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The New York Times sells its integrity to ExxonMobil with front-page ad that falsely asserts “Today’s car has 95% fewer emissions than a car from 1970″

By Joe Romm  

"The New York Times sells its integrity to ExxonMobil with front-page ad that falsely asserts “Today’s car has 95% fewer emissions than a car from 1970″"


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Please email the NYT at nytnews@nytimes.com about this egregious ad and/or email its public editor at public@nytimes.com to explain you are “concerned about the paper’s journalistic integrity.”  Click image for full pic of the NYT’s June 16, 2009 front page.

These are hard times for the newspaper business.  The paper of record has taken to running ads on the front page.  But if they’re going to give up that precious real estate, home to many Pulitzer-Prize-winning stories, they simply can’t do it for this kind of disinformation, which is utterly misleading to the public.

Fuel for thought

Today’s car has 95% fewer emissions than a car from 1970.

Needless to say — or, rather, in this case, needful to say — while today’s car has lower emissions of urban air pollutants thanks to government regulation, today’s car has, if anything, higher emissions of greenhouse gases, which threaten the health and well-being of the next 50 generations.  And needful to say, ExxonMobil has done more than just about any other company to undermine efforts to achieve the greenhouse gas regulations that could lower those emissions.

ExxonSecrets 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!”).

So it is especially egregious that the New York Times would take money to publish this disinformation on their front page.  Had this been a news article, I do think that the NYT would never have published it, although they have certainly been running a lot of questionable stuff — see NYT suckered by ExxonMobil in puff piece titled “Green is for Sissies.”

And in the irony department, if you go to ExxonMobil.com, as the ad urges, you’ll see … wait for it … a picture of a huge hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast, with the headline “Learn how ExxonMobil prepares and response to hurricanes.”  How about “Learn how ExxonMobil works hard to make sure future hurricanes will be far more destructive” (see “Nature: Hurricanes ARE getting fiercer “” and it’s going to get much worse” and “Why future Katrinas and Gustavs will be MUCH worse at landfall, Part 2“)?

You can’t make this stuff up.  Well, ExxonMobil can, and the New York Times will let them publish it — but you can’t make stuff up and publish it on the front-page of the New York Times because you don’t have the tens of thousands of dollars needed and frankly the NYT would probably subject your ad to more scrutiny.

Strangely, I have seen very little on the blogosphere on this travesty, even though it happened two days ago.  I only found out about it because a reader sent me an email.

UPDATE:  It is true that a given model of today’s car has better mpg than a comparable model from 1970, but, then again, it is driven much of farther — and, of course, the average passenger vehicle today is much larger.  More relevantly, the improvement in mpg hasn’t come about because of anything ExxonMobil did to fuel formulation, whereas the refineries certainly do deserve some credit for achieving the regulated requirements for reduction in tailpipe air pollutants.

Please email the NYT at nytnews@nytimes.com about this egregious piece and/or email its public editor at public@nytimes.com to explain you are “concerned about the paper’s journalistic integrity.”

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31 Responses to The New York Times sells its integrity to ExxonMobil with front-page ad that falsely asserts “Today’s car has 95% fewer emissions than a car from 1970″

  1. Rick Covert says:

    Clever! Very clever. Hope the public doesn’t know the difference between emissions of unburned hydrocarbon particulates, oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulfur. It still doesn’t contradict the fact that one gallon of gasoline burned emits 19 lbs of CO2.

    It’s not surprising the Times turned into nothing more than a roadside billboard to abuse science and destroy what is left of their tattered integrity. After all this is the same paper of record that produced the Jason Blair debacle and the promoted the idea of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction promoted by their ‘journalist’ Judith Miller now disgraced but wholly unapologetic.

  2. ExxonMobil is desperately trying to secure a place in the future by defining themselves as part of the solution. They hope to revise history – they have always promoted heavy carbon fuel usage – even when they knew that CO2 causes warming.

    Adaptation can include heavy carbon usage,
    Mitigation requires curtailing carbon usage.

    Proper policy based on science would be to rapidly phase out carbon fuels completely.


  3. john pearson says:

    Also dont forget that the average car now weighs a lot more than the 70′s car, and has a lot more parts, plastic, etc in it, all of which had to be manufactured.

  4. We’ve got a big Exxon Mobil refinery right here in the City of Torrance where I have lived and worked for over 16 years. Their greenwashing knows no bounds. You can read about the refinery’s “Freddy the Flare,” complete with comic book art aimed at children on their website. They talk a lot about how much they’ve reduced their emissions in all their propaganda but they never tell the citizens just how much greenhouse gas and other pollution they are responsible for. And of course they never mention their money pumping role in financing the deniers cult.

