NYT suckered by ExxonMobil in puff piece titled “Green is for Sissies”

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"NYT suckered by ExxonMobil in puff piece titled “Green is for Sissies”"

pollution.jpgAnother nail in the coffin of the liberal media meme.

The NYT has run a greenwashing press release from the oil giant masquerading as a major business news story. Here are some unchallenged quotes — yes the print headline really is “Green is for Sissies,” but as you’ll see, this isn’t some kind of post-modern Onion-esque irony (except maybe unintentionally):

  1. “The business model is based on a disciplined and rigorous approach to dealing with scientific data and facts,” [CEO Tillerson] says.
  2. “For the foreseeable future — and in my horizon that is to the middle of the century — the world will continue to rely dominantly on hydrocarbons to fuel its economy,” Mr. Tillerson says.
  3. “It’s the world’s greatest company, period,” says Arjun N. Murti, a Goldman Sachs oil analyst…. “It is also the most misunderstood company in the world. For many people, the image of Exxon is the Exxon Valdez…. Exxon has persevered over the past 100 years with the best culture and management team any company could have.”

Poor misunderstood oil giant … poor, misunderstood, disinformation-peddling, planet-destroying ExxonMobil. I need to pause for a moment to wipe the tear from my eye….

ExxonMobil is certainly misunderstood by the NYT! A “rigorous approach to dealing with scientific data and facts“? Again, you’ve got to believe me — this really isn’t a story in The Onion. No single company has been more anti-scientific or anti-factual for the last 20 years. No company has done more to fund anti-science deniers and delayers — thereby undermining any effort to take action on the greatest preventable threat to humanity’s health and well-being.

Had the reporter spent two second on the web he would have found ExxonSecrets, which details the millions of dollars that the company has shoveled to fund the disinformation campaigns of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, all of which continue to advance unfactual anti-scientific attacks as I have detailed recently (see posts on Heritage and CEI and AEI). Chris Mooney wrote an excellent piece on ExxonMobil‘s two-decade anti-scientific campaign. A 2007 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report looked at ExxonMobil’s tobacco industry-like tactics in pushing global warming denial (see “Today We Have a Planet That’s Smoking!”).

Yet here is all the NYT has to say about this grossly immoral and unfactual attack again all of humanity:

During the tenure of Lee R. Raymond, who ran the company from 1993 to 2005, Exxon became the lightning rod in the debate about climate change. Throughout the 1990s, the company was vilified by environmental groups and scientists for questioning the impact of human activities — especially the use of fossil fuels — on global warming.

Gingerly, over the last three years, Exxon has moved away from its extreme position. It stopped financing climate skeptics this year, and has sought to soften its image with a $100 million advertising campaign featuring real company executives, scientists and managers. One of the ads said the company aimed to provide energy “with dramatically lower CO2 emissions.”

The company was not vilified for questioning the impact of human activities — it was vilified for paying other people millions of dollars to question the impact of human activities.

For the NYT, though, you can apparently buy absolution for two decades of disinformation with a $100 million ad campaign that pushes more greenwashing. Well, maybe not absolution, but at least you can buy a greenwashing puff piece in the media outlet formerly known as the paper of record.

What’s doubly absurd is that the NYT piece isn’t even internally consistent. On the one hand, it points out that the oil giant has an ad touting company plans to provide energy with dramatically lower carbon. But then the NYT runs an extended dissing of low-carbon energy by the company:

But while Exxon is slowly unshackling itself from Mr. Raymond’s stance on global warming, it remains faithful to his legacy by dismissing most green alternatives and sticking with hydrocarbons. Although the company’s tone has changed, its strategy has not. Despite growing pressures on oil companies to invest in alternative energy, Exxon’s long-term view remains unapologetically tied to fossil fuels.

“Rex looks more approachable than his predecessor,” says a rival executive who requested anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize his relationship with Mr. Tillerson, “but he is more inflexible.”

More inflexible than Lee Raymond? I wouldn’t put that on my resume. But I digress.

