As the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history approaches its 10th anniversary in April, a study by two University of Miami researchers shows that a significant amount of oil and its toxic footprint moved beyond fishery closures where it was thought to be contained and escaped detection by satellites as it flowed near the Texas shore, west Florida shore and within a loop current that carries Gulf water around Florida’s southern tip up toward Miami.
In their study, published Wednesday in Science, the researchers dubbed it “invisible oil,” concentrated below the water’s surface and toxic enough to destroy 50 percent of the marine life it encountered. Current estimates show the 210 million gallons of oil released by the damaged BP Deepwater Horizon Macondo well spread out over the equivalent of 92,500 miles.
Jim Cramer is done with fossil fuel stocks. It’s not that the fundamentals are bad, the irascible investment guru and Mad Money host told CNBC anchor Becky Quick last week. The dividends are great. But “nobody cares,” he explains. “The world has changed. There’s new managers [trying to] appease younger people who believe that you can’t ever make a fossil fuel company sustainable. In the end they make fossil fuels. We’re in the death knell phase.”
Quick rushed to clarify. “The death knell phase for the stocks, but not the death knell phase for us using fossil fuels, right?” Cramer didn’t offer much comfort, comparing multinational oil and gas companies—historically, some of the world’s most profitable—to the comparatively meager and maligned tobacco industry. “You can tell that the world’s turned on them.”
“A lot of what we have as PR today, in general, was built in service of the fossil fuel industry,” said Amy Westervelt, the host of Drilled, billed as “a true-crime podcast about climate change.” The first season of Drilled investigated the history of climate denial, and the second looked at the West Coast crabbers suing Big Oil for contributing to warmer oceans and throwing the marine food web out of whack. In the latest season launched last month, Westervelt introduces the “Mad Men of Climate Denial” — the publicists who coached the fossil fuel industry how to shape public opinion over the past century.
Creating a cloud of confusion around established science is one of their well-known tactics. Exxon and the coal industry knew about global warming as early as the 1960s; instead of telling the public, they spread doubt about the science behind it. That’s just one facet of the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda machine. (“Propaganda” might seem too strong of a word, but Westervelt says it’s the very definition: “a one-sided message with the aim of shifting public opinion or policy.”) Digging through archives, presidential libraries, and old PR books, Westervelt found the pushy executives, manipulative schmoozers, and “inventive” storytellers who made it work.
Right-wing environmentalism and climate alarmism are coming, and as they do, the political battle lines over the environment are going to look very different from the ones we have experienced during the past few decades. No longer will the primary battle be between conservative climate change deniers or skeptics, on the one hand, and liberal climate realists on the other. Instead, the primary fight will be between those who treat the reality of climate change as an imperative for creating a more inclusive and egalitarian world, and those who see it as a justification for exclusion and hoarding, retreating into ever-smaller circles of empathy. Indeed, right-wing environmentalism may be how the post-Trump anti-globalist Right repositions itself for broader appeal by reclaiming the impulses that motivated American conservationism to begin with. After all, if globalized neoliberal capitalism is what is both driving climate change and preventing any effective response, then an alliance of green and nationalist anti-globalizers (albeit motivated primarily by different things) seems all too possible.
So, what are we to do to prevent Avocado Politics from becoming the wave of the future? First, we should not assume that convincing the Right of the reality of anthropogenic climate change is likely to make the Right embrace the preferred policies of climate liberals. As bad as the do-nothing policies of the climate change–denying conservatives have been, they may be considerably less bad than the sorts of policies being proposed by the climate change–accepting far right. Climate liberals need to prepare now to counter these arguments.