David F. Noble: The Corporate Climate Coup


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

The Corporate Climate Coup

By Prof. David F. Noble

Global Research, May 4, 2007

Don't breathe. There's a total war on against CO2 emissions, and you are 
releasing CO2 with every breath. The multi-media campaign against global warming
now saturating our senses, which insists that an increasing CO2 component of 
greenhouse gases is the enemy, takes no prisoners: you are either with us or you
are with the "deniers." No one can question the new orthodoxy or dare risk the 
sin of emission. If Bill Clinton were running for president today he would swear
he didn't exhale.

How did we get here? How did such an arcane subject only yesterday of interest 
merely to a handful of scientific specialists so suddenly come to dominate our 
discourse? How did scientific speculation so swiftly erupt into ubiquitous 
intimations of apocalypse? These are not hypothetical questions but historical 
questions, and they have answers. Such events as these do not just happen; they 
are made to happen. On the whole our ideas tend not to be our own ideas; rarely 
do we come up with them ourselves but rather imbibe them from the world around 
us. This is especially obvious when our ideas turn out to be the same as nearly 
everyone else's, even people we've never met or communicated with. Where did 
this idea about the urgent crisis of global warming and CO2 emissions come from 
and get into our heads, given that so few of us have ever read, or even tried to
read, a single scientific paper about greenhouse gases? Answering such a 
question is not as difficult as it might seem, for the simple reason that it 
takes a great amount of reach and resources to place so alien an idea in so many
minds simultaneously so quickly, and the only possessors of such capacity and 
means are the government and the corporations, together with their multi-media 
machinery. To effect such a significant shift in attention, perception, and 
belief requires a substantial, and hence visible and demonstrable, effort.

Until quite recently most people were either unaware of or confused and 
relatively unconcerned about this issue, despite a growing consensus among 
scientists and environmentalists about the possible dangers of climate change. 
Global warming activists, such as AI Gore, were quick to place the blame for 
that popular ignorance, confusion, and lack of concern on a well-financed 
corporate propaganda campaign by oil and gas companies and their front 
organizations, political cronies, advertising and public relations agencies, and
media minions, which lulled people into complacency by sowing doubt and 
skepticism about worrisome scientific claims. And, of course, they were right; 
there was such a corporate campaign, which has by now been amply documented. 
What global warming activists conveniently failed to point out, however, is that
their own, alarmist, message has been drummed into our minds by the very same 
means, albeit by different corporate hands. This campaign, which might well 
prove the far more significant, has heretofore received scant notice.

Over the last decade and a half we have been subjected to two competing 
corporate campaigns, echoing different time-honored corporate strategies and 
reflecting a split within elite circles. The issue of climate change has been 
framed from both sides of this elite divide, giving the appearance that there 
are only these two sides. The first campaign, which took shape in the late 
1980's as part of the triumphalist ³globalization" offensive, sought to confront
speculation about climate change head-on by denying, doubting, deriding, and 
dismissing distressing scientific claims which might put a damper on enthusiasm 
for expansive capitalist enterprise. It was modelled after and to some extent 
built upon the earlier campaign by the tobacco industry to sow skepticism about 
mounting evidence of the deleterious health-effects of smoking. In the wake of 
this "negative" propaganda effort, any and all critics of climate change and 
global warming have been immediately identified with this side of the debate.

The second -³positive²- campaign, which emerged a decade later, in the wake of 
Kyoto and at the height of the anti-globalization movement, sought to get out 
ahead of the environmental issue by affirming it only to hijack it and turn it 
to corporate advantage. Modelled on a century of corporate liberal cooptation of
popular reform movements and regulatory regimes, it aimed to appropriate the 
issue in order to moderate its political implications, thereby rendering it 
compatible with corporate economic, geopolitical, and ideological interests. The
corporate climate campaign thus emphasized the primacy of "market-based² 
solutions while insisting upon uniformity and predictability in mandated rules 
and regulations. At the same time it hyped the global climate issue into an 
obsession, a totalistic preoccupation with which to divert attention from the 
radical challenges of the global-justice movement. In the wake of this campaign,
any and all opponents of the ³deniers² have been identified ­ and, most 
importantly, have wittingly or unwittingly identified themselves ­ with the 
corporate climate crusaders.