Meanwhile, renewable fuels, like solar, wind and biofuels, will grow at a brisk pace but they will account for just 2 percent of the world’s energy supplies by then, according to Exxon, while oil, gas and coal will represent 80 percent of global energy needs by 2030.

“For the foreseeable future — and in my horizon that is to the middle of the century — the world will continue to rely dominantly on hydrocarbons to fuel its economy,” Mr. Tillerson says.

For the moment, Exxon does not see much business sense in investing in solar, as BP has, or wind, like Shell, or geothermal, like Chevron….

… its previous forays into renewable fuels — it was a big investor in nuclear power, synthetic fuels and solar energy in the 1970s — are seen as a costly lesson.

Yeah, nothing has changed since the 1970s. No need to rethink the strategy, just the tone of the message.

So the company still hates renewables, apparently for historical reasons — sounds pretty rigorously scientific and fact-based to me. And the company thinks the dominant form of energy in the middle of the century will be hydrocarbons, which is the same thing as saying that the company still denies the scientific reality of global warming (and technology reality of low cost, low carbon alternatives).

The scientific community, however, understands that avoiding catastrophic climate impacts requires a 50% reduction in total global emissions from hydrocarbons by mid-century, while, of course, increasing energy services to 3 billion more people and a rapidly expanding middle class. And that means that if we care about our children and their children and the next 50 generations, hydrocarbons must not be the dominant form of energy by mid-century.

All the NYT has to say on this is that ExxonMobil’s business model “will eventually have to be reconciled with reducing carbon emissions and finding low-carbon energy sources.” Yeah, eventually. It’s not like the world’s leading independent international energy group thinks we’re in a hurry and, say, must peak in hydrocarbon emissions within a decade to any chance of avoiding catastrophe (see “Must-read IEA report explains what must be done to avoid 6°C warming“).

And speaking of peaking, ExxonMobil apparently thinks we have an endlessly growing supply of oil:

According to Exxon’s own outlook, global oil demand is set to reach 116 million barrels a day by 2030, up sharply from 86 million barrels a day today.

Perhaps, but this “world’s greatest company” that the NYT claims is a master of “long-term vision” is at odds with many other big oil companies (see “Will we see $3 gasoline before we see $5?“).

Back in January, Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive officer of Royal Dutch/Shell, e-mailed his staff that the world will peak in conventional oil and gas within the decade. He wrote: “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.” John Hess, chairman of Hess Corp., a global oil and mineral exploration company, said recently, “An oil crisis is coming in the next 10 years. It’s not a matter of demand. It’s not a matter of supplies. It’s both.” In October, Christophe de Margerie, CEO of French oil company Total S.A., said that production of even 100 million barrels a day by 2030 will be “difficult.” In November, James Mulva, CEO of ConocoPhillips, the third biggest U.S. oil company, told a Wall Street conference: “I don’t think we are going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day … Where is all that going to come from?”

To ExxonMobil, peak oil is a non-issue, global warming is no big deal, and renewable energy is for sissies. And for the New York Times, what ExxonMobil says goes!

I guess if you are in a downsizing industry, one way to cut costs is to simply repeat whatever you hear or read. That way you can replace your reporters with stenographers and copy machines. Heck, you can even replace your readers, since they will need to look elsewhere for credible analysis.

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21 Responses to NYT suckered by ExxonMobil in puff piece titled “Green is for Sissies”

  1. AlexJ says:

    It’s been quite awhile since I’ve visited any station that sells XOM gasoline, and that will remain the case until I’m convinced that their attitude on environmental stewardship has really changed. Particularly as seen in the degree of investment in reducing fossil carbon accumulation. I believe in putting my money where there’s more than just a corporate mouth trying to convince us how great they are.

  2. rpauli says:

    Give away the razor, sell the blades. A low priced Kodak camera drove sales of film. Cheap printers, expensive ink.

    Maybe it is time for the oil companies to bail out General Motors.

  3. Dill Weed says:

    Change is not nigh.

    Vague nice sounding promises are…

    Commitments will be expressed with the intention of abandoning them later… throwing off the ‘alarmists’ weathering the current climate…(no pun intended)…

    Face reality and what you see is… that we are not going to change… enough to thwart catastrophic climate change.

