October 29, 2020

Presenting: Drilled

by How to Save a Planet

Background show artwork for How to Save a Planet

Decades ago, the oil company Exxon made a decision that drastically changed our country’s response to climate change. At the time, the company’s scientists were warning about global warming and Exxon was investing in the research and development of renewable energy technologies. But instead of going down the path of pursuing renewables, a small group of powerful people decided to double down on fossil fuels. Today, we’re sharing the story of this inflection point, as told on the first season of the podcast Drilled. If you like what you hear, find Drilled in your favorite podcast app, or at drillednews.com.

Want more? 

Read this article in Scientific American: Exxon Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago, and see more reporting on the topic on Twitter with the hashtag #ExxonKnew 

Listen to the rest of the first season of Drilled.

Also, check out the current season of Drilled. In the latest season, reporter and host Amy Westervelt is telling the story of a decades-long case between Chevron and an Indigenous group in Ecuador. It's a wild story with a lot of twists and turns that ultimately highlights just how far oil companies are willing to go to avoid accountability.

Our podcast now has a patron saint

Allow us to introduce you to Eunice Newton Foote, the scientist who discovered that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere would cause planetary warming. And she discovered this in 1856!! Check out this paper she published 164 years ago. She tried to warn us!

#VoteClimate

And lastly, the election ends in just a few days. Besides voting, you can still get involved at a local level. We recommend checking out Lead Locally — an organization whose mission is electing community leaders who are dedicated to stopping big fossil fuel projects & protecting our climate. They have info on the slate of local candidates they are supporting this election and you can even sign up to phone or text bank for them. 

Where to Listen

Transcript

Alex Blumberg: This is How to Save a Planet. I'm Alex Blumberg.


Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And I'm Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. This is the podcast about what we need to do to address the climate crisis, and how we're going to make those things happen.


Alex: And Ayana, when we talk about, like, what we need to do to address the climate crisis, there's often this thing in the background, which is the time window.


Ayana: Yeah. The urgency.


Alex: How fast we need to do all this stuff. Like, all the scientific projections say that to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change, we have about a decade to make massive reductions to global emissions. And the thing I keep thinking: it would be nice if we had more time.


Ayana: And we could have had more time. That's the crazy part, right? We have known the science of global warming in significant detail for many decades. And I would never miss a chance to point out that Eunice Newton Foote actually discovered in 1856 that carbon dioxide would lead to planetary warming.


Alex: 1856.


Ayana: [laughs]


Alex: We’ve known since 1856, everyone. [laughs]


Ayana: Yeah. She published a paper on this in 1856. Eunice, she tried to warn us.


Alex: So we’ve known 150 years. More.


Ayana: Yeah. And, you know, we kind of blew the chance to slowly transition to a more regenerative way of living on the planet. So we could have had more time. And today on the show, we're bringing you a key part of the reason why we don’t.


Alex: It's the story of a small group of powerful people, fossil fuel company executives, who came up with a concerted plan to delay action on climate change. A plan that has sadly worked, and now puts us in the position we find ourselves in today with our backs against the wall and a ticking clock. And Eunice Newton Foote rolling in her grave.


Ayana: Yeah! [laughs] And many of us perhaps know the broad outlines of this story. But when you dive in, for me what stands out is that it's really a story about an inflection point. A moment when we could have shifted toward renewable energy. When fossil fuel companies had their own scientists who were warning them about global warming, and these companies were investing in research and development of renewable energy technologies. But instead of going down that path—the renewable path—they decided to double down on fossil fuels, and send us on a fast track to hell.


Alex: [laughs] What?


Ayana: Just to put it lightly. [laughs]


Alex: What have I told you about scientific jargon on this show? We try and stay away from it. A fast track to—is that like a marine biology term?


Ayana: I think it just means, like, exponential catastrophe.


Alex: Fair.


Ayana: So today, we're sharing this story with you. But we're not going to be the ones telling it to you. Instead, we're bringing you this story told by another podcast about climate change called Drilled.


Alex: And this is something we will do occasionally on How to Save a Planet: Share episodes and stories from other podcasts we think you all might enjoy.


Ayana: Teamwork makes the dream work.


Alex: Teamwork makes the dream work. Podcasting, like most things, is not zero sum.


