One thing you can say about Big Oil (Exxon-Mobile, British Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, et alia): it stays true to itself unto the bitter end.
By now, anyone with even a facile awareness of the changing state of the world realizes that the days of a civilization driven by petroleum are numbered. Climate change and peak oil are the inoperable cancers that spell doom for the Old Way, and maybe for civilization itself. Oil company executives, being highly educated and presumably intelligent people, surely know this... although they would have reason not to admit it publicly.
So, how have they chosen to respond? Well, how else? With a deceptive public relations campaign and by arm-twisting their lap-dog congress critters into removing the barriers that prevent oil companies from grabbing that last little bit of profit before the whole house of cards falls down.
According to the Washington Post:
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry's main lobby, has embarked on a multiyear, multimedia, multimillion-dollar campaign, which includes advertising in the nation's largest newspapers, news conferences in many state capitals and trips for bloggers out to drilling platforms at sea.The money quote from the article is this: "We decided that if we didn't do something to help people understand the basics of our industry, we'd be on the losing end as far as the eye could see," said Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute.
The intended audience is elected officials and the public, with an emphasis on the latter. The industry is trying to convince voters -- who, in turn, will make the case to their members of Congress -- that rising energy prices are not the producers' fault and that government efforts to punish the industry, especially with higher taxes, would only make pricing problems worse. --Washington Post, May 9, 2008. Read the entire article here.
Gee, Red...ya think? But maybe the problem is that people do understand the basics of your industry. According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll, 62% of respondents blamed the price of gas on "unethical behavior" by players in the gasoline supply chain. Knock me over with a feather!
Of course, market manipulation is only one aspect of the thoroughly corrupt modus operandi of Big Oil. It has instigated wars, oppressed and robbed local populations, destroyed and poisoned fragile ecosystems, and corrupted too many public officials to even tally. But, apparently, oil company executives believe that if they just spend a few millions of the billions that they've been raking in over the last few years (Exxon made 40.61 billion in profits in 2007) they can smooth everything out with the public.
These new ads are aimed at putting a human face on these corporate monstrosities. I've seen a few of the ads, and they feature attractive oil company employees talking about research for alternative energy and Big Oil's commitment to finding clean, safe, sources, blah, blah, blah.
But the ads are just one part of the campaign. The other element is the "lobbying" (read: bribing) of public officials.
John McCain, previously a supporter of the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling, changed his position and called for the moratorium to be lifted. McCain sited rising gas prices as justification. I suppose his campaign figures that gas prices provide an opportunity for him to finally connect with middle class America. In the past, such demagogic appeals have worked spectacularly. Junior Bush's campaign was masterful at it.
But this time things might be different. As I stated at the top of this post, the public is quite aware that an economy based on petroleum will soon be a thing of the past. Although drilling for oil off the coast of Florida or California or (God forbid!) Oregon might prolong the life of this heinous, blood-soaked industry, the end is still nigh.
Big Oil, however, must remain true to its avaricious self, must reach for the last of those profits that are hidden under the waters that make our coasts beautiful. It cannot do otherwise. Big Oil is the monstrous invention of a system that values only profit and growth.
I have hope that people will avoid the chimera of potentially lower gas prices and reject this last bid by Big Oil. We have an amazing capacity to see the truth, and maybe this time we'll use it.