Lever Time with David Sirota

On this week’s episode of Lever Time, David Sirota is joined by award-winning climate journalist Amy Westervelt to discuss her recent bombshell report on how news outlets are raking in millions from the fossil fuel industry to produce greenwashed sponsored content. 

Amy’s report reveals how outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, and Politico work directly with the oil and gas industry to produce branded “advertorials,” which straddle the line between advertisements and editorial content. While this financial arrangement raises questions about journalistic biases and conflicts of interest, what’s more troubling is that the majority of readers can’t tell the difference between sponsored content and genuine reporting. 

In today’s interview, David speaks with Amy about the history of branded partnerships between fossil fuel interests and the media industry, how actual climate journalists feel about this type of sponsored content, and how advertorials promoting carbon capture and clean hydrogen technology provide a smoke screen for expanding oil production. 

The two also discussed the annual United Nations climate summit, the latest being COP28, which has been slowly infiltrated and co-opted by the oil and gas industry in order to hamper any meaningful organization against climate change.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

BONUS: On Monday's bonus episode of Lever Time Premium, exclusively for The Lever’s supporting subscribers, we’ll be sharing David Sirota’s interview with Princeton professor D. Graham Burnett, who recently co-authored an op-ed for The New York Times about our ever-diminishing attention spans. Graham calls this  the “attention fracking” economy, when social media giants use manipulative algorithms to keep users’ eyes glued to the screen.

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What is Lever Time with David Sirota?

From LeverNews.com — Lever Time is the flagship podcast from the investigative news outlet The Lever. Hosted by award-winning journalist, Oscar-nominated writer, and Bernie Sanders' 2020 speechwriter David Sirota, Lever Time features exclusive reporting from The Lever’s newsroom, high-profile guest interviews, and expert analysis from the sharpest minds in media and politics.

David Sirota: [00:00:00] Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode of Lever Time. I'm your host, David Sirota. On today's show, we're going to be talking about how legacy media outlets, the biggest of big media, have been systematically greenwashing sponsored content from the fossil fuel industry. During the climate crisis, you heard that right places like the New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters, Politico, they're being paid big money by the fossil fuel industry to create so called branded advertorial content, touting themselves as part of the climate solution rather.

Then the climate problem. Today, I'll be speaking with the great climate journalist, Amy Westervelt, who exposed this huge deception in a shocking new report. We also spoke about the UN's COP28 climate conference and how it's been [00:01:00] slowly co opted by, yep, you guessed it. The fossil fuel industry. For our paid subscribers, we're also always dropping bonus episodes into our Lever Premium podcast feed.

Coming up next week is my interview with Princeton professor D. Graham Burnett, who recently co authored an op ed for the New York Times about our ever diminishing attention span. This is due to what Graham calls attention fracking from social media giants whose primary business is to keep your eyes glued to your screen so they can profit from your attention.

It was a really interesting discussion and we're excited to share it with you on the premium podcast feed.

If you want access to our premium content, head over to levernews. com and click the subscribe button in the top right to become a supporting subscriber. That gives you access to the Lever Premium podcast feed, exclusive live events, even more in depth reporting, and you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at The Lever.

Alright, we're going to jump right to our interview today with Amy [00:02:00] Westervelt.

Look, if you've been following our work here at The Lever, You know we regularly report on the ways the fossil fuel industry greenwashes their true intentions. If you've never heard of it, greenwashing refers to when an organization spends more time and money on marketing itself as environmentally friendly than on actually minimizing its environmental impact.

Whether it's the language of a press release, a private equity investment, or even a policy proposal, there are many, many ways A company or an industry can greenwash its messaging.

Well, it turns out that some of the country's largest news outlets are also helping fossil fuel industry interests greenwash their message through the use of sponsored content through things like advertorials, which are a combination of advertising and editorial content. Oil and gas companies are shelling out millions of dollars every year to some of the world's largest news outlets to produce and promote these [00:03:00] advertorials and all sorts of.

