Chevron pushes “the moral case for fossil fuels”

A pamphlet of Chevron climate talking points appears inspired by Alex Epstein’s controversial book.

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Chevron’s climate talking points

Earlier this week, a tipster sent me a picture of a pamphlet. They said it was given to them by a friend who works at Chevron.

The Chevron employee was apparently given this pamphlet because employees are increasingly being confronted by friends, family, and strangers about the climate crisis. So, the tipster said, “Chevron made talking points for employees getting into arguments about climate change and fossil fuels.”

I reached out to Chevron to try and confirm that this was indeed the purpose of the pamphlet. The company did not respond. 

But even without Chevron’s confirmation, I was curious about the contents of the pamphlet—because as the tipster correctly noted, “the majority of it seems to be from ‘The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,’” a controversial book by Alex Epstein that severely downplays the risks of climate change and promotes the use of fossil fuels as a force for humanitarianism and social justice.

The fact that Chevron is promoting ideas popularized by Epstein is significant, said Danielle Fugere, the president of As You Sow, a non-profit that works on corporate sustainability through shareholder action.

“It signifies the immense pressure these companies are under due to climate change,” she said. “Fossil fuel companies have never had to justify their existence before. Now, they have to justify it not only to the world, but to their own employees.”

What is the moral case for fossil fuels, and who is Alex Epstein?

Epstein currently runs the Center for Industrial Progress, a “for-profit think tank” that provides, among other things, consulting services for energy companies. 

To advertise said services, Epstein warns fossil fuel companies that their industry is under attack “by so-called environmentalists that can put a halt to your projects and sabotage your bottom line.” 

“The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” is Epstein’s 2014 book. It falsely downplays the risks of climate change. Epstein doesn’t deny that global warming exists; rather, he regularly mischaracterizes the state of climate science, saying things like “fossil-fuel use has only a mild warming impact,” which is false. This softer, gentler form of climate denial is paired with arguments about the benefits fossil fuels have provided society in the past. 

The benefits Epstein regularly speaks about are echoed in Chevron’s talking points. 

The pamphlet—which you can read in full on Chevron’s corporate responsibility document page—argues that “What we do is good” and “What we do is essential.” It says that protecting the planet is “dependent” on fossil fuel use; that fossil fuels lift people out of poverty; that 45 percent of the world’s population would go hungry if not for the use of natural gas-derived nitrogen-based fertilizers; and that Chevron contributes to economic growth by purchasing billions in goods and services.

These talking points represent a stark departure from the increasingly anti-fossil fuel rhetoric coming from the scientific community. On Tuesday, for example, more than 10,000 scientists from across the world and from many disciplines released a report warning that the planet “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency.”

To address this emergency, the world must “cut out fossil fuels in favor of renewable sources of energy, a trend it notes is not happening fast enough,” the Washington Post reported. “It also calls for remaining fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, to remain in the ground, never to be burned to generate energy, a key goal for many climate activists.”

Is Chevron paying Epstein for PR consulting?

On the Center for Industrial Progress website, Epstein says one of his “major goals is to teach millions of employees in the fossil fuel industry to understand the value of what they do and how to communicate it.” This would line up with our tipster’s claim that Chevron’s pamphlet is for its employees.

But Chevron did not respond to a request for comment on whether it was working with the Center for Industrial Progress on its messaging, or whether the material was for employees—and Epstein wouldn’t say whether he worked with the company or not.

“Our client relationships are confidential, so I won't comment on our influence or non-influence on any particular company or content piece,” he told HEATED in an email. 

The Center for Industrial Progress does, however, work with “numerous organizations,” Epstein added.

The Center for Industrial Progress works with numerous organizations that share our goal of promoting pro-human, pro-freedom positions. Our aim is to help them develop messaging that persuades stakeholders by providing the full context of fossil fuels' impacts on human flourishing--both their negative and their positive impacts. 

It is our commitment to looking at the full context that has persuaded us and allowed us to persuade others that fossil fuels make an overwhelmingly positive contribution to human flourishing, and that side effects such as the warming impact of CO2 do not justify the widely-proposed radical restrictions on fossil fuel use.

Under an optimistic scenario of 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the “side effects” of CO2 include, by the end of this century: a 22-inch increase in sea level, a 29 percent increase in ocean acidity, a 343 percent increase in frequency of heat extremes over land, a 36 percent increase in the frequency of rainfall extremes over land, a 4 month increase in the average drought length, a 388 million-person increase in the number of people exposed to water scarcity, and a 72 million-person increase in the number of people exposed to coastal flooding, and a 13 percent loss in global per capita GDP, among other things.

All of these effects will result in an untold amount of human and animal deaths; ecosystem collapse; and global conflict.

“I think [Chevron] is trying to give its employees a reason to come to work every day”

It’s understandable why Chevron and other fossil fuel companies might find Epstein’s arguments appealing, Fugere said. (Fugere’s organization, As You Sow, works regularly with Chevron investors to promote climate-related shareholder proposals, and meets with Chevron employees). 

“I think the company is trying to give its employees a reason to come to work every day,” Fugere said. “I’m sure it’s not easy to work at an oil and gas company when those companies are contributing potentially to the downfall of civilization. And I don’t say that flippantly, but with true meaning: They are contributing to a world that will be inhospitable to human and other life. So they very much have to convince employees that they’re doing something important.”

It’s true that the use of fossil fuels to create low-cost, reliable power has contributed to human prosperity across the world. But the argument made by Chevron and Epstein implies that fossil fuels are the only way to achieve low-cost, reliable power, Fugere said. And that’s just not true.

“Yes, the world needs power. But it doesn’t need fossil fuel-based power,” she said. “It reminds me of Monsanto’s insistence that they are polluting the world with pesticides because they want to feed the world. And of course, you can feed the world without pesticides.” 

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