individual basis to change their habits—“Don’t drive a car,” “Turn off your electric lights,” “Stop being a consumer”—bring results that are trivial when measured against the problem.

If there’s no adequate public transportation, if there’s no attractive and affordable city planning that lets workers live close to jobs, shopping and recreation, how can they stop driving cars?

Ever since the mass production of cars began, big corporations in auto, steel, rubber and oil have deliberately prevented the U.S. government from developing an adequate mass transit system, directly leading to this country being the world’s worst in emissions of greenhouse gases.

People are not “consumers” by nature. A multi-billion-dollar capitalist industry called advertising constantly works on their minds to convince them that happiness comes only through buying more products. The industry itself creates enormous waste—only a fraction of a “newspaper” is news, for example. Whole forests are sacrificed every day to provide paper for advertising. Furthermore, trees absorb carbon from the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Their loss accelerates global warming.

Another direct corollary of class and national oppression is war. Today, wars are raging in the Middle East because the U.S. oil industry, which more than any other sector of capital controls the Bush administration and its foreign and domestic policy, wants undisputed control over that petroleum-rich era.

What is more destructive to the environment than war? Not only do the planes, ships and tanks of this giant
military power contribute to global pollution, but the trillions of dollars spent on past, present and future wars is rob bed from funding social programs—like housing, transportation and alternative energy—that could drastically reduce the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

The destruction and waste built into this militarized, oppressive capitalist society dwarfs whatever energy and resources may be wasted in individual consumption.

The main issue in reining in global warming is social and political, not personal: Will economic activity continue to be based on privately owned corporate entities whose survival in the struggle for markets depends on generating ever greater profits, measured in quarterly bottom lines? Or will it be based on social ownership of all productive wealth, which then allows for broad planning geared to satisfying the long-term needs of the masses of people?

This leads directly to the question of which class will lead society—the workers, in alliance with all the oppressed, or the capitalist exploiters of their labor?

Not to take up these questions is to ignore the elephant in the room. It leads to the unscientific view that greed and inertia are “human nature” and can’t be changed. We are already hearing doomsday predictions from eminent scientists. The pessimism and despair of those who limit their outlook to a future constrained by capitalism can only grow more desperate.

Profiteers lied to the public

The record of the U.S. capitalist class on global warming is undeniable.

As was pointed out in the first article in this series [www.workers.org/2006/us/warming-0720/], big business in the U.S., especially companies in the energy and automobile industries, for about two decades spent hundreds of millions of dollars to discredit the scientific view that human activity—especially the combustion of fossil fuels—had created a blanket of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere that was trapping the sun’s heat. They created benign-sounding lobbying groups to disinform the public and make sure that the government didn’t impose regulations on greenhouse gas emissions or ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the only worldwide agreement to limit these emissions—and a very weak one, at that.

A year ago, the Guardian newspaper in Britain reported that State Department documents showed the Bush administration “thanking Exxon executives for the company’s ‘active involvement’ in helping to determine climate change policy, and also seeking its advice on what climate change policies the company might find acceptable.” The documents were written shortly before Presi dent George W. Bush announced he would not sign the Kyoto Protocol. (“Revealed: how oil giant influenced Bush,” Guardian, June 8, 2005)

Not surprising, of course. The only thing surprising is that Greenpeace was able to get a-hold of the government documents to prove it.

But now industry-sponsored propaganda has been thoroughly disproved by the dramatic and tangible evidences of global warming and climate change that are all around us. So some of the worst sources of disinformation—like the Global Climate Coalition, which got most of its funding from Exxon—have closed down.

In their place have come various well-funded NGOs that acknowledge global warming but promote “solutions” that will be profitable to big business. Last article, we mentioned the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Their funding comes from the Pew family fortune, which comes from Sun Oil. There is also the Reason Foundation—which talks about “unleashing market forces” to solve global warming.

Britain’s first Special Representative on Climate Change, John Ashton, summed up the approach of these groups: “Climate change needs to be seen not as an economic threat, but an economic opportunity.”

Certainly there is much money to be made on selling autos, for example, that burn less gas. With oil prices high, more consumers want affordable hybrid cars. General Motors found out the hard way that its gas-guzzling SUVs and Hummers were losing out to lighter, more efficient vehicles.

Inventors hope to make money with new alternate-fuel devices and maybe even contraptions that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—although they haven’t figured out what to do with it once they have captured it.

The nuclear power industry hopes to make money by replacing coal-fired generating plants with nuclear.

In all of this, however, the main motivation is to make money. Push your product to make money. Ridicule the competition, bribe and even lie to prevent others from getting the contract. That’s how capitalism has always worked.

It should already be clear that, when discussing the future of the earth, decisions on how to allocate society’s resources need much more objective criteria than these.

It is precisely the drive for money and private profit on a short-term basis that has gotten humanity into this mess. And it is the control by a privileged few, who dominate even the so-called democratic political process with their huge fortunes, that prevents capitalist governments from taking the sweeping measures needed to restructure society on a rational basis.

Email: dgriswold@workers.org


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