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Exxon’s Brazen Greenwashing, on the Front Page of The New York Times

Exxon’s new ads tout the idea that car emissions are 95% lower now than in 1970. But not so fast, says one scientist.

New York Times June 16, 2009

Yesterday, on the bottom of it’s front page, The New York Times ran the ad you see above, from ExxonMobil, which touts the idea that car emissions have fallen by 95% since 1970. Which sounds great! There’s nothing at all to worry about with global warming! We’re already doing such an amazing job!

Not exactly, says noted climate scientist and physicist Joseph Romm. While it’s clear that various tailpipe emissions such as ozone have fallen thanks in large part to catalytic converters, carbon emissions have not. And even though our cars get better gas mileage now than in 1970, our country has vastly more cars and drives them further thanks to sprawl. As a result, our carbon emissions have actually accelerated. (Atmospheric carbon was, in fact, just found to be at its highest point in 2 million years, and the government just released a sobering climate report that unpacks some of the best climate science currently available.) As Romm writes:

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.

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 responds 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“)?

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.

Bracing stuff. Do magazines and newspapers have a responsibility to factcheck their ads? It sounds difficult to do–and unlikely, given how those outlets are hurting for cash–but note how severely cigarette ads have been curtailed. Why shouldn’t ads that fly in the face of established scientific and journalistic evidence–and which advocate policies that are widely harmful to the public, in the form of global warming–be similarly curtailed? Just wondering.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.



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