Other pro oil and gas propaganda places like the new york times the washington post reuters politico They are all regularly producing sponsored content for the fossil fuel industry during the climate crisis Which is a huge problem for readers who often can't tell the difference between climate reporting and these branded advertorials For today's interview, I spoke with climate journalist, Amy Westerveld, who coauthored this blockbuster report on the link between the fossil fuel industry and these big media outlets. We talked about this history of branded partnerships between fossil fuel interests and the media industry.

We talked about how the actual climate journalists at some of these outlets feel about this type of sponsored content. And we talked about how messaging about carbon capture and hydrogen technology are providing a smokescreen for an ever growing expansion of fossil fuel production. We also talked about the recent UN Climate Conference, known as COP28, which has [00:04:00] become yet another example of how the oil and gas industries manage to infiltrate and try to thwart Any meaningful action against climate change

hey, Amy, how you doing?

Amy Westervelt: I'm good, how are you?

David Sirota: I'm good. Uh, your, your latest report was, uh, mind blowing. Although in some ways, not surprising for those who, those of us who followed this,

uh, as closely as we do, greenwashing. I think people have heard that term. Greenwashing, basically corporations pretending to be environmentally friendly while actually just washing themselves in that brand and Not being environmentally friendly But what your report did last week was expose the machinery of Greenwashing and how it connects to the biggest journalism brands In the world, it's supposed to be that journalism is supposed to expose corporate [00:05:00] greenwashing.

But what you've discovered in your reporting is that big parts of the corporate media world of corporate journalism are helping companies greenwash themselves. So tell us What you found

Amy Westervelt: I've covered this stuff before, you know, it's been going on for a long time, but I've still found stuff that I was really surprised to see here. Um, most of the major media outlets, That, you know, we all know of the New York Times, Washington Post, all of the, the Wall Street Journal, all of these outlets, they all have what they call internal brand studios, which are basically, you know, advertising agencies within the company.

And they always make a point whenever I've written about this, they make a big point to say. Look, the, the ad studio is totally separate from editorial. There's no crossover. The journalists aren't involved in anything that [00:06:00] we're doing on the ad site. All of that stuff. Which is good. I believe them. I believe that's true.

You know, the problem, and this is something that that, you know, we found looking into all of the things that that they're doing and also looking at the research on how readers actually take in this information is that There's very little differentiation between editorial and advertorial in the ways that readers are consuming it.

So for example, if you're on, you know, the New York Times homepage and you see a story that's all about, you know, Exxon's algae investments, for example. It looks very much like a New York Times story and they, they label it, they have a teeny tiny label at the top, you know, they're not, I'm again, like I'm not accusing them of not labeling it or any of those things, but the question for me is not, are your journalists independent?

The [00:07:00] question is, are your readers aware that? This is completely paid for by Exxon, and especially when the ad studio is creating content that directly contradicts the reporting, which is what we saw over and over again in the New York Times. Reuters, that really shocked me. Reuters has a whole events business that's doing drilling events.

I mean, they're doing events that are geared specifically and explicitly towards increasing fossil fuel production.

David Sirota: that came on my radar when I saw that come over the transom actually a couple months ago And we were gonna we were thinking of trying to send a reporter there was expensive etc, etc I mean, it's very expensive. to try to cover the event.

Amy Westervelt: yeah, they do, they have a whole Reuters events has an entire oil and gas segment and they do five or six major oil and gas events every year. They, it's, they have like the data driven oil and gas event, the downstream USA [00:08:00] event. Right now, as COP 28 is going on, they're doing their Middle East energy event, and the entire thing is being framed as, COP is a huge business opportunity.

Let us help you figure out how the energy industry is gonna, you know, capitalize on COP and all of these things, you know. And in many of these cases, You've got at least one or two Reuters journalists who are there moderating panels, giving talks, all of that stuff. You know, so it's very, I don't know, to me it just, it seems like a wholesale.

Um, selling off of their readership. It's, that's what it is. It's like, look, you know, no one is going to, with respect to the creatives who work at the T Brand Studio, that's not why Exxon is going to them. They're not going to them because of their, their creative genius. They're going to them because they want their message wrapped in New York Times branding.

David Sirota: that that and that's such an important point

Amy Westervelt: Yeah, like [00:09:00] same with the Washington Post. The Washington Post has kind of like flown under the radar on this for a while. They sent out more than a hundred newsletters for Exxon just last year alone. That's more than one a week. It's like, look, there is no reason for the American Petroleum Institute to go to the Washington Post creative group to help with, for help writing an op ed.