The first campaign, dominant throughout the 1990's, suffered somewhat from 
exposure and became relatively moribund early in the Bush II era, albeit without
losing influence within the White House (and the Prime Minister's Office). The 
second, having contributed to the diffusion of a radical movement, has succeeded
in generating the current hysteria about global warming, now safely channeled 
into corporate-friendly agendas at the expense of any serious confrontations 
with corporate power. Its media success has aroused the electorate and compelled
even die-hard deniers to disingenuously cultivate a greener image. Meanwhile, 
and most important, the two opposing campaigns have together effectively 
obliterated any space for rejecting them both.

In the late 1980's the world's most powerful corporations launched their 
"globalization" revolution, incessantly invoking the inevitable beneficence of 
free trade and, in the process, relegating environmental issues to the margins 
and reducing the environmentalist movement to rearguard actions. Interest in 
climate change nevertheless continued to grow. In 1988, climate scientists and 
policy-makers established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) 
to keep abreast of the matter and issue periodic reports. At a meeting in 
Toronto three hundred scientists and policy-makers from forty-eight countries 
issued a ³call for action² on the reduction of CO2 emissions. The following year
fifty oil, gas, coal, and automobile and chemical manufacturing companies and 
their trade associations formed the Global Change Coalition (GCC), with the help
of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller. Its stated purpose was to sow doubt
about scientific claims and forestall political efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas
emissions. The GCC gave millions of dollars in political contributions and in 
support of a public relations campaign warning that misguided efforts to reduce 
greenhouse-gas emissions through restrictions on the burning of fossil fuels 
would undermine the promise of globalization and cause economic ruin. GCC 
efforts effectively put the climate change issue on hold.

Meanwhile, following an indigenous uprising in Chiapas in January, 1994, set for
the first day of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, 
the anti-globalization movement erupted in world-wide protest against market 
capitalism and corporate depredation, including the despoiling of the 
environment. Within five years the movement had grown in cohesion, numbers, 
momentum and militancy and coalesced in designated ³global days of action" 
around the world, particularly in direct actions at G8 summits and meetings of 
the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the new World Trade 
Organization, reaching its peak in the shutting down the WTO meetings in Seattle
in November, 1999. The movement, which consisted of a wide range of diverse 
grass-roots organizations united in opposition to the global "corporate agenda,²
shook the elite globalization campaign to its roots. It was in this charged 
context that the signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 
which had been formulated by representatives from 155 nations at the Rio Earth 
Summit in 1992, met at the end of 1997 in Kyoto and established the so-called 
Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through carbon targets and 
trading. The Kyoto treaty, belatedly ratified only in late 2004, was the sole 
international agreement on climate change and immediately became the bellwether 
of political debate about global warming.

Corporate opposition anticipated Kyoto. In the summer of 1997 the U.S. Senate 
passed a unanimous resolution demanding that any such treaty must include the 
participation and compliance of developing countries, particularly emerging 
economic powers like China, India, and Brazil, which were nevertheless excluded 
in the first round of the Kyoto Protocol. Corporate opponents of Kyoto in the 
GCC, with the swelling global justice movement as a back-drop, condemned the 
treaty as a ³socialist" or "third-world² plot against the developed countries of
the West.

The convergence of the global justice movement and Kyoto, however, prompted some
of the elite to rethink and regroup, which created a split in corporate ranks 
regarding the issue of climate change. Defections from the GCC began in 1997 and
within three years had come to include such major players as Dupont, BP, Shell, 
Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, and Texaco. Among the last GCC hold-outs were Exxon, 
Mobil, Chevron, and General Motors. (In 2000, the GCC finally went out of 
business but other like-minded corporate front organizations were created to 
carry on the "negative² campaign, which continues.)

Those who split off from the GCC quickly coalesced in new organizations. Among 
the first of these was the Pew Center for Global Climate Change. funded by the 
philanthropic offering of the Sun Oil/Sunoco fortune. The board of the new 
Center was chaired by Theodore Roosevelt IV, great grandson of the Progressive 
Era president (and conservation icon) and managing director of the Lehman 
Brothers investment banking firm. Joining him on the board were the managing 
director of the Castle-Harlan investment firm and the former CEO of Northeast 
Utilities, as well as veteran corporate lawyer Frank E. Loy, who had been the 
Clinton administration's chief negotiator on trade and climate change.

At its inception the Pew Center established the Business Environmental 
Leadership Council, chaired by Loy. Early council members included Sunoco, 
Dupont, Duke Energy, BP, Royal Dutch/Shell, Duke Energy, Ontario Power 
Generation, DTE (Detroit Edison), and Alcan. Marking their distance from the 
GCC, the Council declared ³we accept the views of most scientists that enough is
known about the science and environmental impacts of climate change for us to 
take actions to address the consequences;² ³Businesses can and should take 
concrete steps now in the U.S. and abroad to assess opportunities for emission 
reductions. . . and invest in new, more efficient products, practices, and 
technologies." The Council emphasized that climate change should be dealt with 
through "market-based mechanisms² and by adopting ³reasonable policies,² and 
expressed the belief ³that companies taking early action on climate strategies 
and policy will gain sustained competitive advantage over their peers."

