Greenwashing and Lobbying by Big Oil-- An Analysis
By Karina Samuel
Part 1: Greenwashing
“Fossil Fuel Companies may claim to support bold action to avoid the worst of the climate crisis, but their actions tell a different story” ~The Climate Reality Project, 2020
Consider the quote above. For years, Big Oil has attempted to curb their deteriorating public perceptions through blatantly deceptive tactics. One such scheme is greenwashing.
Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound (Kenton 2020). Take Exxon for example. The billion dollar company is the epitome of environmental propaganda; Exxon is one of the largest oil extraction businesses in the world, so their self-proposed idea of being climate conscious is paradoxical. Such counterintuitive advertising ploys include last year's “The Future of Energy? It May Come From Where You Least Expect” commercial, in which Exxon explicitly suggested its scientists were looking to “natural” means of energy through algae and plant waste (despite playing a prominent role in the oil industry, and working directly against climate organizations).
The impact of greenwashing is multi-faceted. For one, greenwashing pushes consumers to behave in unsustainable ways in the name of conservation and environmentalism. If a company claims they're eco-friendly, you may want to buy their products. If these environmental claims turn out to be false, then you've accidentally contributed to harming the environment by supporting the company (Tsui, 2020). Second, greenwashing can significantly distort the perception of investors in the market--those who wish to invest in green technology companies can be misled by this type of propaganda. Each of these consequences are stark, and critical to recognize. As consumers are more incentivized to use their power to make environmentally conscious decisions, greenwashing unravels the work we’ve done to recognize true eco-friendly companies.
Part 2: Lobbying
“The weakness of campaign finance laws allows the oil and gas industry to elect candidates who support efforts to undermine environmental protections, drive pro-industry legislation and secure taxpayer subsidies to the industry” ~Clean Water Fund 2016
The largest five oil and gas companies spend nearly 200 million dollars a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change, according to a new report (Laville 2019). This fact directly contradicts the narrative Big Oil is pushing in its advertisements. Indeed, the oil industry has the capacity to drastically influence policy decisions--spending more than 141 million dollars and paying 800 lobbyists within Congress. These contributions are significantly more pronounced during election cycles, in which Big Oil finances political party organizations like the Republican Governors Association and the Republican Attorney General Associations (funded by super political action committees, or “PACS,” like the ExxonMobil PAC or the Marathon Oil Employees PAC).
The impact is twofold. First, Big Oil’s lobbying creates a favorable return on its investments in terms of anti-environment legislation. In 2010, for example, Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives. Due to lobbying and campaign contributions, oil companies successfully influenced politicians to begin a “coordinated assault on environmental protections,” through which 95 attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act and 145 attacks on EPA authority occured (Noel 2016). Second, lobbying allows Big Oil to garner oversight on federal budgeting, allowing such companies to weaken environmental protections and restricting the budgets of federal environmental organizations (including the EPA).
Big Oil’s advertisements are short-sighted lies which perpetuate a dangerous and fallacious narrative . Ultimately, the lobbying policies instituted by oil businesses further the paradoxical nature of greenwashing and the disastrous consequences of Big Oil’s influence.
Kenton, Will. “What You Should Know About Greenwashing.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 20 Apr. 2020, www.investopedia.com/terms/g/greenwashing.asp.
Laville, Sandra. “Top Oil Firms Spending Millions Lobbying to Block Climate Change Policies, Says Report.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Mar. 2019, www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/22/top-oil-firms-spending-millions-lobbying-to-block-climate-change-policies-says-report#:~:text=Chevron%2C%20BP%20and%20ExxonMobil%20were,legislation%20to%20tackle%20global%20warming.
Noel, John. “The Chilling Effect of Oil & Gas Money on Democracy.” Environmental Policy and Oversight Influenced by Polluter Interests, 2016, www.cleanwaterfund.org/sites/default/files/docs/publications/Money_in_Politics_05%2003%2016a_web%20-%20FINAL.pdf.
Project, The Climate Reality. “Actions vs. Words: A Look at Fossil Fuel Greenwashing.” Climate Reality, 30 Jan. 2020, climaterealityproject.org/blog/actions-vs-words-look-fossil-fuel-greenwashing.
Tsui, Jenna. “The Negative Effects of Corporate Greenwashing.” Sea Going Green, Sea Going Green, 26 Feb. 2020, www.seagoinggreen.org/blog/the-negative-effects-of-corporate-greenwashing.
Karina Samuel is a junior at North Broward Preparatory School interning with the Fridays For Future Miami Team.