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Michael Klare, What's Big Energy Smoking?

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: We're back, post-Memorial Day, and I just wanted to remind those of you who have already contributed $100 (or more) to this site for our newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, that the author is on the road until early June, so your signed copies won't go out until then. In the meantime, though, I can offer our thanks. Without your donations, we simply wouldn't be operating. They're that crucial. In fact, any of you who meant to get a signed, personalized copy of Men Explain Things to Me (and it is spectacular!) in return for a contribution but haven't done so yet, click right over to our donation page and check out the offer for that or other remarkable books. Tom]

"The industry's position was that there was no 'proof' that tobacco was bad, and they fostered that position by manufacturing a 'debate,' convincing the mass media that responsible journalists had an obligation to present 'both sides' of it." Using a handful of scientists as their expert witnesses, the major tobacco companies also denied the science linking cigarette smoking and cancer and claimed that anti-tobacco findings were driven by a political agenda. Using publicity outfits, think tanks, and those "objective" scientists in their pay or thrall, they put their money where their mouths were and financed a massive campaign of what, in retrospect, can only be called disinformation on the effects of tobacco smoking on human health. In this way, they created the doubt and debate they wanted, successfully postponing a reckoning for their industry for years.

Sound familiar today? It should. As Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway documented in their classic book Merchants of Doubt, the seeding of doubt into the cigarette controversy proved a brilliant move. The two authors call it "the tobacco strategy." It was so successful for the cigarette companies that it would be imitated and replicated in similar encounters over acid rain, the ozone hole, and finally global warming, a "debate" still ongoing and, as Oreskes and Conway make clear, with the same tiny cast of doubting scientists, who have moved conveniently from one issue to the next (without themselves doing original work), ending up in league with the fossil fuel industry. It's quite a tale of men representing whole industries who have ended up repeatedly on the wrong side of science. On the effects of tobacco, acid rain, and the chemicals that were destroying the ozone layer, they were notoriously wrong and yet, for the industries that supported them, notoriously right. It's clear enough how the fourth of these "debates" on climate change will be decided. The question is only when -- and on that question hangs human health on a global scale.

In the meantime, Big Energy has never stopped learning from Big Tobacco's successes. As TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, the author of The Race for What's Left, reveals today, they are once again adapting and exploiting the latest tobacco strategy in a new and devastating way. It couldn't be a more shameful tale and no one has told it -- until now. Tom

Let Them Eat Carbon
Like Big Tobacco, Big Energy Targets the Developing World for Future Profits
By Michael T. Klare

In the 1980s, encountering regulatory restrictions and public resistance to smoking in the United States, the giant tobacco companies came up with a particularly effective strategy for sustaining their profit levels: sell more cigarettes in the developing world, where demand was strong and anti-tobacco regulation weak or nonexistent. Now, the giant energy companies are taking a page from Big Tobacco's playbook. As concern over climate change begins to lower the demand for fossil fuels in the United States and Europe, they are accelerating their sales to developing nations, where demand is strong and climate-control measures weak or nonexistent. That this will produce a colossal increase in climate-altering carbon emissions troubles them no more than the global spurt in smoking-related illnesses troubled the tobacco companies.

The tobacco industry's shift from rich, developed nations to low- and middle-income countries has been well documented. "With tobacco use declining in wealthier countries, tobacco companies are spending tens of billions of dollars a year on advertising, marketing, and sponsorship, much of it to increase sales in... developing countries," the New York Times noted in a 2008 editorial. To boost their sales, outfits like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco also brought their legal and financial clout to bear to block the implementation of anti-smoking regulations in such places. "They're using litigation to threaten low- and middle-income countries," Dr. Douglas Bettcher, head of the Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), told the Times.