Ayana: Yes, exactly.


Alex: So the format is a little different. The episode is not looking at what we need to do going forward, it's looking back at what got us here. But the story that reporter and host Amy Westervelt lays out in Drilled is critical if you want to understand what we do need to do going forward.


Ayana: Yeah, it’s the "How the hell did we get into this mess?" story.


Alex: And It is a pretty crazy yarn.


Ayana: So stick around. That’s coming up in a minute.


***


Amy Westervelt: A lot of people think today of Russian bot armies and information wars and the well-oiled political propaganda machine operating in the US as a modern invention, brought about by data mining and social media. In fact, those are just new tools in an established trade. And that trade was perfected in the 1980s and 1990s on one long-running, well-orchestrated campaign that spanned industries.


Amy Westervelt: It manipulated not only the media, but also various institutions and the general public. It turned America's individualism on itself and twisted it. It planted the right people at the right parties to make sure progress could be stopped. I'm talking about Patient Zero in the US propaganda war: The creation of climate denial.


Amy Westervelt: I'm Amy Westervelt, and this is Drilled.


Amy Westervelt: We don't often talk about the 1970s and 1980s as a time of great hope and innocence. Nor do we tend to think of it as a time of great innovation. Especially if you weren't alive at the time or if you were still a kid like I was. In retrospect, those decades are about excess and greed, Reagan, your mom's terrible hair and shoulder pads, a conservative backlash against the social progressivism of the 1960s.


Amy Westervelt: But that's looking back through the lens of what happened next. In the moment itself, the late '70s and early '80s were still pretty optimistic. America was leading the world in science and engineering, and most Americans believed we could innovate our way out of any problem.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jimmy Carter: And this dependence on foreign sources of oil is of great concern to all of us. In the year 2000, this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy.]


Amy Westervelt: That clip you heard just there? That was Jimmy Carter in 1979. Six years previously in 1973, the oil embargo had hit, prompting massive investments in renewable energy. By the time Carter was installing a solar water heater on the White House, Americans were griping about gas lines and foreign oil. And US oil companies were really trying to do something about it. Exxon alone was spending millions on advanced research.


Kert Davies: This is an internal Exxon memo from August, 1981. And a guy named Mr. Glass is writing to Roger Cohen, the director of the center and says, "The only real problem I have is with the second clause of the last sentence in the first paragraph which says quote, 'But changes of a magnitude well short of catastrophic.' Quote-unquote. I think that this statement may be too reassuring."


Amy Westervelt: Meet Kert Davies, an investigator who's dug up dozens of documents that reveal what exactly the oil industry was up to during these years. And he's not the only one. That document he read there was dug up by journalists at Inside Climate News, and others have been discovered by journalists at Columbia University. That document goes on to say, "It is distinctly possible that the corporate planning department scenario will later produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic, at least for a substantial fraction of the Earth's population."


Amy Westervelt: In another Exxon memo sent a few years before the one Kert just read there, scientist James Black warned Exxon executives that in five to ten years, we could be facing some hard decisions about energy usage and climate change. He was talking about making those decisions in the early '80s, but by that time Exxon was starting to move in a different direction. At the time, when Black warned Exxon executives about climate change, they took him seriously.


Ed Garvey: They really wanted to have a research center that would be valuable unto itself to the country and the world at large. It was going to be Exxon's Bell Labs equivalent.


Marty Hoffert: And it was supposed to be something like Bell Labs, you know? Where the oil companies would try to do advanced research.


Morrel Cohen: Exxon was trying to become a research power in the energy industry in the way the Bell Labs was in the communication industry.


Amy Westervelt: That was former Exxon scientist Ed Garvey, Exxon consultant Marty Hoffert, and former Exxon scientist Morell Cohen, all talking about Exxon's desire to build a Bell Labs-type research arm. Bell Labs, AT&T's research arm, invented and open sourced, among various other things: the transistor, fiber-optic cables, satellite communication, the cell phone, the laser, and the solar cell. Exxon wanted to be that to the energy industry in the 1970s.


