David Deming explains today in the WSJ how oil industry executives undermine the moral legitimacy of their enterprise, thereby weakening their position in policy debates. This is an important — but hardly new — observation. For well over a decade the industry has been aware of polling and focus-group data showing that efforts by individual companies to enhance their “green” image may improve the public perception of individual firms, but do nothing to improve public perception of the industry, and may even make things worse. An ad that trumpets one company’s environmental record may remind viewers of the industry’s environmental failings. And, in the end, it is public perception of the industry, not individual firms, which influences public policy. In any event, Deming’s ultimate advice is sound:
If the fossil-fuel industry were willing to change, they could become the most influential political lobby in the U.S. Three things are necessary. First, absolute solidarity. Second, an in-depth knowledge of the environmental movement. Third, fossil-energy companies have to seize the moral high ground. Providing 80% of the energy that sustains human civilization is nothing to apologize for.