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The fossil fuel companies -- producers of oil, coal, and natural gas -- are similarly expanding their operations in low- and middle-income countries where ensuring the growth of energy supplies is considered more critical than preventing climate catastrophe. "There is a clear long-run shift in energy growth from the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the club of rich nations] to the non-OECD," oil giant BP noted in its Energy Outlook report for 2014. "Virtually all (95%) of the projected growth [in energy consumption] is in the non-OECD," it added, using the polite new term for what used to be called the Third World.

As in the case of cigarette sales, the stepped-up delivery of fossil fuels to developing countries is doubly harmful. Their targeting by Big Tobacco has produced a sharp rise in smoking-related illnesses among the poor in places where health systems are particularly ill equipped for those in need. "If current trends continue," the WHO reported in 2011, "by 2030 tobacco will kill more than 8 million people worldwide each year, with 80% of these premature deaths among people living in low- and middle-income countries." In a similar fashion, an increase in carbon sales to such nations will help produce more intense storms and longer, more devastating droughts in places that are least prepared to withstand or cope with climate change's perils.

The energy industry's growing emphasis on sales to these particularly vulnerable lands is evident in the strategic planning of ExxonMobil, the largest privately owned oil company. "By 2040, the world's population is projected to grow to approximately 8.8 billion people," Exxon noted in its 2013 financial report to stockholders. "As economies and populations grow, and living standards improve for billions of people, the need for energy will continue to rise... This demand increase is expected to be concentrated in developing countries."

This assessment, explained Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, will govern the company's marketing plans in the years ahead. "The global business environment continues to provide a mix of challenges and opportunities," he told financial analysts at the New York Stock Exchange in March 2013. While the demand for energy in the developed economies "remains relatively flat," he noted, "energy demand for the economies of the non-OECD countries is expected to grow about 65% to support anticipated growth."

In recognition of this trend, Exxon has undertaken a wide variety of initiatives intended to boost its sales capacity in China, Southeast Asia, and other rapidly developing areas. In Singapore, for example, the company is expanding a refinery and petrochemical facility that make up its "largest integrated manufacturing site in the world." The refinery is being modified to produce more diesel, so as to better service the growing fleets of trucks, buses, and other heavy vehicles in the region. Meanwhile, the hydrocarbon processing facility at the chemical plant is being doubled to meet the rising demand for petrochemicals used in making plastics and other consumer goods, especially in China. ("China alone is expected to represent over half of global demand growth" for these products, Tillerson observed last year.)

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To promote its products in China, Exxon has established a "strategic alliance" with the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec), one of China's state-owned energy giants. A key goal of the alliance is the establishment of an "integrated world-scale refinery and petrochemical complex" in eastern China which, Exxon officials noted, is to "become a major marketer of petrochemicals throughout China and petroleum products throughout Fujian Province." A major component of this joint effort, the Fujian Refining and Ethylene Integrated Project, came on line in September 2009.

Exxon is also expanding its capacity to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia. In partnership with Qatar Petroleum, it has built the world's largest LNG export facility at Ras Laffan in Qatar and is building a mammoth LNG operation in Papua New Guinea. This $19 billion project, which began operation in April, includes a 430-mile pipeline to deliver gas from the island's interior highlands to an export terminal near Port Moresby, the capital. "The project is optimally located to serve growing Asia markets where LNG demand is expected to rise by approximately 165% between 2010 and 2025," said Neil W. Duffin, president of ExxonMobil Development Company.

Next on the company's agenda is a plan to draw on the natural gas being extracted in ever greater quantities from domestic shale formations in the United States via hydro-fracking and convert it into LNG for export to Asia. Although various American politicians have been pushing the strategic export of such supplies to Europe to "rescue" that continent from its reliance on Russian gas, Exxon has other ideas. It sees Asia, where gas prices are higher, as the natural market for its LNG -- and U.S. foreign policy be damned. "By exporting natural gas," Tillerson told the Asia Society in June 2013, "the United States could shore up the energy security of Asian allies and trading partners and stimulate investment in American domestic production."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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