Except that they want that op ed to be surrounded by the credibility of the Washington Post.

David Sirota: right and and that that's to your point at the beginning when you said there's these little labels the point is is that the advertiser is buying the brand of the New York Times or Politico or Reuters. They want that credibility. Uh, but then the question comes up, which you address in your report, which is, well, okay, They want the credibility of the Washington [00:10:00] Post brand.

They want their, uh, their advertorial. I mean, what a, what a monstrous word that is, an advertorial, right? They want their advertorials, uh, next to and, uh, shrouded in the brand of, uh, these, uh, allegedly credible media outlets. But The devil's advocate argument would be, well, but the reader knows what's going on, the reader, even if the label is small, the reader can tell, but as you report in your, in your article, that may not actually be true.

You looked at some academic studies about whether readers are really detecting the real source of this advertorial content from the fossil fuel industry. What'd you find?

Amy Westervelt: At best, one third of readers actually differentiate between advertorial and editorial. And the more common stat is one in ten. Not a single bit of peer reviewed research on the subject, which there's quite a bit of now. It's been kind of a thing [00:11:00] for the last 10 years, you know, and the media has by and large kind of said, this is an acceptable thing.

It's not just, you know, the oil industry that they do this for. It's lots of other industries as well. there's been sort of this acceptance that sponsored content or advertorial or native content. It's all the same thing, is okay to do as long as you label it. No problem. But the, the research doesn't back that up.

You know, if at most one in three people can, can tell the difference and the research also shows that the people who can tell the difference and who do notice that, Oh, this is, this is an ad, not editorial. And it contradicts what the paper's reporters say immediately lose all respect for that paper. the credibility goes down immediately. So it's like, you know, it's not ultimately serving the journalists that you're so quick to protect and say they're independent, but you're, you're totally selling them out.

David Sirota: let's talk a little bit about what they tend to be selling [00:12:00] in. Let's use, let's, uh, advertorials. I mean, you mentioned the Reuters, uh, events, which are explicitly pro oil and gas. I mean, they are oil and gas conventions, conferences and the like. The advertorial stuff to my mind is even more insidious because a lot of the advertorials are not.

necessarily always saying, Hey, oil and gas is great. You know, oil and gas gives us civilization and the like. A lot of times the advertorials are about, Exxon or or major other major oil giants promoting cleaner technologies or technology they purport to be cleaner, greener technologies. Uh, and and the question then becomes, well, Why is that bad?

Why is it bad if, okay, Exxon's buying an advertorial, uh, touting its alleged investment in, uh, algae energy. Hey, if they're making a pivot, if Exxon's making a pivot, uh, to at least acknowledge that a cleaner energy is good and that we should take climate [00:13:00] change seriously and they're promoting that through advertorials, what's the problem with that?

Amy Westervelt: the problem then becomes the whole greenwashing thing that you referred to before where, you know, it's making it look like, well, there's, there's two issues. One is like in the case of, uh, there was an advertorial that Bloomberg, for example, produced for Exxon that was touting their carbon capture technology.

Well. Exxon's carbon capture technology is primarily used for what's called enhanced oil recovery, which is basically injecting the compressed carbon underground to get more oil out. If your climate solution results in more oil, it's not a climate solution. And, and Bloomberg's reporters have written about that over and over again.

They've done a really good job of exposing the lie there. Um, but here their ad team is creating content that is, you know, allowing Darren Woods to say, we have the potential. It's very. Carefully worded. We have the potential to, you know, [00:14:00] capture all of the emissions from power generation. That's very misleading.

and again, would technically pass a fact check is legally okay, but is very misleading to readers. On the Reuters side, Reuters produced an entire podcast for Saudi Aramco called Powered by How, where a former BBC World News presenter Walks people through how Saudi Aramco and the fossil fuel industry in general is leading the energy transition.

Again, like this is very misleading and the whole thing it's, it's like at the very beginning, they sort of say this is produced by Reuters Plus in, in, you know, partnership with Saudi Aramco. But then for, you know, 45 minutes, you're hearing industry talking points. You're never reminded that, hey, by the way.

