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Chevron’s “Human Energy” Spent Pioneering New Form of Pollution - Cleantech Washing

4 min. read

By Mike Casey and Lowell Feld

As part of its campaign to defeat the climate legislation that was beginning to move in Congress a few years ago, the oil industry in November 2005 announced a $100-million-a-year “repositioning campaign that was “aimed at convincing Americans that the industry is facing severe challenges, even as its members pull in record quarterly profits.” As we’ve written about previously, part of that capacity is now being pushed into an aggressive - and escalating - campaign by dirty energy to undercut clean energy’s momentum and market.

A prime example of that “repositioning” is Chevron’s Orwellian “Human Energy” campaign. The main purpose of this campaign, apparently, is to tell us about the delightful range of things Chevron is “getting behind” when it comes to energy. Thus, we are informed that Chevron’s great work includes everything from building “strong communities” to encouraging us to “leave the car at home more.”

Amidst this warm embrace of “all of us” is the new “We Agree!” series, with one specifically on renewable energy. This campaign pioneers a new propaganda form, “Cleantech Washing.” Just like the more common and better-known practice of “greenwashing,” Chevron-invented Cleantech Washing is fundamentally hypocritical, as the company promotes something (clean energy) with one hand while completely undercutting it with the other.

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).

But Cleantech Washing is an evolution of greenwashing. It damns with the same hand that appears to praise. No other hand needed.

In the renewable energy episode of its “We Agree” series, we are introduced to a helpful “Chevron Environmental Operations Specialist” named “Steve,” who informs us that:

  • "[R]enewable energy is vital to our planet.”
  • “At Chevron, we're investing millions in solar and biofuels technologies to make it work.” Renewable energy “has to work in the real world.”

Alternating with “Steve” is a young teacher, named “Iris,” who asks, “You hear about alternatives, right? Wind, solar, algae…so, where are they?” After “Steve” chimes in with his “It has to work in the real world” line, “Iris” concludes, “We gotta get on this now.”

So, here’s the one-handed trick: The ad appears to cheerlead the possibility of renewables, but by emphasizing that we need to get them ready, it puts several million dollars behind the implication that they aren’t ready, that they don’t “work in the real world.”

Sound familiar? It should, because the effort to push clean energy off into the (distant) future is part of a consistent, disciplined message coming from the dirty energy companies about how clean energy isn’t “ready.”

Ah…Steve, Iris? I don’t know if you get out much “in the real world,” but clean energy doesn’t really need you or Chevron to make it “work.” It works now. It’s creating jobs. It’s plenty real.

According to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA):

  • During the first 8 months of 2010, U.S. wind power consumption in the United States grew 23.6%. Even more impressive is the 2,300% growth for wind power consumption in the United States since 1990.
  • Solar/PV consumption in the United States has grown by about 80% since 1990.
  • According to EIA’s latest Annual Energy Outlook, total U.S. renewable energy consumption is expected to increase from about 7.7 quadrillion BTU (quads) in 2008 to 16.1 quads in 2035, an increase of about 8.4 quads over that period.

In addition to creating jobs and helping the environment, clean energy is also getting us off the system where, as VoteVets pointed out last spring, every time the price of oil goes up $1 per barrel, anti-American dictators like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gets another $1.5 billion to use against us. That includes money to build a nuclear weapons program or to attack our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet somehow, Chevron’s “Steve” and teacher “Iris” seem to have missed all of this, despite an undoubtedly enormous research budget from Chevron at “Steve’s” disposal. Maybe “Steve” and “Iris” know better, but they just get paid a lot of money to spew this nonsense. Or maybe they really don’t know better. For “Iris,” that’s concerning because she is presumably sowing this same nonsense in students in her classroom, minus wearing the dunce cap that comments like this should require you to wear at all times.

Or, maybe “Iris” or even “Steve” is just an actor, not really a teacher, which would not be the first time such a tactic was used which is why which would not be the first time such a tactic was used.

Several days ago, we attempted to contact ”Steve” and “Iris” to ask them which of the above scenario was unfolding. We called and emailed Chevron Corporate Media Relations for Steve’s and Iris’ full names, positions with the company, and what their opinion are regarding the massive welfare checks Chevron and other oil companies continue to receive. Several days later, we still haven’t received a response. Nor has the Rainforest Action Network, with whom we’re working to get to the bottom of this story.

“Steve,” “Iris,” we’d love to hear from you. Responses published here in full. Until then, we’ll keep trying to find out if you are who the ads say. Stay tuned.