Early in 2000, ³world business leaders" convening at the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland declared that ³climate change is the greatest threat facing 
the world.² That fall, many of the same players, including Dupont, BP, Shell, 
Suncor, Alcan, and Ontario Power Generation, as well as the French aluminum 
manufacturer Pechiney, joined forces with the U.S. advocacy group Environmental 
Defense to form the Partnership for Climate Action. Like-minded Environmental 
Defense directors included the Pew Center's Frank Loy and principals from the 
Carlyle Group, Berkshire Partners, and Morgan Stanley and the CEO of Carbon 
Investments. Echoing the Pew Center mission, and barely a year after the ³battle
of Seattle" had shut down the World Trade Organization in opposition to the 
corporate globalization regime, the new organization reaffirmed its belief in 
the beneficence of market capitalism. ³The primary purpose of the Partnership is
to champion market-based mechanisms as a means of achieving early and credible 
action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that is efficient and 
cost-effective." Throughout its initial announcement this message was repeated 
like a mantra: ³the benefits of market mechanisms," ³market-oriented rules," 
³market-based programs can provide the means to simultaneously achieve both 
environmental protection and economic development goals,² "the power of market 
mechanisms to contribute to climate change solutions.² In the spring of 2002, 
the Partnership's first report proudly stated that ³the companies of the PCA are
in the vanguard of the new field of greenhouse gas management.² ³The PCA is not 
only achieving real reductions in global warming emissions,² the report noted, 
"but also providing a body of practical experience, demonstrating how to reduce 
pollution while continuing to profit.²

This potential for profit-making from climate change gained the avid attention 
of investment bankers, some of whom were central participants in the PCA through
their connections with the boards of the Pew Center and Environmental Defense. 
Goldman Sachs became the leader of the pack; with its ownership of power plants 
through Cogentrix and clients like BP and Shell, the Wall Street firm was most 
attuned to the opportunities. In 2004 the company began to explore the 
³market-making² possibilities and the following year established its Center for 
Environmental Markets, with the announcement that ³Goldman Sachs will 
aggressively seek market-making and investment opportunities in environmental 
markets;" The firm indicated that the Center would engage in research to develop
public policy options for establishing markets around climate change, including 
the design and promotion of regulatory solutions for reducing greenhouse gas 
emissions. The firm also indicated that Goldman Sachs would ³take the lead in 
identifying investment opportunities in renewable energy;² that year the 
investment banking firm acquired Horizon Wind Energy, invested in photovoltaics 
with Sun Edison, arranged financing for Northeast Biofuels, and purchased a 
stake in logen Corporation, which pioneered the conversion of straw, corn 
stalks, and switchgrass into ethanol. The company also dedicated itself ³to act 
as a market maker in emissions trading² of CO2 (and SO2) as well as in such 
areas as ³weather derivatives,² "renewable energy credits," and other 
³climate-related commodities.² ³We believe," Goldman Sachs proclaimed, ³that the
management of risks and opportunities arising from climate change and its 
regulation will be particularly significant and will garner increasing attention
from capital market participants.²

Among those capital market participants was former U.S. Vice President AI Gore. 
Gore had a long-standing interest in environmental issues and had represented 
the U.S. in Kyoto. He also had equally long-standing family ties with the energy
industry through his father's friendship with Armand Hammer and his financial 
interest in Hammer¹s company Occidental Petroleum, which the son inherited. In 
2004, as Goldman Sachs was gearing up its climate-change market-making 
initiatives in quest of green profits, Gore teamed up with Goldman Sachs 
executives David Blood, Peter Harris, and Mark Ferguson to establish the 
London-based environment investment firm Generation Investment Management (GIM),
with Gore and Blood at its helm. In May, 2005 Gore, representing GIM, addressed 
the Institutional Investor Summit on Climate Risk and emphasized the need for 
investors to think in the long term and to integrate environmental issues into 
their equity analyses. "I believe that integrating the issues relating to 
climate change into your analysis of what stocks are worth investing in, how 
much, and for how long, is simply good business,² Gore explained to the 
assembled investors. Applauding a decision to move in this direction announced 
the day before by General Electric's CEO Jeff Immelt, Gore declared that ³we are
here at an extraordinarily hopeful moment. . .when the leaders in the business 
sector begin to make their moves.² By that time Gore was already at work on his 
book about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, and that same spring he began 
preparations to make a film about it.

