Emory’s COP in the classroom

For our Mock UN Climate Change Conference, I was assigned to represent a fossil fuel lobbyist. Many would probably consider this the “bad guy” role, as I must represent the actors seeking to delay the capacity of nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are mainly the result of burning oil, coal, and natural gas. The primary goal of the climate talks, to limit global warming below 2 ̊C, runs counter to the goals of the fossil fuel industry. Thus, it is in their best interest to slow progress on global climate agreements that promote clean, renewable energy in place of “traditional” sources.

Many lobbyists represent big names in the fossil fuel industry; including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP. Many of these corporations, often referred to as Big Oil by impassioned environmental advocates, are among the top polluters in the United States.[1] Each of these groups spend around $8 million annually on lobbying congressional representatives to vote in line with their interests .[2] Of the major oil companies, Exxon Mobil is the most active in the climate change discussion. They have transformed the climate debate by using tactics once employed by tobacco companies to introduce confusion on the connection between smoking and lung cancer.[3]  Their lobbyists influence foreign diplomats to dilute progress on global climate agreements and progressive climate policies that affect their industry.

For example, because much of the evidence for climate change and the negative effects of burning fossil fuels are based in science, lobbyists aim to introduce distortion and exploit scientific uncertainty to support the continued use of fossil fuels. Because they have $27 trillion invested in finding and exploiting oil reserves, they seek to ensure a return on investment.[4] Thus, they are incentivized to undermine global scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change to preserve their profits. Many groups advertise a positive externality of global warming by linking the melting ice to the enhanced accessibility of profitable Arctic reserves.[5] Additionally, when the IPCC released its first report, lobbyists and oil executives called the findings “premature,” and advocated to preserve the 200,000 fossil fuel jobs.[6] This past May, when parties to the Paris Climate Agreement met in Bonn, developing countries pressured to require corporate observers to disclose their “conflicts of interest.”[7] Many other countries argue that the profit incentive prevents oil companies from valuing the environment.Fossil Fuel Lobbying(1)

Fig 1. This infographic addresses some of the simple arguments that fossil fuel lobbyists might use to back up their arguments. It is deliberately formatted and designed in a way that is reminiscent of political propaganda.

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