From the Fire Hose - "Building Back" Next Steps and Fossil Fuelers' Favorite Ad Agency Pushes "Climate Emergency"A hurdle passed for Build Back Better and Edelman reviews its clients with climate in mind
What happened - After months of sparring between progressive, moderate and conservative Democrats, the House on Friday narrowly passed the ~$2-trillion Build Back Better bill, encompassing a vast array of social and climate investments (and some controversial sweeteners).
What to watch for - More machinations and, yes, Manchinations are inevitable in the Senate before you'll see that divided body pass some version of the reconciliation bill and then it'll be back to the House for another scrub. But this really is a momentous juncture in recent U.S. history.
The $1.2-trillion infrastructure deal that President Joe Biden signed on Monday will soon begin to make up for decades of underinvestment in basic systems and structures underpinning America's economy and societal functions. As I recently wrote, for the sake of resilience, in many situations it'll be as important to "unbuild back better." But this is an epic start. It's hard to imagine some form of the reconciliation bill not becoming law.
What to work for - So far, Biden has been able to navigate the crosscurrents within his own party around climate and social programs and is poised to leave a remarkable legacy. He and those in Congress who've crafted compromises so far have demonstrated Washington is not beyond repair. Whether this all translates into sustained congressional power for the Democrats after 2022 and a Democrat still in the White House after 2024 is deeply uncertain, of course.
What happened - Richard W. Edelman, the chief executive of the world's biggest public relations firm, gave an all-hands speech to Edelman's 6,000-plus employees on Monday signaling a commitment to making climate action a priority - quite a turn for a company that has profited for decades by building ad campaigns for ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel giants seemingly dead-set on climate inaction.
If you haven't listened to Amy Westervelt's Drilled episode on the company's founder and early days, please do so. The summary: "Daniel Edelman learned the tools of his trade combatting Nazi propaganda in WWII, then came home and put his psychological warfare training to work for American industry, including tobacco and Big Oil." It's a fascinating saga.
Environmental groups, journalists and climate scholars have for years been revealing the hundreds of millions of oil and gas dollars flowing into campaigns sowing climate doubt or overconfidence, and pressing Edelman directly (see the Clean Creatives/Slow Factory #edelemandropexxon letter and campaign).
But Edelman said his motivation came from the COP26 climate talks, recent weather extremes and internal pressure from employees. He even used the phrase "climate emergency" (I'll have more on that term in a future post):
What to watch for - Edelman laid out a series of detailed, and welcome, steps, including a 60-day review of Edelman's client list.
In an interview with Ben German of Axios, Edelman echoed a point he made in his employee speech, saying, "We work with oil majors. I'm proud of our work. I think that bigger question over time is, how we can help them express their transitions."
According to German, Edelman said that if clients are not committed to the new principles they announced, "then I think we'll withdraw from those relationships."
I'm marking my calendar.
What to work for - I'm eager for our Columbia Climate School communication initiative to follow up with Edelman's new climate-focused teams, particularly on this point from Edelman's announcement:
I checked in with Amy Westervelt for reaction. She said she's eager to see what emerges in 60 days, as well, but added:
I sent a query to Edelman's media relations folks a couple of days ago. I'll check in again and will report back. I hold out hope for change, although the layers of oil-funded communication are mind-numbingly deep.
This morning in my Twitter feed, there was a tweet of an Axios short course on climate solutions - in this case carbon-capture technology (a big focus of Big Oil ad campaigns).
The tweet was promoted by ExxonMobil.
Sift around in the Axios course pages and there's this line: "Axios thanks our partners for supporting our short courses. Sponsorship has no influence on editorial content."
Big Oil in the Hot Seat - and Everyone Wins? - After decades of practice, the oil and gas industry continues to flood media with green spin, but hearings aiming to stop this propaganda fuel both factions in the climate fight.