Car companies hire climate science denier to do hit job on clean cars

GM, Ford, and Toyota lobby for dirtier cars while touting cleaner ones

Alan Batey, President of GM North America, touts all-electric Chevrolet Bolt at the 2017 North American Auto Show in Detroit last January.  CREDIT: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Alan Batey, President of GM North America, touts all-electric Chevrolet Bolt at the 2017 North American Auto Show in Detroit last January. CREDIT: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Car companies like GM, Ford, and Toyota are getting great publicity for touting a future of green cars. But at the same time, new reports show their lobbying group is pushing science denial to weaken U.S. clean car standards.

“General Motors believes the future is all-electric. A world free of automotive emissions,” GM’s product chief Mark Reuss said in an October press call.

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“Ford Increasing Electric Vehicle Investment to $11 Billion by 2022,” was the Wall Street Journal headline two weeks ago.

But last month, a major lobbying arm of the car industry, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, quietly submitted an anti-science report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Last year, the Trump Administration started the process of undoing Obama’s strong fuel economy standards that apply to model years 2022–2025. So the goal of the Alliance report is to support Trump’s effort by discrediting the long-established science linking carbon pollution to dangerous climate change, and linking toxic air pollution to sickness and death.

One of the report’s authors is actually long-time climate science denier Joseph D’Aleo — who has remained a policy adviser to the notorious anti-science Heartland Institute even after they put up a billboard comparing climate science believers and reporters to mass “murderers and madmen.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has thoroughly debunked the car companies’ report, which is straight out of the science denier playbook. As the UCS points out, “the Alliance report cites studies by Tony Cox which were directly funded by the American Petroleum Institute in order to cast doubt on the proven health impacts of soot.”

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The report’s only scientific citation used to cast doubt on the well-established science that climate change worsens droughts and flood is research published in 2004. Yet, the Alliance report omits a key finding of that research: “studies indicate that a substantial intensification of the global hydrologic cycle is likely in a warming world.” Nor does the report include more recent research connecting rising temperatures to more extreme weather.

The Alliance report, instead, cites a magazine article and a study to argue that climate models are unreliable. But the New York Times talked to the authors of those two pieces, who explained that the Alliance report cherry-picked quotes and misrepresented their findings.

Yet while the Alliance pushes science denial to fight clean car regulations, key members of the industry group are hypocritically touting their commitment to both science and cleaner cars. For instance, Ford paints itself as climate friendly by issuing reports like “The Science Behind Our Climate Change Strategy” — a strategy which is “based on our commitment to do our share to stabilize CO2 in the atmosphere.”

And during the winter Olympics last month, Toyota released an ad of crying and melting ice sculpture athletes to make the case that its green cars fight climate change: “We are renewing our commitment to hybrid, electric, and hydrogen vehicles. To help keep our winters winter.”

It’s time for the car companies to stop greenwashing their opposition to strong fuel economy standards. Either admit to greenwashing, or support the Obama-era standards publicly and stop their lobbyists from lying about the science.