Big Oil is lying again. This time it’s about jobs.
Front groups are flooding the climate debate with new disinformation.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. You can catch up with her on Twitter here.
Calling all poets, greentrollers, and those who otherwise have a bone to pick with Big Oil!
Before we get started, we have a special climate accountability-themed Valentine’s Day contest to announce. We’re calling for your best haikus to Big Oil. Extra points for mentions of accountability and #ExxonKnew, but be creative! If you’re feeling poetic about planetary destruction this year, send your haiku to email@example.com, and we’ll post our favorites next week.
Just as a reminder, the form of a haiku is 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second, and 5 in the third. Can’t wait to see the damage!
Now, back to business...
As soon as President Biden unveiled his first climate actions last week, Big Oil and their allies responded by doing what they do best: lying. Only this time the industry isn’t pushing flat-out climate denial, which is a bit out-of-vogue these days.
Instead, Big Oil is hoping to stop climate action with another big lie: that transitioning to clean energy is a death sentence for jobs and the economy.
The American Petroleum Institute, for example, claimed that Biden’s move to ban new oil and gas drilling would “risk hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in government revenue for education and conservation programs.” Along with the Chamber of Commerce and others, they are promoting that claim on social media, in press coverage, and everything in between.
The job loss numbers the industry is promoting are drastically inflated. Oil and gas companies employ a total of slightly over 160,000 people, according to a 2020 estimate by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But industry advocates now claim that tens of thousands more than that will be lost in just a few states, and they completely ignore the promise of millions of safer and more sustainable jobs in the renewable sector.
“API is claiming that more people would lose their jobs than the industry actually employs,” writes Nick Cunningham in DeSmog. “Even accounting for ripple effects on related industries, it is a staggering claim.”
This argument is particularly rich when you remember that industry executives knew what climate change could mean for the economy. In 1980, an API report concluded that a “2.5°C rise brings world economic growth to a halt in about 2025.” If fossil fuel executives had started the transition to clean energy when their own scientists had sounded the alarm, we wouldn’t be talking about oil, gas, or coal jobs — workers would already have sustainable, high-paying jobs in clean energy. Holding Big Oil accountable — and taking action on climate — is vital for workers, too.
And while industry hacks say a drilling ban on federal land would cripple states that rely on the industry by eliminating jobs and revenue for schools and other essential services, they conveniently cherry pick their facts to inflate the impact that ban would have. They leave out the backlog of drilling leases and permits they amassed while Trump was still in office — which won’t be affected by Biden’s ban, as it only applies to new permits. They also don’t mention that only about a quarter of all drilling happens on federal lands.
And if we’re talking about financially crippling the budgets of state and local governments, what about the billions of dollars those governments are having to spend to adapt and recover from climate impacts? Or the billions more that have propped up the industry each year through subsidies, bailouts, and now, pandemic relief?
These lies are promoted and paid for by Big Oil — and prominent voices are giving them credence.
The industry’s rhetoric was echoed in a report from Timothy Considine at the University of Wyoming — which, as it turns out, was paid for in secret by yet another industry front group, the Western Energy Alliance. (This wasn’t Considine’s first rodeo with the fossil fuel industry, either).
“It’s a pattern we see pretty often,” said Jesse Coleman of the watchdog group Documented. “A study that’s designed to help the oil industry as part of a PR and lobbying effort, that’s designed to come up with a headline that looks good for the industry and bad for regulating the industry, gets whitewashed through the academic system by hiding the money that really underpins it. It’s a pay-to-play academic producing lobbying material for a propaganda purpose.”
But that didn’t stop outlets like Fox News, Reuters, and even NPR from citing the study in their reporting — or senators like Ted Cruz, Cynthia Lummis, and John Barrasso, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, from trotting out the industry’s false figures in attacks on the administration’s recent climate actions.
The groups behind this messaging exist for the sole purpose of lobbying on behalf of Big Oil — and have been spreading disinformation to block climate legislation for decades. There’s a reason API is being sued in three states for lying about climate change. As we recently covered, the Chamber of Commerce has its own track record of lying on behalf of Big Oil — and is now defending the industry’s deception before the Supreme Court.
In other words, as executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center Erik Schlenker-Goodrich so perfectly described to DeSmog, this is “standard bullshit fear-mongering.” Seems right on-message for these grifters. 🌸
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