    Exxon/Mobil’s got the local Torrance city government here in their pockets while they’ve turned 750 prime acres of real estate into a future Superfund site. Our city signed onto the Cool Cities agreement but never mentions the ginormous carbon footprint of the refinery. AB 32 is the law of the land here in California but the city sees no connection between the Global Warming Solutions Act and having a fossil fuel refinery in town.

    That’s why last month I ordered Exxon/Mobil out of town by 2020 and have proposed a large scale solar electric power generation project for those 750 acres – after Exxon/Mobil pays to clean up their mess.


    Here in Torrance California we no longer expect the New York Times, the L.A. Times or our local Daily Breeze to do the job of informing and enlightening us any longer – we’re doing the job ourselves. That’s why we read Climate Progress.

    And we’re not going to wait for our local leaders to finally board the cluetrain that already left the station without them either. We understand the stakes and we know how little time we have left. We’re already doing the work and they can join us – or they can get out of our way.

  5. rana says:

    But it is true that today’s cars cause 95 percent less smog than the 1970 version. In terms of GHG, my guess would be that it is only 50% reduction–remember, car MPG is much higher now than in the mid-1970s. You are correct that it is due to government regulations, but Exxon is not lying, but they may be misleading because today’s debate is mostly about GHG and not other pollutants.

  6. mobil ads says:

    i dont know if you anyone here goes to fora.tv but exxonmobil ads are all over that website ‘greenwashing’ the shit out of their oil blackened history.

  7. Jim Eager says:

    Rana, MPG is much higher today for most passenger sedans. Unfortunately, today a lot of “cars” are actually heavy SUVs and minivans that get not much better gas mileage than the average larger, heavier passenger sedan got in the 1970s.

  8. Lou Grinzo says:

    Yet again, we have a company playing the “pollution” vs. “climate chaos” trick.

    For rampant examples of this, see the endless discussions of CNG vehicles, which are pushed as being “much cleaner” than gasoline vehicles, when they reduce GHG emissions by only about 25%. Yes, they do emit much less of other pollutants, which is a very good thing if you take a sufficiently narrow view of our situation.

  9. Jeff Huggins says:

    Hello Joseph and others,

    This is an important issue, and your piece is very well-written. Great job.

    That said, just one matter of clarification depending on how readers interpret your use of the phrase “today’s car”, as in singular or plural: Because of average improvements in MPG, which have come about largely because of regulation, and although I don’t have the numbers in front of me, the average GHG emissions PER CAR, PER MILE, may well have decreased by the corresponding MODEST amount. Any such reduction would be a result of the modest improvement in MPG (still way behind those in many other countries), not of any magical change in the hydrocarbon composition of gasoline itself.

    But, when you consider the number of miles driven, and the total number of cars on the road, the total GHG emissions of “today’s car” in a total sense of “total gasoline-powered cars in the U.S.” must certainly be considerably higher than in 1970. I’m sure that plenty of people (including the folks at ExxonMobil!) must have that “total” statistic. The trend, of course, has been UP, not down.

    And, of course, as you’ve said, the 95% must actually refer to some other, non-CO2 emissions, those conventional sources of urban pollution that were around before we (or at least the public) knew of global warming.

    So, as you’ve pointed out, the ad is incredibly, and irresponsibly, misleading. For people who don’t know one emission from the next, or who mainly have global warming on their minds, the difference between “95% reduction” and “total GHG emissions going up” — a difference that ExxonMobil doesn’t seem to want to make clear — is a huge one.

    So now we will see: Will The NY Times use front-page space, and the best of its abilities to state matters clearly, to give the public “the straight scoop” on the matter? Will it correct the record, and (ideally also) correct this huge advertiser, in order to demonstrate responsible journalism and a genuine care for the public good?

    (Isn’t it nice to have a “test” that will express its result, for all to see, on the front page of The NY Times, one way or the other. We’ll all know how The Times responds to this one, won’t we?)

    Be Well,


  10. DavidCOG says:

    That is sickening. I’d always assumed the NYT was the beacon of US journalism – truth, integrity, science and all that stuff. Someone there needs to ask if the paper stands for something, or are they just a megaphone for viewpoint – especially the ‘viewpoint’ of those with deep pockets.

    ‘Disgusted of Britain’ email on the way.

    P.S. Monbiot recently talked about this very issue: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/jun/05/climate-change-corporatesocialresponsibility

  11. Bob Wright says:

    Its ironic the oil and auto companies wanted no part of the 95% reduction of classic pollutants: hydrocarbons, NOx, ozone, CO… Why invest in fuel injection, catalytic converters, computers, lead free and oxygenated fuels…? Won’t bring any profit THIS quarter! Have no shame.