These guys paid for this, you know, and it's, it's generally in that podcast. It's really interesting because they put the Saudi Aramco person in [00:15:00] conversation with like a seemingly independent expert. So it really helps make whatever they're saying seem like, oh yeah, this is just, we're just having a business conversation or we're having a totally, you know, unbiased conversation about this issue.

I'm so sorry.

David Sirota: okay. I have a dog here at my house too. So dogs are welcome here on Lever Time. It's totally, it's totally fine. I'm, I'm, he's, I'm, I'm glad your dog is part of the audience. Um, let's talk about the history of this because while this is new, it has roots going back decades. the, the whole notion of an advertorial, uh, I believe the relationship, between mobile oil And a couple of these, uh, uh, major media entities was kind of the beginning of this, uh, in, in, in, well, I guess in the, in the seventies, like tell us about how, how that all started back then.

Amy Westervelt: Yeah. It's really interesting. I mean, it's mobile [00:16:00] oil and particularly this guy that I'm obsessed with, Herb Schmertz, who is the VP of Public Affairs for Mobile Oil. Um, in 1970, he worked with the New York Times to create the advertorial. That's, that's the origin of the advertorial.

David Sirota: Proud legacy for

Herbert Schmertz, the advertorial.

Amy Westervelt: legacy, yes.

And before that, the New York Times did not even allow advertising on the editorial pages. They didn't just not allow, you know, companies to write press releases in those pages. They kept them separate because they were supposed to be editorial viewpoints from, you know, either staffers or regular columnists at the paper.

So this was like a huge shift and the New York Times was the first to do it. Um, and. Starting in 1970, Mobil Oil and then Exxon, once they acquired Mobil, they ran those weekly in the New York Times for decades. Jeffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes did a study of all of those operatorials and found that [00:17:00] of the ones that mentioned climate, 80% Uh, tried to emphasize sort of doubt about climate science.

Um, so that was a major way that a lot of, of early, you know, climate science denial was spread, but it wasn't just that, you know, Herbert, Herbert Schmertz was like a real pioneer of this, of this whole realm of, of what they call issue advertising. That moment in 1970, Represented a huge pivot for the whole industry where they stopped advertising gas, and they started advertising ideas, and that is like a very, very different kind of thing.

Um, you know, they start advertising policy positions, and they start, you know, doing a lot more kind of reputational advertising and those kinds of things that really wasn't happening before then, and when the Guardian decided to stop taking fossil fuel ads a few years ago. You know, the question is always, well, what about cars [00:18:00] and what about airplanes and what about, you know, Amazon and all these other things that also have very high greenhouse gas emissions?

Their response was, look, all of those other industries advertise a product or a service. The fossil fuel industry advertises policy positions and, you know, their stance on different issues. That's what makes it fundamentally different, which I think is a useful way to think about it. Because it's true, that's what, I can't remember the last time I saw an ad for a Chevron gas station. I mean, they, they're here, here and there, you know,

David Sirota: but,

they're less about selling their main product in their advertising and more about selling effectively a justification for their existence. Selling their ideas that will portray them as part of the. a solution to climate change, or at least a part of a future economy, uh, in a climate changed world, which scientifically speaking, doesn't really hold up.

So there, that's what [00:19:00] their agenda, uh, is. I, I guess they, they, they can afford to sell their less because their product is effectively a commodity. I mean, there's for the, for the average consumer, there's no difference really, uh, between the gas from Exxon or the gas from Chevron. It's just gas. So better to spend your advertising budget on these other things that build up your brand and position your company and your industry, uh, as part of the longterm solution in a climate changed world.

Now let's go back to the. to the journalism organizations here. We're talking about the biggest journalism organizations in the world. We're talking about the New York Times. We're talking about Bloomberg, The Economist, The Financial Times, Politico, Reuters, The Washington Post. We're talking about kind of the elite consensus making journalism.

Apparatus. And then the question then is, okay, those I've just named very big companies, right? [00:20:00] Really big, well capitalized companies. How much money does this involve for them? Right? Like what's the scale here that if we say, if, if they said, or, or, or their readers said, Hey, this is not acceptable. I mean, how much money are they really breaking in from this?

