Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute, has hired away the Nature Conservancy's grassroots organizer to lead a major campaign to "mobilize the 9.2 million people whose jobs rely on the oil and gas industry" according to an API spokesperson who calls this "Jack's vision." Environmental groups are taken aback, as the new hire, Deryck Spooner, is known as a "big dog" in community activist circles with a strong track record of mobilizing the public for a variety of causes. Remember Jack Gerard's PR gaffe (puting it kindly) last summer when he was caught red-handed with a memo urging API member company employees to fake grassroots opposition to climate legislation? Dubbed "astroturfing," the ploy is designed to mimic a true grassroots effort, like the one spreading like wildfire across communities concerned about life in a climate disrupted world. Gerard should take note of the big players (PG&E and Apple) who defected from the US Chamber of Commerce last year, protesting (Chamber President) Tom Donohue's pleistocene-era views on climate change and efforts to curb CO2 emissions. So, will any API members walk when they get the Spooner memo?
Spooner will be asked to ramp up a campaign that had already gathered steam last summer and fall: API staff organized dozens of rallies in towns across America, especially where oil fuels the economy (e.g. Houston) and in dying "rust belt" towns where oil-dependent automakers used to reside. Back then, Gerard said his astroturf campaign’s central objective was "to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy." This would be, uh, energy policy that recognizes the unfair market advantage of fossil fuels and spurs development and market adoption of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency, such as cars with better gas mileage. These fake rallies targeted US Senators who hadn't yet decided if they were for or against a major CO2 cap-and-trade bill similar to the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill earlier in the year.
An editorial in the NY Times astutely pointed out:
"Local residents are not, of course, invited to debate the consequences of global warming, or dwell upon those parts of the bill that could lead to a whole new industry — and the jobs that would go with it — based on alternative energy sources, or to a future in which people save money by buying more fuel-efficient cars. The narrative they get is one of unrelenting gloom —unaffordable gasoline, stratospheric home heating bills and shuttered industries."
Precisely! It's taboo to talk about climate change impacts, even those on the oil industry itself. Jack left out the part where oil companies have been subsidizing a major computer modeling study to better predict the trajectory and arrival time of hurricanes headed towards Gulf of Mexico oil rigs. (It turns out, a bit more warning allows oil rigs to be better secured before all hell breaks loose.) He also failed to mention a government study showing that escape routes allowing those oil rig workers to get out of town would largely be inundated if a major storm (you know, the kind on climate change steroids) were to hit the Gulf coast.
Instead, Jack Gerard was going around claiming that gasoline could easily reach $4 a gallon if the Senate were to act on climate change, a prediction with no credible analysis behind it. He essentially pulled it out of his derriere.
Curiously, Spooner apparently doesn't think his leap from land conservation to oil drilling is that big of a deal. Says Spooner quoted in a NY Times piece, "I don't necessarily believe that the views of TNC and API are incompatible." After all, he argues, TNC allows drilling on some of its procured land set aside to protect it from over-development, and API member companies "don't just want to drill anywhere for drilling's sake...There's a lot of science going into where they drill."
Yeah. Let's hear it for sound science guiding oil exploration and extraction. But what about the sound science that lets us know what happens to the Earth when the black gold - Texas Tea! - is all burned up and the combustion gases are floating around in the Earth's atmosphere for hundreds of years? I guess "science" is just a useful tool when we need it to help make us rich and powerful (and, of course, to fill up giant gas tanks in our hummers and SUVs). But then, science can be rejected, and scientists ridiculed even, when scientific findings are, you know, inconveeeeenient (remember Church Lady from SNL?) This attitude towards the scientific method and those who dedicate their lives to employing it is nothing but arrogant hubris displayed by those who would, essentially, flip the bird at scientifically derived fact when the findings don't fit neatly into their lifestyles. In fact the findings can be so threatening to some folks that they would even hack into a major university computer system and leak private emails to the public in an effort to disparage these dedicated souls. (Say it ain't so!) And then they might issue death threats to the scientists themselves (just ask Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University). And then, actual US Senators might even begin publicly wondering if climate scientists might need to go to jail as criminals! (You think I'm making this up?)
Spooner might try, but you can't really green astroturf, the stuff is already made (ironically enough) out of petrochemicals and has a shelf-life in any landfill much much longer than the half-life of CO2 in the atmosphere. Does Spooner really think he'll be able to get real families to take to the streets to demand a head-up-your-butt approach to a global problem the US military calls a "threat multiplier" and most sane people recognize as one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced?
BONUS: Inside an API Board Meeting