Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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What Facebook and the oil industry have in common

Bill McKibben writes:

Why is it so hard to get Facebook to do anything about the hate and deception that fill its pages, even when it’s clear that they are helping to destroy democracy? And why, of all things, did the company recently decide to exempt a climate-denial post from its fact-checking process? The answer is clear: Facebook’s core business is to get as many people as possible to spend as many hours as possible on its site, so that it can sell those people’s attention to advertisers. (A Facebook spokesperson said the company’s policy stipulates that “clear opinion content is not subject to fact-checking on Facebook.”) This notion of core business explains a lot—including why it’s so hard to make rapid gains in the fight against climate change.

For decades, people have asked me why the oil companies don’t just become solar companies. They don’t for the same reason that Facebook doesn’t behave decently: an oil company’s core business is digging stuff up and burning it, just as Facebook’s is to keep people glued to their screens. Digging and burning is all that oil companies know how to do—and why the industry has spent the past thirty years building a disinformation machine to stall action on climate change. It’s why—with the evidence of climate destruction growing by the day—the best that any of them can offer are vague pronouncements about getting to “net zero by 2050”—which is another way of saying, “We’re not going to change much of anything anytime soon.” (The American giants, like ExxonMobil, won’t even do that.)

Total, the French oil company, has made the 2050 pledge, but it is projected to increase fossil-fuel production by twelve percent between 2018 and 2030. These are precisely the years when we must cut emissions in half, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to have any chance of meeting the vital targets set by the Paris climate agreement, which aim to hold the planet’s temperature increase as close as possible to one and a half degrees Celsius. The next six months will be crucial as nations prepare coronavirus recovery plans. Because effective climate planning at this moment will require keeping most oil, coal, and gas reserves in the ground, the industry will resist fiercely.

So we need power brought to bear from companies whose core business is not directly challenged by climate activism. Consider the example of Facebook again: after organizing by people like Judd Legum and StopHateForProfit.org, companies including Unilever and Coca-Cola agreed to temporarily stop advertising on the social platform. Coke’s core business is selling you fizzy sugar water that can help make you diabetic—when that’s threatened, the company fights back. But when it feared being attacked for helping Facebook’s core business, it simply stopped advertising with the company, which wasn’t essential for Coke’s business.

That’s why it is critical to get third parties to pressure the oil industry. [Continue reading…]

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