    For all the words spoken, blogged and typed… we are not going to turn this thing around…

    The neccesary Change is not nigh.

    Ask yourself truly… do you think I’m wrong? Be sure to distinguish between what you hope and what you think.

    Dill Weed

  4. Rod Adams says:

    ExxonMobil has many faults and has engaged in efforts to obscure information about the damage that its products – oil and natural gas – do to the environment.

    From a strictly short term business outlook, however, it is hard to fault the ability of its financial managers and strategic thinkers to increase the bottom line while producing less and less product each year.

    That is, of course, made easier when the customers are addicted to the product to the point where they will pay ever higher prices. Revenue equals price times volume – if the price doubles while the volume drops by 2%, revenue almost doubles. Net profit equals revenue minus costs – if revenue doubles and cost remains constant or falling, profits soar.

    ExxonMobil has enjoyed lower taxes, lower royalty payments, and even lower employee expenses (at least at the worker bee level) due to falling employment. It has spent more than $120 BILLION over the past 5 years to purchase its own stock. Its behavior demonstrates that its leaders recognize that they are in a business that will not grow its sales volume, but that does not stop it from being a very profitable enterprise, one that can pay selected investors very handsomely and managers extremely well.

    Enough of the agreement with Joe – one area of disagreement. The ONLY alternative energy source that has ever captured market share from fossil fuels because it performs its role more reliably, at a lower cost, and with lower environmental impact is nuclear power. I can name dozens of markets where nuclear power has displaced coal, oil and/or gas, but not a single one where wind, solar or geothermal has resulted in a lowering demand for any fossil fuel.

    Please prove me wrong.

  5. john says:

    Rod:

    1) nuclear power is not cheaper than fossil fuels –it comes in at 10 to 14 cents more a kW than coal.

    2) if you were looking at nukes in the early 50’s you’d be making the same kinds of statements about them as you are about renewables.

    Bottom line: By 2060, fossil fues will occupy a very small market niche compared to today — either because we got wise and stopped using it to save our climate, or because we did not, and the cost of dealing with climate change has devastated the economy, causing fossil fuel demand to drop, like every other commodity.

    Either way, it’s clear that Exxon is a lot like Karl Rove — tactically brilliant, strategically retarded.

  6. Greg says:

    @Rod Adams:

    Iceland. See, for example, this item.

    As you requested.

  7. Rod Adams says:

    John:

    Your statement is not true – nuclear power does not cost 10-14 cents per kilowatt hour than coal.

    Here are the facts based on figures compiled by Global Energy Decisions:

    Electricity production costs 2007 in cents per kilowatt-hour
    Petroleum – 10.26
    Gas – 6.78
    Coal – 2.47
    Nuclear – 1.76

    [JR: Numbers brought to you be “The Onion.” Seriously, dude, my house would be incredibly cheap if I didn’t have to pay the mortgage. Why do you keep peddling this nonsense. Somebody has to pay to build the nuke — I mean, I know you want the taxpayers to cover all capital costs and insurance, but in the real world, new nukes are phenomenally expensive.]

    There is a reason that the people who make choices every day on what power to buy pick power supplied by nuclear reactors whenever it is available. Our current fleet of reactors has been operating pedal to the metal for an average of almost 8000 hours each year for more than 5 years.

    The numbers that you state are imaginary – they are projections based on assumptions of cost, schedule, interest rates and inflation for projects that may be developed sometime in the future. There are other models with different assumptions that lead to very different results.

    Human being first learned that there was controllable energy in nuclear fission in 1942. In 1955, the US sent a ship to sea that was powered with a nuclear fission power plant. In 1956, the UK commissioned an electric power generator that used atomic fission. During the period from 1965-1995, the US built enough nuclear power plants to produce 30% more electricity every year than every single power plant in the US produced in 1960. Every one of the submarines built by the US since 1958 have been nuclear powered and so have all of the aircraft carriers since 1965.