  12. Greg Robie says:

    The ad could have been stronger. They could have advertised a 100% reduction if they only talked about lead. They have stopped putting lead into the gas. =|

  13. Brendan says:

    The newspapers remind me of the Republican Party right now; they both feel their problems lie in not going “far enough.” The Republicans seem to think the problem is that they’re not being “conservative enough,” or “hard lined” enough to be successful, and the solution is to become more extreme. In reality, they need to move toward the center. Similarly the newspapers seem to think their problems lie in “not advertising aggressively enough,” “not being entertaining enough,” and “not offering extreme enough opinions,” all while pretending to be informative and balanced. This is when, in fact, the problems are often the complete opposite.

    The newspapers need better quality advertisers who match their now, more limited, market scope and saturation, not bigger ones who will pay for a front page piece that undermines their credibility. Similarly, they don’t need to be more polarized in opinion or more entertaining, they need better research staff and fact checking and a better spectrum of opinion based on those facts, not just two extremes. People don’t go to newspapers for propaganda, entertainment or polarized opinion, but that’s what they’re offering. There are plenty of free blogs out there that provide this stuff. The newspapers need to stop being afraid of turning away opinion and ads that represent the fringe, whether it be oil companies claiming 95% reductions in emissions or if a theoretical animal rights group paid for an ad claiming that eating meat causes cancer. I don’t care if it’s true under a special set of circumstances or even that reducing NOx and saving animals are noble causes. These are misleading statements, so stick to the facts. Included in this is getting rid of the statement, “Global warming, which some believe is caused by human activity…” Does every statement with 9/11 say, “…which some believe is a government conspiracy…?” No. Maybe it’s true, but I don’t care, let’s stick to balanced centered ideas, let the opinion pieces offer ideas within the 40% on either side, and ignore the 10% fringe, even if it’s being paid for. This ad is just another indication that they just don’t get it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Rex Tillerson’s legacy lives on. Exxon Mobil and all the Scaife funded think tanks, publishers, GOPAC, etc, have more or less earned a unique place in history.

    Memo to Exxon: You can’t outrun the internet.

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    I agree with Brendan (6:02 pm post) when it comes to what the newspapers ought to be doing. Rather than going farther and farther into the mud-bath of sensationalisms, boxing matches, opinions lacking any credibility whatsoever, and so forth, the serious newspapers ought to be doing a great job at what they are SUPPOSED to do, and then they just might find that doing so will strengthen their position with people who want serious and informative information. By featuring boxing matches, bowing to advertisers, avoiding difficult issues, and (too often) not knowing what they are writing about, the newspapers are heading down a dead-end street, no matter how creative they think they can get with the technical gizmos. I do hope that Brendan makes his views known to The New York Times. I think he’s onto the right track.

  16. Anna Haynes says:

    And then there’s Tierney’s latest. “U.S. Climate Report Assailed” – which Google News had picked up and was displaying as a “Top Story”, I believe (alas, I didn’t get a screenshot, and it’s gone now)

    Also alas, it seems Qs about funding are verboten in Tierney’s comments; this one didn’t survive moderation:

    Who funds The Breakthrough Institute? (link) – Roger Pielke is a Senior Fellow there, and I am very curious as to who or what “The Lotus Fund” is…
    — Anna Haynes

  17. Anna Haynes says:

    Re Tierney’s latest and Google News -
    In the unlikely event that anyone cares, it turns out I still had a window open on the Google News mishap – so I made a screenshot, and put it on Flickr at

  18. Deep Climate says:

    As many of you know, Andrew Revkin recently posted a hand wringing post about why the climate scientists’ warnings are not resonating with the U.S. public, and whether issue “framing” or “human nature” best explains the phenomenon.

    Well, the “Newspaper of record” has a lot to answer for, especially of late. First, they give a huge platform for the crackpot views of the most prominent scientist to oppose the AGW consensus, but fail to ask the most basic questions about his co-operation with PR disinformation, or pin him down on his dubious grasp of climate science.

    Now this.

    Andrew Revkin, there’s only one way to make this right. Stop ignoring the elephant in the room. Start reporting on (and come out unequivocally against) the war on science being waged by ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies.

    In other words, do your damn job.

    And, yes, the New York Times should issue a full retraction of the misleading advertisement – on its front page.

  19. Anna Haynes says:

    > Well, the “Newspaper of record” has a lot to answer for, especially of late

    OK. In the ideal world, we would complain to the Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, who would weigh in on it and (in the ideal world) shame newspaper mgmt into fixing the problem.

