The Heat Is Online

The Disinformation Campaigns of Big Coal -- A Short History

Origins of Fossil Fuel Disinformation Campaigns

 From the 1991 "Ice Campaign" run by the coal and utility industries to the Marshall Institute's bogus "Study" of 1998 (which was designed to resemble a National Academy of Sciences document) to the recent efforts of ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy to eviscerate efforts to address the climate crisis, in tandem with the Bush White House, the fossil fuel lobby and its ideological supporters have waged a relentless campaign of deception and disinformation to confuse people about the reality of warming-driven climate change.

In March, 2000, however, the campaign suffered a serious setback when the Global Climate Coalition, the main industry lobbying group, suffered major defections. More than a year after British Petroleum and Shell left the group, it was abandoned by Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Texaco, The Southern Company, and General Motors. While many of these companies said they still opposed the Kyoto Protocol, their defections nevertheless represented an enormous victory for environmental and religious activists.

The GCC announced it will re-constitute itself as an umbrella group for trade associations rather than individual companies. Since it includes such groups as The American Petroleum Institute, the Automobile Manufacturers' Association and Western Fuels, it is still possible that many auto, coal and oil companies might still support its efforts to prevent the U.S. from taking any meaningful steps to address the climate crisis.

The group has spent more than $63 million to combat any progress toward addressing the climate crisis -- including a $13 million ad campaign in 1997 to support a Senate resolution against ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

The reason is obvious.

The stabilization of the global climate requires a 70 percent cut in our fossil fuel emissions. That magnitude of reduction threatens the survival, in its present form, of the fossil fuel industry -- one of the largest commercial enterprises in history.

Since 1991, the fossil fuel lobby has attacked mainstream climate science, primarily through its use of a tiny handful of "greenhouse skeptics." It has also misrepresented the economics. Most recently, it has attacked the diplomatic foundations of the international climate convention.

The Western Fuels Association -- a $400 million coal cooperative -- is one of the leaders in this campaign of disinformation. Western Fuels has been quite candid about its attack on mainstream science. In one annual report, it declared: "...[T]here has been a close to universal impulse in the [fossil fuel] trade association community in Washington to concede the scientific premise of global warming...while arguing over policy prescriptions that would be the least disruptive to our economy...We have disagreed, and do disagree, with this strategy." As a result, Western Fuels has waged an unceasing war against mainstream science for the last eight years.

The Global Climate Coalition -- a lobbying group that represents fossil fuel, automotive and heavy industry interests -- has also been very active in spreading misleading information about the climate crisis.

A third institution that has contributed significantly public confusion on the climate issue is the George C. Marshall Institute, an extreme, politically conservative institute which maintains that the climate crisis is basically a liberal plot to subvert the U.S. economy.

Taken together, the various campaigns of disinformation have been extraordinarily successful in maintaining a relentless drumbeat of doubt in the public mind about the reality of global climate change.

Most recently, the main purveyors of disinformation on the climate have been funded by ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, both of which fund a number of skeptics and an array of policy institutes which continue either to deny the reality of climate change or to minimize its importance.

By keeping the discussion focused on whether or not there is a problem, the fossil fuel lobby has effectively prevented discussion in the U.S. about what to do about it.