Ed Garvey: At the time when I was there, it was really the heady days of that development. I mean, Exxon at the time, there was Exxon nuclear, there was Exxon solar, and Exxon was developing batteries. I shared an office with a battery chemist. I don't know what his exact contributions were, but I know they weren't trivial in terms of lithium battery development. Other chemists in the area working on other types of batteries and improving battery cycle life and stuff like that, or storage. Some of the scientists in the office space that I was in were doing solar panel development.


Amy Westervelt: Ed Garvey was a recent college grad when he started at Exxon, and thrilled to get to work with the scientists there. The tech industry likes to think of itself as the country's first innovators, but scientists have always pushed toward the future. And in the 1970s and 1980s, those scientists mostly worked for blue-chip companies. Big companies like IBM, AT&T, Xerox and Exxon were centers of innovation at the time. These were the incubators of the future, and they hired only the best and brightest.


Ed Garvey: It was a campus of scientists. I mean, it was really, really a heady time. I mean, I was just fresh out of college and working with all these PhDs and, you know, they're all talking about their research in this, research in that. And it was a very exciting time.


Amy Westervelt: In fact, the level of science being done at Exxon at the time was so high that Garvey's boss, Henry Shaw, sent him back to school just a year after Garvey started.


Ed Garvey: I was working in the Exxon Research and Engineering Company and he said, "If you want to work in this division, in this branch of the company, you need a union card." Which is a PhD. He said, "If you don't have a PhD, nobody's going to take you serious here." So he said, "But we can use this project towards your thesis. You've got to complete the course work, but this project could become your dissertation.


Amy Westervelt: Exxon was so serious about its Bell Labs of energy dream, it even poached Bell Labs' executive research director Ed David to run its research arm: the Exxon Research and Engineering Company. And at one point, it planned to open a massive research campus in Clinton, New Jersey.


Ed Garvey: Exxon was developing this really big center for research. It was going to be like a Bell Labs campus. It was a beautiful facility, and everybody was designing what they wanted in terms of their new laboratories. And I actually designed a laboratory for the Tanker Project.


Amy Westervelt: Garvey lucked out and got put on one of the company's most exciting experiments—what they called "The Tanker Project." At the time, there was decades worth of data about CO2 emissions collected from the poles and from atop Mauna Loa on the big island of Hawaii. That data had formed the basis of scientist Charles Keeling's work in the 1960s, in which he was able to show a steady curve upward as humans began to burn more and more fossil fuels. Scientists today refer to it as the "Keeling curve." But the scientific community had questions around how CO2 was behaving elsewhere on the planet, particularly around the equator and in the oceans.


Ed Garvey: At the time, there had been lots of measurements at the poles. You know, in the North Atlantic and the Antarctic, showing that, you know, water gets really cold and it really can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. That's where all the CO2 is being absorbed. But the other part of the equation is well okay, how much comes out at the equator? So we did this with the Esso Atlantic, measuring the CO2 released from the oceans.


Amy Westervelt: So Exxon was footing the bill for multiple scientists and for a wide range of cutting-edge equipment. Garvey and Shaw started out using equipment from the Lamont-Doherty Lab at Columbia University. Lamont-Doherty was a leading edge atmospheric research lab that the Exxon team worked closely with.


Amy Westervelt: The machine was picking up too much noise from the ship, so Garvey and Shaw designed a gas chromatograph to do the job, modeled after a machine Ray Weiss had developed at Scripps Institute. The device took about 10 readings per hour of the CO2 in both the air and the ocean as the tanker sailed the Atlantic and crossed the equator.


Ed Garvey: That was gonna be Exxon's contribution was at least to understand the Atlantic and maybe we would go on to do other oceans, hopefully.


Amy Westervelt: What's very clear in speaking with Garvey and various other scientists, both those working at Exxon at the time and those conducting climate science elsewhere, is that any uncertainty that existed at the time was not over whether climate change was happening or whether humans were contributing to it.


Ed Garvey: The issue was not were we going to have a problem. The issue was simply how soon and how fast and how bad was it going to be? Not if. Nobody at Exxon when I was there was discussing that. It was just okay, how fast is it going to come? Can we do something about it? How bad is it going to be, and when is it going to get here? But not if.


Amy Westervelt: That sentiment was echoed by Marty Hoffert, a longtime climate scientist who worked at NYU and consulted for Exxon from the late '70s until 2000.