The book and the film of the same name both appeared in 2006, with enormous 
promotion and immediate success in the corporate entertainment industry (the 
film eventually garnering an Academy Award). Both vehicles vastly extended the 
reach of the climate change market-makers, whose efforts they explicitly 
extolled. ³More and more U.S. business executives are beginning to lead us in 
the right direction," Gore exulted, adding ³there is also a big change underway 
in the investment community.² The book and film faithfully reflected and 
magnified the central messages of the corporate campaign. Like his colleagues at
the Pew Center and the Partnership for Climate Action, Gore stressed the 
importance of using market mechanisms to meet the challenge of global warming. 
"One of the keys to solving the climate crisis," he wrote, ³involves finding 
ways to use the powerful force of market capitalism as an ally.² Gore repeated 
his admonition to investors about the need for long-term investment strategies 
and for integrating environmental factors into business calculations, proudly 
pointing out how business leaders had begun ³taking a broader view of how 
business can sustain their profitability over time.² The one corporate executive
actually quoted in the book, in a two-page spread, was General Electric's CEO 
Jeffrey Immelt, who succinctly explained the timing and overriding purpose of 
the exercise: ³This is a time period where environmental improvement is going to
lead to profitability.²

By the beginning of 2007 the corporate campaign had significantly scaled up its 
activity, with the creation of several new organizations. The Pew Center and 
Partnership for Climate Action now created a political lobbying entity, the U.S.
Climate Action Partnership (USCAP). USCAP membership included the key players in
the initial effort, such as BP, Dupont, the Pew Center, and Environmental 
Defense, and added others, including GE, Alcoa, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, 
Pacific Gas and Electric, Florida Power and Light, and PNM, the New Mexico and 
Texas utilities holding company. PNM had recently joined with Microsoft's Bill 
Gates' Cascade Investments to form a new unregulated energy company focused on 
growth opportunities in Texas and the western U.S. PNM's CEO Jeff Sterba also 
chaired the Climate Change Task Force of the Edison Electric Institute. Also 
joining USCAP was the Natural Resources Defense Council, the World Resources 
Institute, and the investment banking firm Lehman Brothers whose managing 
director Theodore Roosevelt IV chaired the board of the Pew Center and was soon 
also to chair Lehman's new Global Center on Climate Change. As Newsweek now 
noted (March 12, 2007). ³Wall Street is experiencing a climate change," with the
recognition that ³the way to get the green is to go green.²

In January, 2007, USCAP issued ³A Call for Action," a ³non-partisan effort 
driven by the top executives from member organizations.² The "Call² declared the
"urgent need for a policy framework on climate change;" stressing that "a 
mandatory system is needed that sets clear, predictable, market-based 
requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.² USCAP laved out a ³blueprint 
for a mandatory economy-wide market-driven approach to climate protection,² 
which recommended a "cap and trade" program as its "cornerstone,² combining the 
setting of targets with a global carbon market for trading emission allowances 
and credits. Long condemned by developing countries as ³carbon colonialism,² 
carbon trading had become the new orthodoxy. The blueprint also called for a 
"national program to accelerate technology, research, development, and 
deployment² and measures to encourage the participation of developing countries 
Iike China, India, and Brazil, insisting that ³ultimately the solution must be 
global.² According to USCAP spokesperson General Electric's CEO Jeff Immelt, 
³these recommendations should catalyze legislative action that encourages 
innovation and fosters economic growth while enhancing energy security and 
balance of trade."

The following month yet another corporate climate organization made its 
appearance, this one specifically dedicated to spreading the new global warming 
gospel. Chaired by AI Gore of Generation Investment Management, the Alliance for
Climate Protection included among its members the now familiar Theodore 
Roosevelt IV from Lehman Brothers and the Pew Center, former national security 
advisor Brent Scowcroft, Owen Kramer from Boston Provident, representatives from
Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National 
Wildlife Federation, and three former Environmental Protection Agency 
Administrators. Using ³innovative and far-reaching communication techniques,² 
Gore explained, ³the Alliance for Climate Protection is undertaking an 
unprecedented mass persuasion exercise² ­ the multi-media campaign against 
global warming now saturating our senses. Don¹t breathe.

