Trillium News

We Call it Propaganda(A)

If you’ve ever wondered, “just how dumb do they think we are?” proceed directly to where you can view several ads attacking global warming “alarmists” sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The ads are a desperate attempt by fossil fuel-loving climate change deniers to mitigate the impact of former veep Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, possibly the first filmed Power Point presentation in history to charge an admission fee. If you haven’t been sojourning abroad, you may have noticed Mr. Gore’s face on the cover of just about every magazine short of Teen Beat. Sorry, CEI, you lost this round.
CEI is a self-described advocate for “free enterprise and limited government regulation” and “leader in the fight against the global warming scare.” The ad, dubbed “Energy,” is described eloquently by Andrew Leonard on

[A] young girl dreamily exhales carbon dioxide while evergreen trees soak in the life-sustaining compound. Our right to freely exchange this compound, CEI suggests, is now under attack. The ad makes the War on Christmas look like a mild skirmish compared with the impending confrontation over CO2.
As visuals of beaches, farms and pre-teen soccer daughters piling into minivans fill the screen, an unthreatening female narrator intones, “There’s something in these pictures you can’t see…It comes from animal life, the oceans, the Earth and the fuels we find in it. It’s called carbon dioxide. The fuels that produce CO2 have freed us from a world of back-breaking labor…enabling us to produce the things we need and move the people we love.” But horrors. “Some politicians” are trying to “label CO2 a pollutant. What would our lives be like then? Imagine if they succeed.”
Now I like carbon dioxide as much as any other mammal. I really don’t know what I’d do without it; push comes to shove, I would choose it over chocolate. But moderation is everything, as the hangover sufferer once said. Just about everyone but the folks at CEI now agree that rising greenhouse gas levels are responsible for the current warming trend. The current level of 380 parts per million (ppm) will likely reach 550 ppm by the mid-century and possibly up to 1,000 by century’s end* unless we embrace alternative fuel sources now. Even if it means some economic “disruption,” the word favored by folks who stubbornly refuse to find economic opportunity in the many transitions that will be necessary to create post fossil fuel-dependent economy.
News articles have reported that the CEI is supported by General Motors, Ford, ExxonMobil (one of its most generous funders), Arch Coal, Time Warner, Pfizer and industry associations such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Plastics Council, and the Chlorine Chemistry Council.
Ford and GM issued statements distancing themselves from the ads. Ford’s desire to position itself as Detroit’s climate change leader (see our column in the spring issue of IFBW) did not spare it harsh criticism from’s Andrew Leonard:
There should be a price to pay for getting in bed with the likes of CEI: Public shaming and humiliation is a good place to start. … Global warming has been a CEI hobbyhorse for years. To try to split the difference and say, “We support them on some things, but not on this issue,” just doesn’t fly.
We agree, but why let Ford take all the heat (pun intended)? All of CEI’s supporters should be shamed, the way supporters of the Global Climate Coalition, another anti-“alarmist” group, were exposed, leading to the coalition’s eventual demise. Alas, this is where bad public policies on corporate political donations collide with bad climate policy. Neither the CEI nor its corporate sponsors are required to disclose their associations with each other or any funding relationships. Fortunately, a shareholder campaign to force disclosure of corporate trade association memberships and dues has been gaining ground this spring. That’ll have to wait for another column.
*Social Issues Service, 2006 Background Report on Global Climate Change, Investor Responsibility Research Center.