Marty Hoffert: By this time, we had a lot of data that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was increasing, and even though the temperature of the earth hadn't increased yet, we had the various mathematical models, very advanced computer models from which we could sort of figure out how the climate of the earth might change in some future time if we kept burning hydrocarbons for energy.


Amy Westervelt: It's hard to imagine today, but scientists and companies were not at odds on the issue of climate science in the 1970s, and neither were Republicans and Democrats.


Marty Hoffert: We knew that this had potential impact on the bottom line of Exxon and that it could affect geopolitics. But that was an abstraction. We were more interested in quote "alternative sources of energy" that would, for example, very practically speaking allow a middle-class American lifestyle, North American lifestyle, to continue without burning fossil fuel.


Amy Westervelt: If you were a child of the '90s, it may be difficult to reconcile this 1970s version of Exxon with the company that would shrug off the Valdez oil spill just 10 years later. But the Tanker Project was just one of several ways that Exxon was working, not only to understand climate change, but also to transition to a new energy future in which it wanted to ensure it had a key role. Here's Ed Garvey again.


Ed Garvey: Exxon saw this as, if we can get Columbia to work with us, if we can make contributions, real contributions to the science, then people are going to take us seriously when we tell them these are the problems and these are the limitations to how you might limit fossil-fuel consumption and what the ramifications would be. I think—I do think that—I mean, Exxon at the time, there was Exxon Nuclear, there was Exxon Coal, there was Exxon Solar. And at the time, Exxon was trying to be an energy company not an oil company, okay? And so being taken seriously at the fossil fuel discussions was, to their mind—and I think it made sense to me at the time that, yeah, this is how you would do it if you want to be seen as not just being an industry hack who says, "We don't want you to regulate our industry. Period." You need to be saying, "Well, yeah. We recognize that this is a problem, And this is how we think you should solve it. And these are the things that are going on, and so on and so forth. We're making real contributions here."


Amy Westervelt: Hoffert, too, believed there would be a transition in the '80s.


Marty Hoffert: And so I think what happened is they started to realize that this can actually affect our business. I was very naive. I thought that if they realized that climate change was real, they would start making big investments in renewable energy. It's a huge company. They had a huge amount of profits. Why couldn't they sink some of their profits into a new area which was going to be new business?


Amy Westervelt: Had they continued down that path, we'd be living in a very different world, looking at a very different future.


Alex: Coming up in the second half, the path they went down instead.


Ayana: Ugh!


Alex: [laughs]


***


Ayana: Welcome back to How to Save a Planet.


Alex: This week we’re sharing a couple of episodes of the first season of the podcast Drilled. When we left off, host Amy Westervelt had just heard from several former Exxon scientists talking about how, in the late '70s and early '80s, Exxon was actually pretty forward thinking when it came to climate change, but how soon that was all about to change.


Ayana: So here’s the second episode of the first season of Drilled.


Amy Westervelt: Beginning as early as the early 1980s, the various pieces of what would become one of the most complex social influence campaigns ever undertaken were already beginning to come together.


Bob Brulle: The emergence of this kind of—I guess I'm going to call it public-relations technology of political influence—really comes out of the corporate response to the 1960s, early-1970s social movements. We had a whole series of social movements: Ralph Nader with his Unsafe at Any Speed. We have a bunch of movements, of course the environmental movement. And there's a movement against toxic waste and chemicals in response to Rachel Carson's book. And these social movements initially had a great deal of success.


Amy Westervelt: That's environmental sociologist Bob Brulle again. For American companies that had spent the 1940s and 1950s being mostly admired for their contributions to society, the emergence of consumer-rights campaigns as part of the social movements and protests of the '60s and '70s were terrifying. They posed both a real and an existential threat to the country's dominant industries. In addition to potential bottom-line impacts, these protests represented the country's first challenge to the long-standing doctrine of Manifest Destiny—the idea that resources belong to the men who colonize them, that nature has been given to us by God for man to use. And that to do, or even suggest doing otherwise, is both ungodly and un-American.


Amy Westervelt: Brulle has a great example of just how threatened companies were by this shift in the story of E. Bruce Harrison, the man who invented greenwashing.


