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Category — Energy Ethics

Defeating Faux Environmentalism: Making a Moral Case for Fossil Fuel Abundance

“Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry has not refuted the moral case against fossil fuels. In fact, the vast majority of its communications reinforce the moral case against oil, gas, and coal.” 

There is only one way to defeat the environmentalists’ moral case against fossil fuels—refute its central idea that fossil fuels destroy the planet. Because if we don’t refute that idea, we accept it. And if we accept that fossil fuels are destroying the planet, the only logical conclusion is to cease new development and slow down existing development as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry has not refuted the moral case against fossil fuels. In fact, the vast majority of its communications reinforce the moral case against oil, gas, and coal.

For example, take the common practice of publicly endorsing “renewables” as the ideal. Fossil fuel companies, particularly oil and gas companies, proudly feature windmills on webpages and annual reports, even though these are trivial to their bottom line and wildly uneconomic. This obviously implies that “renewables” are the goal—with oil and gas as just a temporarily necessary evil.

Don’t think it’s just the BPs, Shells, and Chevrons of the world who do this. Here’s a concession of “renewables’” moral superiority by the most overtly pro-fossil-fuel trade organization I know of, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA): [Read more →]

November 1, 2013   6 Comments

Dear Big Oil: Stop Acting Like Big Tobacco

The following is the beginning of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels: the Key to Winning Hearts and Minds”—my soon-to-be published manifesto on how fossil fuel companies can neutralize attackers, turn non-supporters into supporters, and supporters into champions. I’ve been been circulating it among our clients.

If you know someone in the industry who would benefit from this, please share it with them.

_____________________________________________________

Imagine that you are talking to the CEO of a tobacco company. He is trying to deal with the endless political and legal attacks on his industry. He tells you that he can win back the hearts and minds of the public by doing the following:

  • “We need to stress to the public that we are an economically important industry that creates jobs and tax revenues.”
  • “We need to link the industry to our national identity.”
  • “We also need to stress to the public that we are addressing our attackers’ concerns—by lowering our emissions.”
  • “We need to do all this using the best ad agencies, polling firms, and media gurus, so we can make our case in the most wide-reaching and most emotionally compelling way.”

What would your response be?

I’m guessing you would say that there’s no way this will work—because none of these address the fact that the public views their core product as a self-destructive addiction. The industry, accordingly, is viewed as an inherently immoral industry. So long as that is the case, all other communications efforts can only accomplish so much.

For example, critics would ask, in response to the industry’s communications tactics: Do we want economic growth tied to poison? Do we want more jobs where the workers are doing harmful things? Do we want our national identity to continue being associated with something we now know is destructive? Do we want to settle for making a deadly product 20% less deadly? Obviously not.

Everything above applies exactly to your industry, the oil industry. Your attackers portray your core product as a self-destructive addiction, and you as a fundamentally immoral industry. They’re wrong—but you wouldn’t know it from the public discussion of oil and, indeed, the entire fossil fuel industry. [Read more →]

October 10, 2013   6 Comments

The Campaign to Win Hearts and Minds

“We all have a stake in the war over fossil fuels, and it’s a war that will ultimately be won or lost depending on whether we can win the moral and environmental high ground.”

As I wrote in Friday’s post, the challenge of persuading the public in favor of fossil fuels is really one of conveying the fact that fossil fuels improve the planet for human life, in such a way that you quickly capture the moral high ground and the environmental high ground—as against taking defensive stands on these issues (or none at all).

At the Center for Industrial Progress, we do a lot to help companies move hearts and minds by applying these ideas to their communications projects, and we’ve also begun a campaign to take our strategy to the public directly.

The ‘I Love Fossil Fuels’ Campaign

I’ve heard as an excuse in many industries that have to deal with the Green movement that we’re at a disadvantage because the other side has some emotional advantage.

But that’s only true if we let them own the value issues, like environment. If we own them, by giving the big picture, with plenty of examples, plenty of justified emotion—we have the advantage.

And in fact, people will be inoculated against anti-fossil fuel messaging, because they’ll know clearly and concretely how destructive it is to oppose fossil fuel.