Amy Westervelt: the largest by far is the New York Times. We found, um, through this, this ad data service called Media Radar that the New York Times, it has brought in over the last three years, which is the time period that we looked at 20 million from fossil fuel advertisers, which is a lot of money. However, I would say that's like, that's a lot of money for your, my media organization, but for the, for, Oil companies or even climate philanthropies.

That's not that much money. I feel like actually. That is something that, um, you know, folks in the climate space who want to shift this stuff should be looking at, like, how do we dislodge that if the concern and [00:21:00] oftentimes the justification for this is, well, where else are we going to get that money? How are we going to replace that revenue?

Then that, to me, seems like a place where climate philanthropists should maybe look. Okay, because I've asked them actually, like, why don't you fund? More investigative reporting at the New York Times, for example. And they say, well, the New York Times won't take grants from us for investigative reporting because they're worried about bias.

And I was like, wow, that's really interesting because they took 20 million dollars from the fossil fuel industry. So, but I guess because it goes to the ad team. Supposedly, they're just impervious to any kind of bias, which I find very interesting. Um, but I'm like, okay, then fine, maybe it's, look, we'll replace that revenue

David Sirota: Sure, they could buy

advertorials, right? I mean, climate groups could buy advertorials. I want to segue into that question of bias. Climate reporters who work at these outlets, I mean, these [00:22:00] outlets will use the New York Times. I mean, the New York Times does produce, in some cases, some very good climate journalism.

It also produces some very fossil fuel friendly Uh, propaganda, uh, beyond the, uh, beyond the advertorials, like on its news pages. My question, I guess, is what sense do you have climate reporters at these outlets feel uncomfortable with what's going on? And beyond that, how much can we assume? The reporting staff, the editorial side of the equation knows how much money is coming into the institution and therefore, whether consciously or not subconsciously, it influences how, uh, antagonistic.

The editorial side wants to be with that industry that they know is funding a large part of their institution.

Amy Westervelt: Yeah. So I think that [00:23:00] the, um, on the question of how comfortable or not there we, I spoke to climate reporters at most of these organizations and they hate it. You know, I think like we can all well. Most of us can appreciate how uncomfortable that would be, you know, and, and certainly like none of these people are getting paid more because of the Saudi Aramco buy, you know, um, it's not like the climate journalists are are seeing a bump in their pay related to that.

It's not even helping most of these outlets to keep reporters employed, period. You know, we're continuing to see Major layoffs across the board in in the climate realm as well. So, um, there's no real benefit to the climate journalists from this practice and in terms of how it creeps into their reporting.

I think there's, I think, actually, the way it works is less that, you know, the reporters know that there's money coming in and that makes them feel uncomfortable. And it's more [00:24:00] about another tactic, also pioneered by our friend Herb Schmertz, which is that these companies, because they have this financial relationship with the outlet, feel empowered.

to bully and be very aggressive about things they don't like. So for example, when the house investigation into the, the oil companies was happening and they were publishing, you know, various documents from that and whatnot, you saw some really interesting documents from Shell related to the New York Times where there was a particular reporter who was doing really great accountability reporting, Hiroko Tabuchi.

And they did not like some of the stuff that she was doing and they were being very vocal about it, not just publicly and to, you know, higher ups at the New York Times, but also to some of her colleagues reaching out and complaining about this, right? That creates a culture of, you know, oh, maybe me. Yeah.

Maybe this has gone too [00:25:00] far or maybe we should be careful about this or that because what they always lean on in those conversations is to accuse the reporter of being biased against the industry. That's always the accusation and that is something that comes right out of, I mean Herb Schmertz actually wrote a whole book about like how to do this and this is like one of his number one Rules is like, if they, if a reporter writes something that you don't like, you have to jump on it right away.

You have to publicly criticize them. You got to accuse them of being biased because journalists hate being accused of bias and they will overcorrect in your favor. And it has absolutely worked. And the fact that they're spending a lot of money with these outlets makes them that much more comfortable.