Bob Brulle: So the father of environmental public relations is a fellow named E. Bruce Harrison. And E. Bruce Harrison was working at American Cyanamid when his boss comes in holding a copy of Rachel Carson's book saying, "It's Pearl Harbor for the chemical industry." And what he's told to do is to go over to DuPont, who has a long-term public-relations campaign and knows how to deal with this kind of stuff and work with them to develop it.


Amy Westervelt: As companies were mobilizing to deal with social movements, factions within these companies began battling amongst themselves too, with some wanting to continue the corporate-innovation programs of the 1970s, and others seeing those programs—aimed at research in the public interest—as anathema to everything that made American business great. Former Exxon scientist Morrel Cohen describes this as differing politics within the company. He noticed a shift as the price of oil began to drop. It hit rock bottom in 1983.


Morrel Cohen: It seems to me that the fundamental thing that underlies it is this change in what I call the political power within the corporation. They became much more conservative, much more concerned with the business, the traditional lines of business, and automatically much more focused on preserving that.


Amy Westervelt: Soon after that, Cohen remembers putting his postdoc assistant on a research project. He wanted him to compile an inventory of extreme weather events alongside climate change data. It was the sort of project that would have been totally normal a couple of years earlier, but now things had changed.


Morrel Cohen: So another week later, I saw him and I said, "Well, have you made any progress?" And he said, "That's not the kind of project to do here at Exxon." [laughs] I mean, he was already sensing that there was a response in the atmosphere of the research laboratory, probably in response to what was going on in the larger company.


Amy Westervelt: It wasn't long before major cuts to research funding began. Richard Werthamer had been an executive at the Exxon Engineering and Research Company, overseeing various projects. One was the Tanker Project, which was gathering important data on the absorption of CO2 in the oceans, and what happens with emissions at the equator. By '83, Werthamer had been transferred to the head office and was in on the budget-cutting discussions.


Richard Werthamer: The Exxon management desperately wanted to keep earnings up, and so what do we dump overboard? And research is always the easiest to dump overboard in any financial crunch. I mean, it isn't as though Exxon was going to go broke, but they really didn't want to cut earnings, show earnings loss. So by this time, I was in New York and my boss came up to me and said, "Do you really think we should continue to fund the Tanker Project?" It was costing about half a million dollars a year. In retrospect, I should have said, "Very important that you keep the Tanker Project!" But my boss is pressing me, and it's clear what answer he wants. He wants to go upstairs and say we can cut the tanker project along with a lot of other things.


Amy Westervelt: Ed Garvey was one of the scientists on that project. He had been working on a design for a new lab for it at Exxon's planned Clinton, New Jersey, research campus. But that all went out the window.


Ed Garvey: They sold off their different research divisions or transferred the technology to other firms and stuff. That came—well actually, it started in 1982, I think. One of the first divisions to go was the solar group. I think that was—I remember the scientists leaving there and were very upset about it. And that all got squashed because—all that investment that was being done under Ed David all got squashed when the bottom fell out of the oil market and Exxon said we're done here. We can't spend money like this anymore. It went from a really heady time to kind of despair, where the company was shrinking, oil revenue was shrinking, and the Bell Labs idea went out the window.


Amy Westervelt: The company began laying off all the scientists it had hired just five years earlier, and dozens more began leaving of their own accord as it became clear that the Bell Labs of energy idea was no longer of interest to management. In just five years, Exxon had gone from a place of great innovation—truly an energy company—to a fairly standard, conservative oil company. If they had stopped there it would have been a shame, but we probably wouldn't still be talking about it 30 years later.


Amy Westervelt: As Exxon and the rest of the oil industry was turning away from innovation, doubling down on being oilmen, the science continued on without them. And then came the summer of 1988, and a catastrophic fire in Yellowstone that seems downright commonplace today. As the news documented the hottest summer on record, a young atmospheric scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies dropped a bomb on Congress.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, James Hansen: The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.]


Amy Westervelt: James Hansen told regulators and the world that climate change was upon us. It was no longer a question of when is this going to happen, how bad is it going to be? It was here, and it was going to get worse if we didn't do something. And he was not some fringe lefty tree hugger. At this point, Republicans and Democrats were still united in the sense that something needed to be done about global warming, and that it was a science and technology problem. One that American innovation could solve. Here's George Bush Senior on the campaign trail in 1988.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, George Bush: Some say these problems are too big, that it's impossible for an individual, or even a nation as great as ours, to solve the problem of global warming or the loss of forests or the deterioration of our oceans. My response is simple: It can be done. And we must do it. Let's not forget all that we've accomplished; all that we've accomplished since America first concentrated its attention on preserving the environment, under a Republican administration back in 1970.]