As evidence for this, I want to show you a few images from our new Facebook campaign, “I Love Fossil Fuels.” I did not make one of these, they’re all just from people who have taken in our work. (Click for larger images.) [Read more →]

September 3, 2013   No Comments

Fossil Fuel Self-Defense

“It’s estimated that, in large part thanks to new, coal-powered infrastructure, between 1 billion and 2 billion people now have access to clean drinking water that didn’t 20 years ago.”

So far this week, I’ve argued that fossil fuels actually improve the environment for human beings, and applied that idea to two important strategies for any debate on the value of fossil fuels: taking the moral high ground and taking the environmental high ground.

I apply both in the following excerpt from my book, Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet.

How the Coal Industry Should Defend itself

Once you understand that coal and other fossil fuels improve our environment, your ability to defend them is incomparably greater.

Let’s work through an example: the controversy over coal exports in the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s a typical attack: “They’re coming to ship their poison so they can poison the people in China. And that poison’s going to come back here and poison your salmon and your children, so don’t let it happen.” [1]

That was from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

So let’s say you’re debating Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the media. How do you respond?

If you’re clear that coal improves our environment, not just that it’s less poisonous than he thinks, you can completely turn the tables and make clear that as supporters of coal you’re the environmental benefactor and he’s the environmental danger.

Here’s how I might respond if I were in the coal industry: [Read more →]

August 30, 2013   2 Comments

Taking the Moral High Ground on Fossil Fuels

“The ideal source of energy is not some ‘sustainable’—i.e., endlessly repeatable—form, but the best, cheapest, ever-improving form human ingenuity can devise. . . . An oil industry is ideal in the same way the iPhone is an ideal for so many. It may not be the best forever, but it is the best for now and we should be grateful to have it.”

Yesterday, I discussed the idea that fossil fuels actually improve the planet for human life. This idea has major implications for how the fossil fuel industry represents itself to the public.

Because of the narrative that fossil fuels harm the planet, the industry has tended to fight for its existence defensively, with the argument that it is a necessary evil, to be tolerated because of the jobs it creates, or because of other economic benefits.

But that approach doesn’t work, and it shouldn’t work. To their credit, most people are unwilling to tolerate something they consider immoral. To win the hearts and minds of the public, the energy industry needs to present itself as a necessary good, because taking the moral high ground in the fossil fuel debate is the only winning strategy.

Taking the Moral High Ground

Imagine you are an advertising executive, and a CEO asks you: “Do you think you can help improve the reputation of my industry?”

You respond, “Sure, what are some ways your industry makes people’s lives better?”

He replies, “Well, actually, our product helps people in just about everything they do. This past year, it helped take 4 million newlyweds to their dream destinations for their honeymoons. It helped bring 300 million Americans to their favorite places: yoga studios, soccer games, friends’ houses. It made possible the bulletproof vests that protect 500,000 policemen a year and the fire-resistant jackets that protect 1,000,000 firefighters a year.” [1][2]

“If you do all that, how could you be unpopular?”

“We’re the oil industry.” [Read more →]

August 28, 2013   2 Comments

A Moral Defense of the Oil Industry

“It is the oil industry, not its opponents, that deserves the moral high ground. The moral arguments against oil pretend to be progressive but are in fact re-hashes of primitive philosophical doctrines. For example, ‘sustainability’ is a relic of centuries when human beings repeated the same lifestyle over and over–instead of finding better and better ways to do things.”

Imagine you are an advertising executive, and a CEO asks you: “Do you think you can help improve the reputation of my industry?”

You respond, “Sure, what are some ways your industry makes people’s live better?”

He replies, “Well, actually, our product helps people in just about everything they do. This past year, it helped take 4 million newlyweds to their dream destinations for their honeymoons. It helped bring 300 million Americans to their favorite places: yoga studios, soccer games, friends’ houses. It made possible the bulletproof vests that protect 500,000 policemen a year and the fire-resistant jackets that protect 1,000,000 firefighters a year.”

“If you do all that, how could you be unpopular?”

“We’re the oil industry.” [Read more →]

December 5, 2012   22 Comments