To do that, like Shell is not worried that the New York Times is going to stop covering them if they're like being too belligerent,

David Sirota: Right, but I also think that like, that Shell knows, presumes, that when it yells [00:26:00] at a reporter at one of these institutions, it may not have to say, and you know, I'm spending this much money over on the, uh, on the brand studio. It's that that's You don't have to say that. It's, it's a

known thing. It's understood.

And a lot of these things operate in a kind of unstated, uh, way. and especially by the way, in a journalism industry that is already under assault by mass layoffs, fewer and fewer people want to stick up their, uh, up their head and, and, and, and get, get it lopped off. By management, right? Oh, you're becoming a problem for, okay, you know, and they're never going to, they're not usually going to fire you for, oh, you went after one of our advertisers.

It's not that crass, but it's like, you've become a problem. We're hearing complaints and it goes unstated, but the complaints are coming from. The people who write big checks exactly like that's, you don't even have to say it. It's, it's implied, right? I mean, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's understood as you put it.[00:27:00]

So this is all happening. And your report comes out amid this international climate conference, which seems like a very public attempt to greenwash the entire industry. Actually, it seems less subtle. Uh, than the advertorials working about. I mean, they don't even seem to be really trying. I mean, the head of the COP conference, of this year's COP conference, runs a state owned fossil fuel company.

I mean, that's, that's what he does. And so I guess I would ask you here, Give us a basic update, if you can, on what happened at the conference. And then my question for you, after you tell us a little bit about what happened at the conference, what's the takeaway from a conference that is supposed to be the global response to climate change becoming an oil conference?

Like what do we take away from [00:28:00] that? What's gone wrong? Like, what are the lessons of that?

Amy Westervelt: what's happened at this COP is sort of what everyone was predicting would happen, which is a huge emphasis on, you know, the industry's favorite solutions, which are. Mostly carbon capture and hydrogen and the, um, at like real leaning on this very wonky word unabated, um, or abated, which like refers to, you know, whether or not you're quote unquote abating the emissions that are connected to these fossil fuel projects, the main technologies for abatement right now are carbon capture.

Really carbon capture. And like we just talked about carbon capture. I mean, worldwide, it's around 80 percent is used for enhanced oil recovery. So like, I don't understand how that possibly equates to abating emissions. But that is a big part of the language that we're seeing. As of, you know, right now we're talking on Tuesday.

They're still like they're in overtime now trying to [00:29:00] finalize text. The last draft text we saw. Any kind of words around a fossil fuel phase out were gone. There are negotiators are trying to get that back in, the one kind of. Success out of this cop, I would say, is, is probably around loss and damage and the, the commitment of money from some countries and the creation of a financial mechanism to actually get that money to less developed countries, but it's like a million miles off from where it needs to be.

Um, so even that is sort of, and in terms of, you know, where does this leave us? I mean, I think it's important for people to understand that COP has been invaded by oil interests since the very beginning.

The guy who ran the 1992 Rio Earth Summit was a Canadian tar sands guy. like the, the industry was there doing, you know, side, Meetings and, and really was, was fundamentally part of creating the UN [00:30:00] framework on, on climate change, you know, from the very, very beginning, they are the ones that baked in the idea that, you know, voluntary action was going to be enough to solve this problem.

Um, and that again comes from a long history of, you know, the PR industry really pushing that idea and the idea that, You know, the industry can just take its own steps, and that will be enough and all of those kinds of things. So they've been there from the beginning. This is true of the IPCC process, too.

You know, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, several lead authors on those reports every single cycle are from fossil fuel companies. Um, so, I think, for me, it seems like, okay, can we finally have a conversation about like, Coming up with an international process that does not include these guys.

Because what everyone says all the time is like, but you have to include them. They if they're not involved. Then, and they're not bought into the [00:31:00] solution, then it won't work. Well, we've been trying that for 30 plus years now, and it hasn't worked. You know, I don't understand why, you know, it's sort of like, you'll hear, Oh, but they have all the engineering prowess, and they have all the technical, Okay, can we not insist that they put that to work on a real energy transition?

Why do they have to be the ones that are dictating terms? but you're dealing with an industry that is more powerful than any one government. And that's the big problem. Things like COP are supposed to exist to deal with that problem, to get enough of a coalition of governments together that they have equal power to the industry.

