DotEarth Blog, Feb. 4, 2014
Petroleum coke, a waste byproduct of refining oil sands oil, is piling up along the Detroit River.
FABRIZIO COSTANTINI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
I encourage you to read “How the U.S. Exports Global Warming,” a fine feature by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone showing how the United States, flush with coal, oil and the dirty tar sands byproduct petroleum coke, is working hard, from the White House down, to become a big exporter of carbon. Here’s the nut paragraph, which draws an apt parallel to the history of tobacco regulation and trade:
Even as our nation is pivoting toward a more sustainable energy future, America’s oil and coal corporations are racing to position the country as the planet’s dirty-energy dealer – supplying the developing world with cut-rate, high-polluting, climate-damaging fuels. Much like tobacco companies did in the 1990s – when new taxes, regulations and rising consumer awareness undercut domestic demand – Big Carbon is turning to lucrative new markets in booming Asian economies where regulations are looser. Worse, the White House has quietly championed this dirty-energy trade. [Read the rest.]
Explore the section of Dickinson’s piece on President Obama’s trade policies related to fossil fuels, then read on here.
In the 1990s, American elected officials worked hard to help American tobacco giants expand global markets for cigarettes even as the United States clamped down on the industry at home. A powerful and disturbing view of this effort was provided by a four-part Washington Post series from 1996, including these resonant lines:
Indonesian boys smoke ahead of a soccer match in Jakarta. Indonesia is not a signatory to any global treaty on smoking.
ED WRAY FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
To this day, many U.S. officials see cigarette exports as strictly an issue of free trade and economic fairness, while tobacco industry critics and public health advocates consider it a moral question. Even the Clinton administration finds itself torn: It is the most vocally anti-smoking administration in U.S. history, yet it has been in the uncomfortable role of challenging or delaying some anti-smoking efforts overseas….
Asia is where tobacco’s search for new horizons began and where the industry came to rely most on Washington’s help. U.S. officials in effect became the industry’s lawyers, agents and collaborators. Prominent politicians such as Robert J. Dole, Jesse Helms, Dan Quayle and Al Gore played a role. “No matter how this process spins itself out,” George Griffin, commercial counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, told Matthew N. Winokur, public affairs manager of Philip Morris Asia, in a “Dear Matt” letter in January 1986, “I want to emphasize that the embassy and the various U.S. government agencies in Washington will keep the interests of Philip Morris and the other American cigarette manufacturers in the forefront of our daily concerns.”
U.S. officials not only insisted that Asian countries allow American companies to sell cigarettes, they also demanded that the companies be allowed to advertise, hold giveaway promotions and sponsor concerts and sports events in what critics say was a blatant appeal to women and young people. They regularly consulted with company representatives and relied upon the industry’s arguments and research. They ignored the protests of public health officials in the United States and Asia who warned of the consequences of the market openings they sought. Indeed, their constant slogan was that health factors were irrelevant. This was, they insisted, solely an issue of free trade.
This recent New England Journal of Medicine paper, “Global Effects of Smoking, of Quitting, and of Taxing Tobacco,” provides a chilling view of the expanding wave of death and disease resulting from this trade, with 5 million premature deaths a year even now and twice that rate forecast within a few decades. The World Health Organization has projected 1 billion smoking-related deaths in this century without big changes in policies. An excellent recent Sinosphere blog entry gives a close-focus view of the lung cancer epidemic in China.
My question is, if we can’t get it right with tobacco, where there’s no benefit to weigh against the toll in lives and costs, how can we get it right with fossil fuels, where the real-time benefits of affordable energy seem always to trump the long-term risks from climate change?
Read this 2010 Duff Wilson story for more context: “Cigarette Giants in Global Fight on Tighter Rules.”
Joe Nocera’s recent column on the 50th anniversary of the United States Surgeon General’s report on smoking and cancer is also germane.
A final musical encounter with Pete Seeger.
The Union of Concerned Scientists finds big holes in the argument of four scientists seeking a fresh push on nuclear energy.
Pete Seeger is gone, but he leaves resonating circles of song behind.