We Respond to Chevron CEO John Watson’s Hypocrisy and Distortions

Recently, Chevron’s CEO John Watson was interviewed by Jonathan Fahey of the AP. Chevron, you might recall, is the company whose ubiquitous “Human Energy” campaign was slammed by Advertising Age as “one big lie.” In the same article, Advertising Age noted that Chevron was “fined more than $8 billion for causing an environmental disaster called by some ‘the Amazon’s Chernobyl.’” As if that’s not bad enough, this is also the company which has taken the propaganda form we call “cleantech washing” to a new level. Here’s what we wrote about Chevron back in December 2010:

Chevron does have an atrophied renewable energy arm, but it spends far more doing all the things that you’ve come to expect from heavily subsidized, dirty energy companies. It helps fund climate deniers. It is a dues-paying member of the aggressively anti-clean energy American Petroleum Institute. And it is a pro-fossil-fuel-subsidies force, with hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal to lobby and propagandize accordingly. While it’s not busy doing all that, Chevron is working hard to keep us addicted to oil, to ensure that billions of dollars in corporate welfare keep flowing toward the highly profitable oil companies, and even to help kill the electric car (at a time when American could have laid a bold claim to the lead in the product for that emerging market).

You might want to keep those facts in mind as you read the AP interview of Chevron’s CEO, John Watson. For now, though, we want to respond to just a couple of points Watson made, ones that we found particularly glaring in their hypocrisy and distortions.

1.  According to Watson: “The greatest advancements in living standards in recorded history have taken place in the modern hydrocarbon era. I don’t think that’s coincidental. Our leaders have to make a decision. Do they want that to continue or do they have a better solution for us? So it’s not my call.”

Except, actually, there most certainly is a choice: either a dirty energy future that results in catastrophic changes to society, or a clean energy future that avoids the worst of it. And yes, there are far better solutions – clean energy, for one – but Big Oil companies use a portion of their annual mega-profits to fund efforts aimed at blocking those solutions. Meanwhile, notwithstanding Watson’s denial of any responsibility, in fact it very much is his call whether to work for, or stand in the way of, finding better energy solutions, and he’s busy making that call every day. For starters, instead of working incessantly to stymie clean energy, why doesn’t Watson wean his company off taxpayer-funded corporate welfare, freeing up the money so we can fund clean, sustainable energy sectors? We’d remind Mr. Watson that his own industry has received government assistance, of all kinds, for 100 years or so. Instead, how about Watson let clean energy compete on a level playing field with Chevron and its late 19th/early 20th century energy sources? Is he afraid to do that? It sure seems so from the way he’s talking in this interview, and from the way his company’s been behaving.

2. Watson says, “I would support (government funding) of pre-commercial activity to try to advance some of these breakthrough technologies, rather than putting big subsidies on technologies that we know are more expensive and won’t necessarily solve the issue.”

As we know, Big Oil is far past the “pre-commercial” stage, even as it continues to receive heavy support – implicit and explicit subsidies of all kinds – to keep it artificially cheap. Yet, Watson’s comments appear to argue that because fossil fuels are, and need to remain, artificially inexpensive, they deserve to keep their welfare checks. Get the circular logic? Chevron receives corporate welfare, so oil’s less expensive. That’s why Chevron should keep getting its welfare check. Because it’s inexpensive. Of course, Watson hopes we all don’t notice the fact that Chevron, and the other Big Oil companies, make enormous profits and don’t need welfare checks at all. Clever, clever.

The bottom line is that Chevron and other Big Oil titans should have been taken off taxpayer-funded training wheels many decades ago. Instead, they’ve used their tremendous financial resources to further entrench their places at the feeding trough. All the more reason for us to support Bill McKibben’s divestment movement, to keep pushing to get Big Oil off the dole, and of course to fight back against Big Oil efforts at delaying the inevitable day when they are replaced by clean energy.