David Sirota: want to, I want to ask a follow up question to, to why it hasn't worked, which, which it seems that. This industry has refused to try to adapt in, in becoming energy companies as opposed to fossil fuel companies. We have seen in the past other industries. [00:32:00] Adapt as an example. We're watching one right now.

The automobile industry was an industry that was a combustion engine industry. It is now starting to adapt to become a hybrid. Uh, it's still making combustion engines, but it's starting to add electric. power generation for cars. It is adapting. Uh, that's not a silver bullet solution, but it's an industry that's adapting. The fossil fuel industry, it seems to me, has not made Any real serious at scale effort to adapt, uh, broaden the portfolio from being just fossil fuel companies. I mean, some companies, I guess, are a little better than, than others, but at large, the industry remains not an energy industry, but a fossil fuel industry.

I just wonder from your perspective as somebody who's reported on this and studied this, why has this [00:33:00] industry Been so resistant to diversify its own set of businesses. What is it? I mean, it's not like they lack resources for future investment. So what is going on here?

Amy Westervelt: Yeah. Actually, that was the thing that finally made, uh, Cristiana Figueres be like, okay, these guys are not going to ever operate in good faith. She talked about this recently where she said, look, they have always told me that it was a capital problem, that actually they just didn't have the capital to sort of fund this pivot in a big, large scale way.

And so, um, she has said that she. You know, kind of believed that when they had these windfall profits from the Russia Ukraine situation that they would in fact, okay, here we go They've got the money now. They're gonna do it. And of course All they did was, you know, pay back hired Dividends and stockpile money and you know, whatever else So at that point she kind of finally was like, okay, these [00:34:00] guys are just full of it They're never gonna do it.

The reality is They have not found anything that makes as much money as oil and gas. That's it. It's like, it's, there's nothing more to

it than that. It's greed, you know, it's just that,

David Sirota: But, But, to be

precise, it's

not that they haven't found things that,

can make. Money it's that they haven't found yet. The

margins are not as much as oil and gas. So it seems to me that they refuse to accept. Lower margins. It's not that they refuse to accept, it's one thing to say. I, I, I, I reject the idea that there's just in a world where there's no business to be made on energy.

We, we have to stick with this one thing. They're not, there's no proof that you can't make money on cleaner sources of energy. This industry is saying we refuse to accept the amount of profit. That we're making, we could make less profit, AKA be sustainable, still make money for our shareholders, but we're not [00:35:00] willing to accept less than the amount of profit we're making for our shareholders than we do now.

I mean, that really is kind of sociopathic,

Amy Westervelt: Yeah, that's it. That's exactly it. And it's important to, to note that like, That's because of the system that they're operating in. I mean, they would have a, I mean, probably a lawsuit on their hands from shareholders. If Darren Woods tomorrow was to say, I'm going to turn my back on X amount of profit and instead invested in this thing that I know is a lower return investment.

He would be removed from his job legally and, and absolutely, because that is how corporations are supposed to operate, especially when they're publicly traded corporations. So it's like, I, you know, I don't know. I feel like I constantly have people being like, Oh, keep all the issues separate.

They're not separate. They're not separate. You know, like you can't separate climate from capitalism. It just doesn't [00:36:00] work. You know, like it, we don't end up with this problem absent capitalism because what we have in the current way that capitalism exists, particularly in the U. S., is that it would actually be a legal problem for a CEO like Darren Woods.

to act

according to his conscience rather than according to what would

deliver the most amount of profit.

David Sirota: although, although there is an

economic argument. I mean, it's the, the economic argument is

to be more precise about it. It's capitalism plus short termism. I can only think about revenues and profits in the next quarter.

I can't think about revenue and profit in the next 25 years, the next quarter

Amy Westervelt: Which actually though they are thinking about it the whole way that they are structuring these deals in places like Guyana and Mozambique and all these what they call frontier countries where they're exploring for oil and gas right is and I mean Darren Woods said it in their most recent one of their recent analyst calls.

[00:37:00] He said we're taking Guyana which would have in the past been a long term play and turning it into a short term play. Why are they doing that? Because they know that they're not going to be able to make as much money off of oil and gas in 10 years. And so instead of doing, structuring it the way they usually would, they're making sure that they can get paid out in the next decade.

