Environment in Crisis

Global Warming Debate
Global Warming

Front Groups
Think Tanks


Back to Main Menu..
Politicians in the US and Australia have not been responsive to people's concerns because of the success of industry lobbying and the confusion corporate-funded scientists, front-groups and think tanks are deliberately spreading. As Ross Gelbspan (1995) stated in Harper's Magazine the "confusion is intentional, expensively gift wrapped by the energy industries." It is in this way that corporate influence goes far beyond the millions of dollars in campaign donations made by the fossil fuel industry to politicians and political parties.
In the lead up to the Kyoto conference on global warming the fossil fuel industries in the US and Australia stepped up their campaign to prevent a treaty being signed that involved greenhouse gas reduction targets for both countries. A US consortium of 20 organisations launched an anti-climate treaty campaign in September 1997. These industry groups representing oil, coal and other fossil fuel interests spent an estimated $US13 million on television, newspaper and radio advertising in the three months leading up to the Kyoto conference to promote public opposition to the treaty. Speaking at a news conference on this campaign, the President of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jerry Jasinowski, argued that the treaty would mean energy prices would go up, jobs would be moved to developing countries, and businesses, farmers and consumers would suffer.

The high level of consensus amongst the world's climate scientists is not widely known because the corporations that would be affected by measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have waged a deceptive campaign to confuse the public and policy-makers on the issue. They have used corporate front groups, public relations firms and conservative think tanks to cast doubt on predictions of global warming and its impacts, to imply that we do not know enough to act and to argue that the cost of reducing greenhouse gases is prohibitively expensive. The US National Coal Association spent $US700,000 on this in 1992/93 alone. Also in 1993, the American Petroleum Institute (a trade association representing companies such as BP Oil, Shell, Chevron and Exxon) paid PR-firm Burson-Marsteller $US1.8 million. Burson Marsteller helped it defeat a proposed tax on fossil fuels.

Fostering doubt is a well known public relations tactic. Phil Lesly (1992), author of a handbook on public relations and communications, advises corporations:

People generally do not favor action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt.

The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information into the stream from sources that the public will find credible. There is no need for a clear-cut 'victory.'...Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary. (p. 331)

The success of this strategy is evident in US Gallop polls in October and November 1997. They found that 37 percent of those surveyed thought that scientists were unsure of the cause of global warming. The poll also showed a drop in concern about global warming since 1991.

Throughout 1998 vested interests lobbied against the US ratification of the Kyoto Treaty. The Republican-chaired House Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs held a series of hearings entitled "Kyoto Protocol: Is the Clinton-Gore Administration Selling Out Americans?" to which many business people testified, including executives from the American Petroleum Institute, the Ford Motor Company, The American Coal Company and the National Mining Association. Those opposed to the Treaty emphasised the costs to Americans in terms of jobs and prices.

...back to top

Additional Material

Allen,Vicki, 1997, 'Industries launch anti-climate treaty ad campaign', Reuters News Service, 10 Sept 1997.

CLEAR, 1998, Western Fuels Association's Astroturf Empire Coal industry campaign multiplies efforts to re-spin global warming, November 10.

Lesly, Philip, 1992, 'Coping with Opposition Groups', Public Relations Review, Vol. 18, No. 4 .

Stevens, William K. 1998, 'The Ad Campaign: Global Warming, or Hot Air?', New York Times, 3rd October, p. 6.

US Business Roudtable

Editorial, Corporate Watch, October 1998.

Oiling the Machine, Greenpeace Report on corporate funding of US politicians.

Ozone Action, Ties that Blind III: How the Public Interest was Lost, Ozone Action, Washington D.C., 1996.

Ford and Global Warming, Ozone Action, Washington D.C., 1998.

Pew Center on Global Climate Change

...back to top

© 2003 Sharon Beder