If the corporate climate change campaign has fuelled a fevered popular 
preoccupation with global warming, it has also accomplished much more. Having 
arisen in the midst of the world-wide global justice movement, it has restored 
confidence in those very faiths and forces which that movement had worked so 
hard to expose and challenge: globe-straddling profit-maximizing corporations 
end their myriad agencies and agendas; the unquestioned authority of science and
the corollary belief in deliverance through technology, and the beneficence of 
the self-regulating market with its panacea of prosperity through free trade, 
and its magical powers which transforms into commodities all that it touches, 
even life. All the glaring truths revealed by that movement about the 
injustices, injuries, and inequalities sowed and sustained by these powers and 
beliefs have now been buried, brushed aside in the apocalyptic rush to fight 
global warming. Explicitly likened to a war, this epic challenge requires 
single-minded attention and total commitment, without any such distractions. Now
is not the time, nor is there any need, to question a deformed society or 
re-examine its underlying myths. The blame and the burden has been shifted back 
again to the individual, awash in primordial guilt, the familiar sinner facing 
punishment for his sins, his excesses, predisposed by his pious culture and 
primed now for discipline and sacrifice. On opening day of the 2007 baseball 
season, the owner of the Toronto Blue Jays stood in front of the giant 
jumbotron, an electronic extravaganza, encircled by a ring of dancing corporate 
logos and advertising, and exhorted every person in the crowd, preposterously, 
to go out and buy an energy-efficient light bulb. They applauded.

In his bestselling 2005 book the Weather Makers, Tim Flannery called his readers
to battle in ³our war on climate change." With a forward for the Canadian 
edition written by Mike Russill, former CEO of the energy giant Suncor and now 
head of World Wildlife Fund/Canada, the book well reflected the corporate 
campaign. Each of us "must believe that the fight is winnable in social and 
economic terms,² Russill insists, ³and that we do not have to dramatically 
change the way we live," "The most important thing to realize," Flannery echoes,
³is that we can all make a difference and help combat climate change at almost 
no cost to our lifestyle." ³The transition to a carbon-free economy is eminently
achievable,² he exults, "because we have all the technology we need to do so.² 
"One great potential pitfall on the road to climate stability," he warns, 
however, "is the propensity for groups to hitch their ideological wagon to the 
push for sustainability.² "When facing a grave emergency,² he advises, ³it's 
best to be single-minded." The book is inspiring, rallying the reader to battle 
against this global threat with ingenuity, enthusiasm, and hopefulness, except 
for one small aside, buried in the text, that gnaws at the attentive reader: 
³because concern about climate change is so new, and the issue is so 
multi-disciplinary," Flannery notes, ³there are few true experts in the field 
and even fewer who can articulate what the problem might mean to the general 
public and what we should do about it.²

The corporate campaign has done more than merely create market opportunities for
mainstream popular science writers like Flannery. By constructing an exclusively
Manichean contest between mean and mindless deniers, on the one hand, and 
enlightened global warming advocates, on the other, it has also disposed 
otherwise politically-astute journalists on the left to uncharacteristic 
credulity. Heat, George Monbiot's impassioned 2006 manifesto on the matter, is 
embarrassing in its funneled focus and its naive deference to the authority of 
science, "Curtailing climate change,² he declaims, ³must become the project we 
put before all others. If we fail in this task, we fail in everything else." ³We
need a cut of the magnitude science demands,² he declares; we must adopt "the 
position determined by science rather than the position determined by politics,"
as if there was such a thing as science that was not also politics.

Monbiot pulls no punches against the ³denial industry," excoriating the negative
corporate campaigners for their "idiocy² and bitingly suggesting that some day 
soon ³climate-change denial will look as stupid as Holocaust denial, or the 
insistence that AIDS can be cured with beetroot.² Yet he has not a word of 
acknowledgement much less criticism for the campaigners on the other side whose 
message he perhaps unwittingly peddles with such passion. And here too, oddly, a
brief paragraph buried in the text, seemingly unconnected to the rest, disturbs 
the otherwise inspired reader. ³None of this is to suggest," Monbiot notes in 
passing, "that the science should not be subject to constant skepticism and 
review, or that environmentalists should not be held to account. . . 
.Climate-change campaigners have no greater right to be wrong than anyone else."
³If we mislead the public,² he allows, ³we should expect to be exposed,² adding 
that ³we also need to know that we are not wasting our time: there is no point 
in devoting your life to fighting a problem that does not exist." Here perhaps 
some remnants of truth seep between the managed lines, hinting yet at the 
opening of another space and another moment.

Historian David Noble teaches at York University in Toronto. Canada. He is the 
author, most recently, of Beyond the Promised Land (2005)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of 
the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on 

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