Amy Westervelt: This was the moment Exon had been planning for in the late '70s and early '80s. But by 1988, that planning had been scrapped, along with the leaders who had conceived of it. The research was gone. The alternative energy programs were gone too. Now regulation was hurtling toward the oil industry, and oil execs had lost their seat at the table.


Richard Werthamer: By shutting down the experiment before it was finished or could be finished, Exxon did lose a place at the table.


Amy Westervelt: Something had to be done. Oil companies couldn't just rely on the same old tactics: lobbying, advertising, the occasional op-ed. They had to ensure that regulation would not happen. And to do that, they needed to hit not just media and government, but science, schools and the culture at large. They needed to stamp out the ideals that had driven those protests in the 1960s and 1970s, to make people think those protests were a threat to the very idea of America, that the idea of regulating emissions was tantamount to stopping progress. And that was just a thing real Americans did not do. And so, as it was cutting funding for climate science research, Exxon began to wage an informational war on climate science.


Marty Hoffert: And even though we were writing all these papers, which were basically supporting the idea that climate change from CO2 emissions was going to change the climate of the Earth according to our best scientific understanding, the front office, which was concerned with promoting the products of the company, was also supporting people that we called climate change deniers. And so they were supporting—at the same time they were giving me money to be a consultant—not that much, but still nice— they were giving millions of dollars to other entities to support the idea that the CO2 greenhouse was a hoax.


Amy Westervelt: In addition to funding various scientists working on so-called contrarian theories of climate change, and supporting think tanks that would fund more of the same, Exxon began shifting the entire industry via the American Petroleum Institute or the API.


Richard Werthamer: The key is the American Petroleum Institute. Exxon had a huge influence—rightly so—in the API, and I think the API changed its tune and probably other majors went along with that. So I suspect that's how it all happened.


Amy Westervelt: Then the oil industry banded together with other industries that might also be impacted by the regulation of carbon emissions: utilities, car manufacturers, manufacturers in general, even the US Chamber of Commerce. By the early 1990s, they were drafting comprehensive social-influence campaigns. Campaigns that go way beyond garden variety lobbying and PR. They aimed to shift the entire trajectory of society by targeting specific people or groups of people with messages crafted precisely for them. It's showing up at obscure city council meetings and planting the right people at the right dinner parties; more spycraft than lobbying or PR. It's the sort of thing E. Bruce Harrison had begun working on a decade earlier. Here's our document guy Kert Davies again.


Kert Davies: This is early 1991, to set the context. The IPCC has been born. We're talking about the Rio Earth Summit coming in 1992. The issue is on people's minds. The summer of 1988, and Jim Hansen's testimony and the burning planet on the cover of Time Magazine. It's becoming an issue. And the Edison Electric Institute, which is all of the utilities, an organization still in existence, still a heavy-hitter in Washington, they're the trade association for electric power companies across the country. They team up with the Western Fuels Association and form a campaign that they call the Information Council on the Environment.


Amy Westervelt: That document emerged in the mid '90s via journalist Ross Gelbspan and the environmental group, Ozone Action.


Kert Davies: The strategies, quote-unquote, "include repositioning global warming as a theory (not fact), targeting print and radio media for maximum effectiveness, achieving broad participation across the entire electric utility industry." So they have a very exact plan to go national by the fall of 1991 with a media program. And the final strategy is to use spokesmen from the scientific community. And in Arizona they did, for example, telephone interviews with 500 adults in Flagstaff, Arizona. And the data indicates quote, "89 percent say they have heard of global warming. 82 percent claim some familiarity with global warming, 80 percent claim the problem is somewhat serious, while 45 percent claim it is very serious. And 39 percent back federal legislation without any quantification of cost. And only 22 percent of those consider themselves green consumers." So it's penetrated. A vast majority have heard of the issue, think it's serious. And the campaign is to reverse that, is to change that.