    But we seem not to live in the ideal world.

    All the same, Mr. Hoyt is supposed to answer to us. So what if, instead of sending him a complaint, we send him a question or questions, crafted to shed light on what-on-earth is going on at the Times?

    Simple, nonjudgmental questions, that nonetheless shed maximal light.

    What questions should we ask?

    We should do it en masse; I’ve asked some and gotten no answer, but it’s harder to ignore a group asking.

    One thing I’d like to know: who does Bill Keller’s job, in Keller’s absence?
    (when the cat’s away, the…)

  20. Tyler says:

    Technically, I guess they’re not wrong — or not as wrong — as Joe says, but talk about misleading! I’d like to know how they measure the emissions to come up with 95 per cent. Is that 95 per cent fewer types of emissions, or emissions by volume, etc… It’s really a meaningless statement.

    Former GM vice-chair Bob Lutz said during a dinner I attended that you couldn’t committed suicide these days by sitting in a car in a closed garage with the engine on, an example of how clean cars are these days. I wonder if he’d be willing to test out that claim on himself?

  21. Jeff Wishart says:

    Some interesting stats that I mined from a 2007 report released by the US EPA (Heavenrich, R. (2007). “Light-Duty Automotive Technology and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2007.” Report Number 420-R-07-008):

    The following changes occurred in the average fleet characteristics in
    the years 1975 to 2007:
    • Weight increased by 16% for trucks and decreased by 12% for cars
    • Engine power increased by 74% for trucks and by 48% for cars
    • Acceleration times from 0 to 96 km/hr (0-60 mph) decreased by 29% for trucks and by 33% for cars
    • Top speed increased by 23% for trucks and by 24% for cars
    • Fuel consumption decreased by 35% for trucks and by 42% for cars

    Overall, it is apparent that the technology improved in both performance and in fuel efficiency. This broad view overlooks, however, the trends from 1975 to 1987 and from 1987 to 2007. While the weight of cars did, in fact, decrease from 1975 to 2007, during the shorter period between 1987 and 2007, the weight actually increased by 18%. Likewise, while the fuel consumption of both trucks and cars decreased from 1975 to 2007, it increased by 3% and 2%, respectively, from 1987 to 2007.

    The improved performance has thus come at a cost of lowered fuel efficiency which the artificially low costs of fossil fuels have enabled. It must be said that in Europe, vehicles have decreased in both size and fuel consumption while increasing propulsion performance. Among other factors, the higher costs of gasoline and diesel fuel in European countries encourage the development of more fuel-efficient vehicles, exactly what we need here in N. America.

  22. Jeff Huggins says:

    To Jeff Wishart and All . . .

    Jeff, thanks for the helpful statistics.

    That said, do you have access to the following info . . . ?

    * The change (if any) in the average miles driven (per car) in the U.S.
    * The change in the total number of cars on the road

    Of course, the total CO2 emissions from automobile use in the U.S. in a given year would be roughly . . .

    (Number of cars) X (avg miles driven/car) X (CO2 emitted per gallon of gasoline) / (avg miles/gallon)

    The number of cars on the road has very little, if anything, to do with any “improvements” that ExxonMobil may or may not have come up with. The average number of miles driven in each car is more a matter of lifestyle and usage patterns, and again has little to do with any great magic by E-M — except that lower prices will actually increase usage to a degree, and higher prices will decrease usage, slightly. But, of course, E-M has not been trying to decrease usage by increasing prices, for the sake of the climate. Too, the amount of CO2 generated by burning a gallon of gas could hardly have changed very much at all, if at all. The amount of carbon in gasoline is “a lot”, as carbon is one of the two fundamental ingredients, of course, along with hydrogen, in hydrocarbons. And, the avg MPG figures have improved modestly, but these have much more to do with the auto industry itself, motivated by fuel efficiency regulations, than by anything that E-M would have done voluntarily and happily.

    I’d love to know the trend (during the period) in the TOTAL CO2 emissions resulting from automobile use in the U.S. I’m sure the figures are readily available; it’s just that I haven’t had time to go after them.

    Well, if you have any additional stats to share, please do.

    Be Well.

