Thursday, June 09, 2005

Climate Scandal?
The UK's Guardian newspaper has reported that the Bush Administration's stance on climate change was influenced by lobbying from ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute. I suppose in certain quarters this could be regarded as newsworthy, but I doubt it will raise much of a fuss on this side of the Atlantic, since it's a good bet that many Americans already believed this without any evidence. Anyone looking to drum up a scandal will probably be disappointed, and it's likely to be drowned out by the reaction to a verdict in the Michael Jackson trial, whichever way that goes.

Until quite recently, ExxonMobil has been vocal in its opposition to anything to do with climate change, running op-ed ads playing up the scientific controversy on the subject. Their current ads focus on Exxon's investment in R&D and other actions that would reduce emissions, without ever really coming out and saying that climate change is at least partially man-made or even that's it's bad. What should be more noteworthy is the number of oil companies that have broken with the nay-saying and left anti-climate change lobbying groups. BP, Sunoco and Shell participate in the voluntary reduction program of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Chevron accepts that fossil fuels contribute to climate change and is reducing emissions and researching emissions-reduction technologies. Other companies fall out all over the spectrum.

Climate change is a serious problem, as I've argued in this blog since its inception. But just as it's timely for environmentalists to reevaluate their concerns about nuclear power in the context of climate change, we need to get past seeing the fossil fuels industry as a monolithic obstacle to addressing global warming. It's also time to stop regarding Kyoto as some kind of litmus test, now that it's gone into force.

There are probably ten good reasons why the Kyoto Protocol is imperfect and inadequate, balanced by at least ten other reasons why it's better than nothing. The ultimate solution, however, will require major, long-term changes in how we produce and consume energy, and we're going to need the expertise, infrastructure, and technology of the large energy companies to make this happen. If a few--however large--are still lagging behind the pacesetters, that will likely come back to haunt them as a competitive disadvantage, later.

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