    In contrast, human beings have known that there was energy that could be captured from the sun, wind and biomass for many thousands of years. We have been building devices that captured that energy and made use of it for industrial purposes for many centuries – think sailboats, communal fires and hay making.

    At this point in our development, wind produces less than 1.5% of the electricity consumed in the US every year and solar’s contribution needs several zeros after the decimal point to describe its contribution.

    Either there have been billions of very stupid humans or those many generations of humans that have sought more useful energy sources than the weather dependent sun, wind and biomass were smart enough to recognize reality. I have a great deal of respect for the accomplishments of previous generations and the wisdom of the ages. I also have a pretty good grounding in math and physics. The ONLY way that your prediction for a post fossil world has any chance of coming true by 2060 is to use nuclear fission in as many applications as possible.

  8. Tim Bousquet says:

    “Nuclear – 1.76″

    That with or without the insurance?

  9. AlexJ says:

    Rod, there have been some recent advances in harvesting and storing solar and other renewable energy sources. But that aside, do your nuke figures factor in all subsidies and costs from cradle to grave, including waste processing?

  10. Brewster says:

    “At this point in our development, wind produces less than 1.5% of the electricity consumed in the US every year and solar’s contribution needs several zeros after the decimal point to describe its contribution.”

    That tells men it’s time to get busy…

    Let’s not waste the billions it takes to get a significant # of nukes online and spend it on relatively cheap windmills and solar.

  11. JCH says:

    I don’t think ExxonMobil hates renewable energy. I think they want to see some clear winners before investing billions of their own dollars.

    And they will invest.

  12. JCH says:

    Also, I think what they meant by a rigorous approach to science and facts has to do with the science of finding and extracting oil, and when it comes to that, ExxonMobil has major credibility.

  13. Bob Wallace says:

    Exxon is working on rechargeable batteries for BEVs and hybrids. They made some announcements about improved lithium batteries several months back but seem to have been quite since then….

  14. Rod Adams says:

    @Tim Bousquet – The nuclear electricity production cost includes amortized costs associated with the purchasing of uranium, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, storage, shipping, inventory, interest, labor, material & supplies, contractor services, licensing fees, employee expenses, insurance and regulatory fees.

    If you value the electricity produced in US nuclear power plants at the average wholesale price of electricity, it is worth about $64 BILLION each year. (That is a rough number determined by multiplying 800 Terrawatt hours x 8 cents per kilowatt-hour and keeping track of all of the zeros.)

    @AlexJ – I would agree that there have been some refinements in methods for collecting energy from the sun, wind and biomass, but I cannot think of any real breakthroughs. Wind production costs dropped pretty impressively for a while as the scale of the enterprise increased and as engineers increased the size of the individual machines. Solar has gotten a little better in some areas – thin films are cheaper to produce but less efficient per unit area so if land is cheap they can produce cheaper electricity. Concentrating systems have increased in size, and appear to be producing slightly cheaper electricity as a result of scaling, but humans have been building parabolic shaped concentrators (mirrors) for sunlight for a very long time. Some companies have produced very efficient cells, but they are pretty expensive per unit area.

    Another main reason that nuclear fission has had success is that it, like chemical combustion, is a controllable process that can be adapted to many uses. One proven use is to provide compact propulsion power for ships. Even though the actual machinery is a bit larger than the most compact combustion machines, the fuel is so energy dense that the overall space and weight required to provide long ranges is MUCH smaller.

    I used to be an engineer officer on a submarine. The actual mass of fuel on that 9,000 ton ship was a bit more than what I weigh. It lasted for 14 years of operation even though it was using 1970s vintage technology. We have improved that – today’s Virginia class submarines come with a lifetime (33 year) fuel supply.

    Large ocean going ships often carry what is essentially a 50-150 MWe baseload power plant. Those ocean going baseload systems are burning about 6% of the world’s oil demand, and they are producing almost half of its SOx because they are out of sight, out of mind, and out of the jurisdiction of most regulators.

    Ocean going ships carry about 85-90% of the world’s international commerce. Their oil burning engines could be replaced by turbines driven by the heat from fissioning uranium, thorium or plutonium, but they could not be replaced by wind, solar or biomass.