Kert Davies: So they've hired an outside firm to design this campaign, and as part of the focus group testing of these messages that they're inserting, which are basically it's not that bad, and it could be a non-problem. But they talk about specifically the target audiences of this test round that they're going to do to see if their theory works that they can move people. And it says "People who respond favorably to such statements are quote, 'Older, less-educated males from larger households, who are not typically active information seekers and are not likely to be green consumers.'"


Amy Westervelt: Hmm. Older men who are quote, "Not active information seekers." If you were living in America during the 2016 presidential campaign, that demographic might sound familiar. And to put some of those data points from the ICE poll into perspective, here's a more recent stat: In 2017, 52 percent of Americans believed the threat of climate change has been exaggerated. That's despite the fact that we have more scientific evidence now and more extreme weather events showing us it's a problem every year. In other words, these influence campaigns have been remarkably effective. And they're still in play today. That's not due to any one campaign of course, or even one type of influence.


Amy Westervelt: For decades, climate change has been the issue on which various industry groups and their PR firms test out tactics. Remember when I called the creation of climate denial Patient Zero in the modern U.S. propaganda war? That wasn't an overstatement. And we're going to spend the next few episodes unpacking what exactly that means. Basically? Putin's got nothing on America's captains of industry.


Amy Westervelt: Drilled is produced and distributed by Critical Frequency. The series was reported by me, Amy Westervelt. Our producer and composer is David Whited. Richard Wiles is our executive producer. Our story and concept development consultant is Rekha Murthy. Lukasz Lysakowski designed our cover art. Katie Ross, Michaelanne Petrella, and Julia Ritchie provided additional editing. Drilled is supported in part by a generous grant from the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.


Amy Westervelt: You can find Drilled wherever you get your podcasts. Please remember to rate and review the podcast. It helps us find listeners. Thanks for listening.


***


Ayana: If you enjoyed these first two episodes of Drilled, please check out the rest of that season to hear what happened next. And also check out the current season of that podcast. In this latest season, Amy is telling the story of a decades-long case between Chevron and an Indigenous group in Ecuador. It's a wild story with a lot of twists and turns that ultimately highlights just how far oil companies are willing to go to avoid accountability.


Alex: You can find all seasons of Drilled on Spotify, or at drillednews.com, or wherever else you get your podcasts.


Alex: Before we go, have one action item, as is our custom. You know, we are just days away from a gigantic election. And we've talked on this podcast about ways you can engage politically. Huge ramifications for climate change.


Ayana: Gigantic!


Alex: We’ve talked a lot about all the different ways you can get involved with the presidential election, with statewide elections. But a lot of big decisions on climate get made at the local level, too. You might remember our first episode, The Witch of Wind, where there was this wind farm project being set up in Rhode Island that almost got shut down because of this local town zoning meeting around whether or not to land the cable on the beach. So local officials can have a big impact on the climate.


Ayana: Yeah. People in these city council and statehouse and utility commission positions are making really big decisions about power plants and pipelines and energy efficiency and public transit, and about holding fossil fuel companies accountable. So it’s really important to get involved locally too, and we have a great resource to share. There's an organization called Lead Locally, whose mission is electing community leaders who are dedicated to stopping big fossil fuel projects and protecting our climate. If you want to get involved with them, head to their website for information on the slate of candidates they’re supporting this election. And you can even sign up to phone bank or text bank to help get out the vote for those candidates. You can find details about all of that at leadlocally.org.


Alex: And of course, as always, in our newsletter we’ll have that link as well as many other treats.


Ayana: Like the link to Eunice's seminal scientific paper.


Alex: We have this cool article from Scientific American about how Exxon knew about climate change more than 40 years ago, that you can share with people if you want. To sign up for the newsletter, go to gimletmedia.com/shows/howtosaveaplanet. Or just click on the link that is in the show notes.


Ayana: Yeah, share this newsletter with someone you love.


Alex: How to Save a Planet is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. It’s hosted by me, Alex Blumberg.


Ayana: And me, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.


Ayana: How to Save a Planet is reported and produced by Anna Ladd, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Rachel Waldholz, and Felix Poon. Our senior producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney.


Alex: Sound design, mixing and original music by Emma Munger. Thanks everyone for listening, we will be back with a new episode from us next week.


Ayana: And in the meantime please vote, and vote climate.