Books & Films
|September 24, 2006|
Out of Balance: ExxonMobil's Impact on Climate Change
|Tom Jackson's Out of Balance: ExxonMobil's Impact on Climate Change, which premiered on satellite television channel World Link this week, exposes not only exactly what this big oil company has done to spin the debate on global warming but also tells us specifically why we should not buy into its propaganda.|
In Out of Balance, Jackson arms himself with a number of climate change experts such as Michael Oppenheimer and Bill McKibben. These experts take us step by step through the facts surrounding global warming. For example, it is a known fact that there is a link between carbon dioxide and temperature. Scientists have collected data from ice cores that can tell us how atmosphere and temperature changed over the last 400,000 years. What they found is that the warming of the last few decades is inconsistent with the natural warming patterns of our planet.
The United Nations General Assembly called for an assessment of climate change almost 20 years ago -- in 1988. The best climate scientists of the world wrote a report, which was reviewed by hundreds of other scientists. By 1995, the world scientists were in a consensus: This is going to be a serious problem.
Many people have argued since Hurricane Katrina that obviously climate change is not so bad or it doesn't exist, because we have not had another Katrina. The scientists Jackson interviews clarify this fallacy once and for all. Global warming does not mean that there will be an increase in the number of storms per se, but the tropical storms that do form will become stronger because of the warming oceans.
Bill McKibben points out that though we are all responsible for the unusual warming of our planet, every problem has a face and the image of global warming includes ExxonMobil and its former CEO Lee Raymond.
While considered a hall of famer in the area of CEOs who maximize shareholder profitability, Raymond also is known for managing to delay action on climate change for over a decade. Jackson points out that while many large energy corporations such as BP are trying to green their image with slogans like "Beyond Petroleum," ExxonMobil is proud to be just an oil company.
In order to put the company's current stands in perspective, Jackson delves into its beginnings and history. This is the company that John D. Rockefeller started as Standard Oil. This is the very company that was ordered to break up into smaller outfits for breaking antitrust laws. However, we find out in Out of Balance that Rockefeller's fortune doubled after this breakup and he continued to sell oil to Nazis well into 1944. The company was later known as Esso and Exxon, and in 1999 merged with Mobil. So much for the "quaint" antitrust laws of the previous century -- enter the largest public company in the history of the world.
Before becoming the largest public company with record-breaking profits, Exxon was infamously known for the Valdez oil spill at Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1989. Millions of barrels of crude oil coated the sea, beaches and wildlife, and Exxon, as we find out in Out of Balance, promised containment within a mere 6 hours. Of course, hours went by, still no containment. Exxon got a cleanup contractor and tried to steam clean the beaches. Most of us might have heard that there was a lawsuit that derived out of this horrendous environmental disaster and that Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion in damages. What was news to even this reviewer, though, is that Exxon has been appealing the decision for the last 12 years. Jackson reveals that 6,000 plaintiffs in that civil action are already dead.
Within that historical context then, it comes as no surprise when journalist Ross Gelbspan tells Jackson this is a company that spent millions on funding contrary viewpoints about climate change. ExxonMobil, Gelbspan says, forced the public debate to include the idea that warming does not exist or that it is similar to natural trends. American Petroleum Institute once apparently claimed: "Victory will be achieved when citizens understand uncertainties about climate change." They ran ads saying environmentalists want to "limit freedom" and "take your money away." While there has been a consensus in the scientific community, ExxonMobil wanted to keep it as a "debate."
Out of Balance paints an even grimmer picture. Exxon went beyond supporting anti- climate change pseudoscience, but also lobbied to influence government decisions. A memo drafted by Exxon's Randy Randol consisted of a "hit list" of scientists that the industry wanted gone. Bob Watson, long time chair of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was shown the door. Exxon people also helped write the National Climate Change Assessment, and Phil Cooney, an Exxon attorney, edited EPA reports that didn't need editing.
Jackson wraps up the film with a good question: How much time will Exxon get their way over the common good?
Out of Balance is a well-researched, well-sourced piece of investigative documentary filmmaking. Jackson exposes a story that will hardly be mentioned in the mainstream media. His film has all the markings of an avid Michael Moore fan and student (though it would have been better to edit the unnecessary clips of the director driving around.)
Yet, Jackson gives into the latest trend in activist filmmaking and concludes the film with "What You Can Do" tips. This tendency offends the intelligence and critical thinking skills of audiences everywhere and needs to come to an end. It is not difficult to deduce from a film like Out of Balance that perhaps buying gas from Exxon is a bad idea. Or that one should call their representatives and such and demand action about climate change. Arming the public with accurate, important information is good enough because a "well-informed citizenry" will know what to do. In this case: Friends don't let friends "doubt" global warming.
Directed by Tom Jackson
2006 Joe Public Films
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