    @Brewster – I disagree with your assertion that wind and solar would be cheaper, but it is a complex computation that depends on numerous assumptions. How about this – you invest your money in wind and solar and allow me invest mine in nuclear. In either case, let’s let the taxpayers off of the hook and ask the government to establish and enforce adequate standards that all power sources have to meet with regard to their impact on all of the rest of the occupants of the planet.

    Joe – the reason I believe this discussion is “on topic” is that a natural source of the capital that will be required to make a transition from hydrocarbons to any alternative is currently in the coffers of the oil, coal and gas industry. On that we agree, but investing in a large scale deployment of nuclear power with private money and government oversight has a much better chance of good returns for investors and energy customers than frittering that money away on other alternatives that have not proven themselves capable of replacing hydrocarbons in most applications.

  15. JCH says:

    When Comanche Peak first opened we got two power bills. The black and dusty power bill was incredibly cheap: say $40 a month. The glow-in-the-dark bill was probably 4 times as much – $160.

    Texans didn’t riot, but the legislature realized in seconds that they had made a big mistake. They rewrote the law and extended cost recovery over a prolonged period of time, and blended the bills so people would not be able to see how much the nuke was costing them.

    And that is the real reason nuke construction stopped. At that time it simply could not compete with coal. It had little to nothing to do with environmentalists. Until those power bills hit the mailbox, Texas was ready to build more nukes.

  16. Ronald says:

    Why is that the military has nukes on it’s largest ships, but there is not one non military ship that has a nuke. Deep pockets. The military can spend money and spend money and spend money. You want to be safe against enemies don’t you, then you have to spend money is what they (military contractors) will say.

    Yah, I get that aircraft carriers have some advantage without the planes getting all that carbon fuel exhaust in their systems and nuclear submarines have natural advantages. But the military can spend well past cost points that regular ship builders and utilities can’t.

  17. Ronald says:

    Nuke was meant to mean a power system, not the weapon.

  18. paulm says:

    nuclear stinks….

    Ed Miliband to exempt Sellafield firms from Freedom of Information Act
    Move comes on top of decision by government to make taxpayer liable for any accidents at the nuclear power plant
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/nov/17/freedom-of-information-sellafield

  19. vakibs says:

    @Joe : Numbers brought to you be “The Onion.” Seriously, dude, my house would be incredibly cheap if I didn’t have to pay the mortgage. Why do you keep peddling this nonsense. Somebody has to pay to build the nuke — I mean, I know you want the taxpayers to cover all capital costs and insurance, but in the real world, new nukes are phenomenally expensive.

    Anything which is decent for the environment has high capital costs, but enormous returns on that investment if you care to wait for long.

    Before you criticize nuclear power, you should realize that these very arguments are applicable to energy efficiency, solar panels, or for that matter, twisty light bulbs.

    [JR: Uhh, no. Efficiency pays for itself. Nice try.]

    Markets don’t invest in nuclear power because they don’t have enough patience for their ROI. (More important than that, there is a lot of bureaucracy in USA that scares the shit out of any investor). But that is fine. I wouldn’t want nuclear fissile material under the supervision of any private individual or corporation. The best way to run a nuclear power station is by the government. It is in public interest to do so.

    And the capital costs are completely justified. If anybody cares, they can compare the capital costs (piece by piece : construction, labour, raw materials, iron, cement, land, decomissioning etc) of nuclear vs wind or solar thermal power. Nuclear wins by a HUGE margin.

    All this ruckus that you guys are raking against high nuclear costs is devil’s advocacy (You are advocating for natural gas plants – which are the only power plants which have lower construction costs than nuclear.. But these low capital costs are offset by astronomical fuel costs)

    And of course, there is something called global warming, right ?

  20. Rod Adams says:

    Ronald – actually it is not technically true that there are no non military nuclear powered ships. Most of the Russian ice breaker fleet is nuclear powered. It is possible to book cruises on them for trips to the North Pole in the summer.

    http://tinyurl.com/5buujc