Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Big Tobacco Comparison

Welcome to Katrina Kuh from Hofstra Law who has agreed contribute to the blog.  Here's her first piece on a topic that has crossed my mind more than once since ExxonMobil's funding of organizations who promote denialist global warming reports became an issue.  Certainly the effect has been no more benign than Big Tobacco, but it's not necessary a good analogy.  Professor Kuh's analysis follows:

In their recently-filed public nuisance suit, the plaintiffs in Kivalina v. ExxonMobil et al. allege a civil conspiracy by select energy defendants to distort public perceptions about the causes and effects of climate change.  In its description of the conspiracy, the Complaint suggests similarities between the energy defendants and Big Tobacco.  See Kivalina Complaint ¶¶ 192-93.  This follows on the heels of a number of reports and articles likewise drawing comparisons between major energy companies (Big Energy) and Big Tobacco.  E.g., Union of Concerned Scientists, Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science (January 2007).  The tobacco comparison thus seems to be catching on as a way to frame the climate change narrative.  However, is this comparison (1) apt and (2) useful in the context of climate change?  Are energy companies (really) to climate change as tobacco companies are to smoking?

There are compelling similarities between the energy industry's response to climate change science and the tobacco industry's response to research showing that smoking is harmful.  "Greenwashed" ads alternating images of oil rigs and natural vistas call to mind the rugged, healthy-looking Marlboro man; industry-funded "reports" and adverts about climate "science" call to mind tobacco company ads with doctors extolling the health benefits of smoking.  And there seems to be evidence that at least some energy companies used a number of the same strategies (and even sometimes the same advocacy groups, e.g., TASSC) as Big Tobacco in conducting so-called "information" campaigns.   Moreover, there is a similar specter of political capture - both Big Tobacco and Big Energy generously fill the coffers of influential politicians.

However, the comparison between Big Tobacco and Big Energy becomes strained when you move beyond the narrow issue of how the industries responded to science presenting a threat to the industry and consider more broadly the industries and the social problems at hand.   Cigarettes are expendable with respect to our way of life; fossil-fuel energy (at least for now) is not.  Stopping cigarette production on a dime would have bankrupted some major corporations and tobacco farmers; stopping fossil fuel energy production on a dime would bring our lives to a halt and cripple a massive economic infrastructure.  Although Big Energy may well be blameworthy in its efforts to unnecessarily prolong the use of fossil fuel energy, the mere fact that the industry continues to generate energy from fossil fuels (even with knowledge of climate change) simply isn't as culpable as the tobacco industry continuing to sell cigarettes knowing that they cause cancer. Moreover, unlike the tobacco industry, there is an opportunity (perhaps necessity) for energy companies to help implement responses to climate change.

Wholesale conflating of Big Energy and Big Tobacco may also have some unintended adverse consequences.   Painting Big Energy as a Darth Vader-like enemy could complicate efforts to involve the energy industry in responding to climate change.   It may also make it harder to induce GHG-lowering behavior changes by individuals.  In the context of climate change, we cannot indulge the environmental policy cliché that the problem can be solved by running herd on a few large ("evil," i.e., energy industry) polluters.  A meaningful response to climate change is going to require a far broader response with far greater impacts on individuals.  Moreover, if those who produce fossil fuel energy are evil then it's a short leap to paint energy consumers as complicit - in effect, energy consumers become the storm troopers to the Big Energy Darth Vader.  If individuals hear a message that they must adopt GHG-reducing actions (driving a hybrid, buying a fluorescent bulb) as atonement for "bad" behavior, that risks trading the halo effect for a pitchfork effect and engendering resistance and rejection.

Highlighting political failures (and the extent to which they may have been contributed to by industry disinformation campaigns and political contributions) can be helpful to insure healthier policy discussions going forward; comparisons to the tobacco experience in that limited context may well be appropriate and useful.  However, advancing a narrative with Big Energy cast broadly as the new Big Tobacco overstates the case and could have unfortunate consequences.   --  Professor Katrina Kuh, Hofstra Law

March 19, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 17, 2008

World Water Day 2008

World Water Day 2008

Please help spread the word about these events happening
on or around World Water Day, March 22, 2008.

Beginning Sunday, March 16 through Saturday, March 22,
restaurants will invite their customers to donate a minimum of $1
for the tap water they would normally get for free. These donations
to UNICEF will go towards improving access to safe water and
sanitation facilities in schools and communities, while promoting
safe hygiene practices in more than 90 countries around the world.
Plug in your zip code to find restaurants in your city.Tap project link

World Water Day 2008 will be celebrated by the UN on Thursday,
March 20. In New York you can help bring awareness to the
sanitation crisis by "standing up for those that can't sit down."

PSI will host a World Water Day discussion about their Safe Water
Programs, the successes and challenges, and the way forward on
March 20 from 3:30-5:00 PM. If interested, please RSVP to Learn more by visiting

Celebrate World Water Day with Water For People
on Friday, March 21. Raffles and speakers-including Amy Hart -
Filmmaker, WATER FIRST-will make the evening one to remember.
Water for People link

If in Louisville, KY, join Edge Outreach on March 21, 2008
for a night of music, water and film. Join speakers and hear
stories of what is being done for those without water and sanitation.

The DC Environmental Film Festival will have several
water movies showing on World Water Day March 22. 
There is also a panel of water experts at 4:00 PM that day from
Water Advocates, the Global Water Challenge, Natural Resources
Defense Council and ConservationStrategy. 
DC Film Fest

Join the Global Water Challenge, Water Advocates and
others at the Student Movement for Real Change event on March 22:
"Water is Life: Youth Leading Change on World Water Day".
Student Water Conference

In 2007, 69 cities across the United States passed resolutions
acknowledging March 22 as World Water Day. Join those interested
in promoting World Water Day in a variety of events across the country.
World Water Day link

WaterAid America in conjunction with the American Museum of
Natural History present a panel discussion exploring the burden
unsafe water and sanitation place on women, and the role women
can play in water and sanitation development interventions. The
discussion will be held on World Water Day, March 22.
WaterAid America link

Attention runners: join in an effort to raise awareness about the
global water and sanitation challenge and help build a borehole well
in the Azawak Valley, Niger - please sign up for a Run for Water on
March 22. Run Water for Niger

The Global Health Council will hold a briefing on Capitol Hill called
"The Link Between Clean Water and Health." The briefing will be
on March 26 at 12:30 PM on Capitol Hill. Global Health Council link

Continue reading

March 17, 2008 in Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Drink Water for Life

This article is written by Denise Olivera, Columbia School of Journalism, about the Drink Water for Life Challenge originated by 1st Congregational Church, U.C.C. of Salem, Oregon.  The article was covered by the Great Reporter newsservice link The congregation pledges to give up some of its lattes, sodas, etc. during Lent and give the money to our Pure Water Fund.  In celebration of Lent, spring, or World Water Day, please chose to follow this lead.

March 17, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Chinese Environmental Law Blog

Here's a new blog to keep track of, if you're interested in environmental law in China: China Environmental Law   This spring break I'll be renovating the site and will provide full lists of blogs, environmental programs, etc. for your reading pleasure.

March 17, 2008 in Asia, Governance/Management, International, Law, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

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March 16, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)