  23. Chaz says:

    The ad says “today’s car” and shows a tailpipe – it is clearly refering to the regulated tailpipe emissions from the vehicle. I suppose one could infer that Exxon is taking credit for all of the reduction which is misleading. The reduction of regulated tailpipe pollutants in the form of CO, hydrocarbons, and NOx is a significant technical achievement due to the combined efforts of oil companies getting the lead, benzene, and sulfur out or nearly out of the fuels, by other companies that developed the catalytic converter, and by the auto companies developing emission control systems. Granted this took government regulation to make it happen, but it was by no means a trivial technical accomplishment. Even PHEV’s will need an emission system for their on-board liquid fuels. As far as Exxon goes, it is not up to them to improve the fuel economy of vehicles – that is up to the automakers to make them and the consumer to buy them. Be real – there is not much that an oil company can do to reduce the CO2 emissions of gasoline and diesel used in a vehicle. They can do more to reduce the CO2 created by the processes to make liquid fuels, but the hydrocarbon makeup of the fuel is essentially the same. If you don’t like that, then make electricity with renewables and develop a fleet of battery powered vehicles.

  24. A Siegel says:

    Considering the Heartland ads in the Washington Post, I’ve been considering how to do a “Truth in Advertising” discussion. The FTC lays out the following re truth-in-advertising:

    - Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
    - Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
    - Advertisements cannot be unfair.

    Hard, to me, to see how the Heartland ads or Exxon-Mobil greenwashing pass the “truthful and non-deceptive” clause, the evidence clause is, at best, only met via skewed processes, and as to “unfair” — don’t understand that.

  25. Jeff Wishart says:

    Jeff Huggins,

    I found this data from the 1977 and 2001 National Household Transportation Surveys (close to 1975 and 2001 but not exact):

    1977: Each vehicle traveled on average 10,200 miles/year and there were 120 million vehicles

    2001: Each vehicle traveled on average 11300 miles/year and there were 204 million vehicles

    You should be able to make your calculation now.

    To Chaz, where do you think the GHG emissions exit the vehicle? Both GHGs and criteria-air contaminants (CACs) are exhausted through the tailpipe. So I don’t think you can make the statement that the picture “is clearly referring to the regulated tailpipe emissions from the vehicle.” The ad is then, as Joe and others have written, highly misleading.

  26. I did my bit:


    Title of blog post: “The New York Times is worse than a French whore and lies down for ExxonMobil the biggest polluter in the world and supporter of denialist lies”

    If you want me to take it down, I will, but this has been going on for years, especially the last two years, and Jeff Huggins has pointed it out each and every time. Thank you, Jeff.

    We don’t have time for polite niceties, and really I no longer see the need — the New York Times has not listened to any complaints about this, not one.

  27. Chaz says:

    To Jeff – What regulations are in place in the USA that regulate the amount of CO2 emissions from vehicles? CAFE does this indirectly. Exxon is obviously not counting these because they are not in the rule book yet. If those rules were in place then the ad would be clearly mis-leading. The way it is written today, it is open to interpretation. In 2007 the US transportation sector was responsible for ~30% of the nation’s CO2 emissions, equal to about 1887 Tg CO2 Eq and it all came out of our collective tailpipes!

  28. James Newberry says:

    Truth in advertising: mined coal and petroleum hydrocarbons are material feedstocks and not true “energy resources.” When these ancient, geologic materials (many imported) are set on fire in engines, power station boilers and other applications the result is complete pollution, including ocean carbonic acidification, high health care costs and terrestrial eco-system destruction. To protect our waters, foods and properties we need a true clean energy transformation throughout the country and world. This can create positive longterm investments rather than multi-dimensional debt and cost liabilities from burning mined “fuels.”

    It is very late for such corruption of information to continue, as unfortunately displayed by the venerable NYT. Has fraud become the standard operating procedure of US big media and business?

  29. David B. Benson says:

    Complain to the FTC?

  30. Dear James Newberry,

    The New York Times has not been venerable for at least the last 2 or 3 years — Jeff Huggins has documented their perfidy and dealings with Exxon ads.

    They are a disgrace, and are shooting themselves in the foot with this horrid immoral behavior right when they need to be moving to a better business model.

    On their present course, they will disappear.

  31. Dr Dave says:

    It’s amazing to me how short sighted and biased the commenters here are.

    “Emissions” does not equal greenhouse gases alone. Cars today ABSOLUTELY do have fewer emissions (especially of NOx and lead) than cars in the 1970s. NOx reduction would be huge, but for increases in vehicle miles traveled. But regardless, focusing only on CO2 is narrow minded.

    Furthermore, increases in vehicle miles traveled cannot be blamed on oil companies or on car companies. Rather that blame falls squarely on the general public for their consumer and commuting decisions.

    Let car companies sell whatever people want to buy. But people need to make responsible use decisions. I have a 4.2L V8 sportscar. BUT, I walk to work every day and drive my car less than 20 miles a week.