And they can leave all the risks and liabilities

with the, with the government of Guyana in

10, 15 years.

David Sirota: I mean, I mean, this is, this is the crazy

dynamic. They, they see the writing on the wall,

cleaner sources of energy are becoming more cost competitive, which means they got to try to, from their perspective, they believe they have to try to rake in as much money. Uh, in, in profit right now because those profits may not be there down the road, may not be there for reasons that are for sort of human survival, survival of the planet.

And so it, it actually [00:38:00] accelerates, uh, their frantic effort to, to pump more oil. And, and, and if that dooms the climate, that's the rest of our problem. It's not their problem, even though of course, I mean, it's everyone's problem. You live on earth. It's, it kind of is your problem.

Amy Westervelt: Totally. Totally. I do. I mean, I fully expect to see, because all of these companies have been researching and developing alternative energies for a long time. They just don't want to actually pivot to them until, you know, the exact right moment where they think the math is going to pencil out the best for them, you know, um, and they're not, that's the, like the thing again, God, I'm.

I'm so obsessed with Herb Schmertz. The other thing he came up with is the whole idea of corporate personhood. Like he and mobile in the seventies started backing all of like the legal precedents to what would eventually become Citizens United. And a big part of that was this whole idea of issue [00:39:00] advertising, ideas, advertising, Herb Schmertz was like, we need to create, we need people to see mobile as a person.

And I think that's where like the thinking gets really skewed in all these climate negotiations too because it's like we're thinking we're drinking the Kool Aid expecting Exxon to behave in a moral way. It's not a person, it's not, has no morality. It exists to make profit for shareholders and that is it.

So those, that's what it's going to make

decisions based on. It doesn't, it's not rational, it's not moral,

David Sirota: No, it's, it's, I mean,



it's like the Terminator, the Terminator, you know, the old Terminator one, the Arnold Schwarzenegger robot, it doesn't care about anything. It has one directive,

which is, I mean, when we talk about corporate personnel, that, that is not how, Uh, most people behave. That's not a unless you're an actual sociopath.


mean that you can understand a corporation. If a corporation is a person, a corporation is typically a major corporation is typically a sociopath, and that's the best way to understand it as a person. It's not the kind of person you probably [00:40:00] want to hang out with. And then, of course, they turn around and they Do what they do in the report that you did last week, they join up with the biggest news organizations in the world to greenwash themselves and sell themselves as, um, as focused on climate change, as focused on solutions.

Even though you can see in their financial filings and in their actions in the public policy sphere, they are anything but caring about the climate crisis. Amy Westervelt is an award winning investigative the founder and executive editor of Drilled Media, which is an investigative reporting project digging into the various forces obstructing action on climate change.

We're going to link to the wonderful piece that she and her colleagues reported about. This link between the fossil fuel industry and the major media outlets that many consider to be the most trusted in the world. It is must read kind of reporting. You [00:41:00] have to check it out. We'll link to it. Amy, thank you so much for taking time with us today.

And thank you as always for your wonderful reporting.

Amy Westervelt: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Thanks for everything you guys are doing too. I'm always like,

Ooh, good lover story. Yes.

David Sirota: Thank you. Thanks a lot.

Amy Westervelt: Thanks a lot.

That's it for today's show as a reminder, our paid subscribers who get levered time premium, you get access to our regular bonus episodes. this week's bonus episode is about corporations attempting to frack your attention. It's a good one.

David Sirota: To listen to Lever Time Premium, just head over to levernews. com to become a supporting subscriber. When you do, you get access to all of Lever's premium content, including our weekly newsletters and our live events. And that's all for just 8 a month or 70 for the year. One last favor. Please be sure to like, subscribe, and write a review for Lever Time on your favorite podcast app.

The app you are listening to right now, take 10 seconds and give us a positive review in that app. And make sure to check out all of the incredible [00:42:00] reporting our team has been doing over at levernews. com. Until next time, I'm David Sirota. Rock the boat.

The Lever Time Podcast is a production of the Lever and the Lever Podcast Network. It's hosted by me, David Sirota. Our producer is Frank Capello with help from Lever producer, Jared Jacang Mayor.