The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Big Oil, Not Big Tobacco, Wrote the Public Skepticism Playbook
By Nadia Prupis
Documents published Wednesday by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) show that the tobacco and fossil fuel industries used the same public relations firms, the same think tanks and in many cases, the very same researchers, to foment doubt about public interest issues—starting with climate change. The documents show that the "direct connections" between the industries go back even earlier than previously believed, CIEL says.
"From the 1950s onward, the oil and tobacco firms were using not only the same PR firms and the same research institutes, but many of the same researchers." Thomas Hawk / Flickr
"Again and again we found both the PR firms and the researchers worked first for oil, then for tobacco. It was a pedigree the tobacco companies recognized and sought out," CIEL's president Carroll Muffett said.
"From the 1950s onward, the oil and tobacco firms were using not only the same PR firms and the same research institutes, but many of the same researchers," he added.
It's the latest revelation in the ever-deepening "Exxon Knew" scandal, which broke in 2015 when two separate investigations by the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News uncovered that the fossil fuel industry had been suppressing climate science for decades.
Many initially compared the coverup to the now-infamous campaign by major tobacco companies to hide data on the addictive nature and health impacts of nicotine. But as Muffett said, it was Big Oil that first "created the organized apparatus of doubt."
And they use it to this day.
The fossil fuel industry "used the same playbook of misinformation, obfuscation and research laundered through front groups to attack science and sow uncertainty on lead, on smog and in the early debates on climate change," Muffett continued. "Big Tobacco used and refined that playbook for decades in its fight to keep us smoking—just as Big Oil is using it now, again, to keep us burning fossil fuels."
That includes the consistent use of the Stanford Research Institute, which CIEL says "was funded under secret tobacco industry accounts to build a machine to test for workplace carbon monoxide."
The Stanford Research Institute was already known as a major player in the campaign, having presented reports to the American Petroleum Institute in 1968 warning of the potential harm of releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
More findings from Wednesday's investigation include:
- Exxon and Shell patented and actively promoted their own cigarette filters repeatedly from the 1960s through the 1990s and entered into joint research agreements with tobacco firms to bring them to market;
- A former Standard Oil executive recommended numerous oil-connected scientists for the Tobacco industry's Scientific Advisory Board, many of whom went on to work for tobacco;
- Theodor Sterling, recognized by both tobacco companies and Justice Department prosecutors as one of tobacco's most important scientific assets for two decades, did similar work for oil companies fighting lead regulation before his work with tobacco.
"These documents represent, at most, half of the story: the tobacco half," Muffett said. "The rest of this story—including vital truths about the history of climate deception—remains hidden in the oil industry's files. Six decades of denial and deception is six too many. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations, to bring that truth to light."
And check out the earlier videos produced by CIEL about Smoke and Fumes:
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jason Bittel
Authorities in Hong Kong intercepted some questionable cargo three years ago — a rather large shipment of shark fins that had originated in Panama. Shark fins are a hot commodity among some Asian communities for their use in soup, and most species are legally consumed in Hong Kong, but certain species are banned from international trade due to their extinction risk. And wouldn't you know it: this confiscated shipment contained nearly a ton of illegal hammerhead fins.
Coldplay is releasing a new album on Friday, but the release will not be followed by a world tour.
Scientists have discovered a genetic basis to resistance against ash tree dieback, a devastating fungal infection that is predicted to kill over half of the ash trees in the region, and it could open up new possibilities to save the species.