Fresh off its Facebook link to an incendiary Rolling Stone article on climate change and national defense, the US Navy Task Force Energy is now drawing our attention to an op-ed by a former Navy commander outlining the risks of continued oil dependency. This one pulls no punches either, drawing attention to the thousands — yes, thousands — of American deaths attributed to petroleum transportation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US Navy’s message might not be getting through to climate change deniers in the US Congress, but according to The Guardian, just yesterday the biggest PR firm in the world — that would be Edelman — ditched its account with the American Petroleum Association.
Since a big chunk of Edelman’s business is in aerospace and defense, we’re guessing that either Edelman saw the writing on the wall, or the US Department of Defense sent a little bird to whisper in its ear. Either way, there’s a lot to pick apart here, so let’s get on it.
The US Navy Would Like You To Please Read This Op-Ed
You can check out our story on the US Navy’s Rolling Stone link, but for those of you on the go, the article is a richly detailed account of the impacts of rising sea levels on national security, focusing on Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. Writer Jeff Goodell makes a forceful case for the title, “The Pentagon & Climate Change: How Deniers Put National Security at Risk.
So now comes the Navy’s followup link, in the form of the aforementioned op-ed, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee. The writer is 33-year Navy veteran Len Hering, retired rear admiral and former commander of Navy Region Southwest.
The Navy’s Facebook post starts off mildly enough. Here’s how they begin teasing the link on Facebook (hashtags and links removed for readability):
Op-ed highlights the role of renewable energy in strengthening our defense capability.
Read a retired U.S. Navy commander’s viewpoint on how the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) can use energy efficiency techniques as a tactical advantage.
The headline of the Bee article is similarly mild: “Boosting renewable energy will improve our national security.”
However, keep reading and you’ll see that the Navy wraps up with a partial quote from the op-ed: “In Iraq and Afghanistan, our dependence cost us severely in both blood and treasure…”
Yep, that caught our eye, too.
Here’s the full sentence in context:
And while we are not going to run out of oil tomorrow, our heavy reliance on a single source poses a strategic threat, especially as the ever-changing security landscape requires our troops to travel long distances at a moment’s notice. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our dependence cost us severely in both blood and treasure; thousands of Americans were killed clearing roads and escorting or moving fuel convoys.
If you want some backup on that “thousands” figure, check out the Defense Department’s analysis of petroleum-related deaths, “Casualty Factors for Fuel and Water Resupply Convoys.”
Hering has a lot of other incisive observations about oil dependency, but for our purposes the US Navy is making its point: climate deniers literally cost lives.
Edelman Gets Message From US Navy
Moving along to Edelman, this is the largest PR firm in the world, so dropping the American Petroleum Institute (API) is no small potatoes.
As Guardian writer Suzanne Goldenberg sees it, Edelman was sandbagged last year when other major PR firms pledged to stop doing business with the climate change denial lobby, so they have some catching up to do.
In the context of the increasingly urgent calls for climate action by the US Navy and other branches of the armed services, Edelman’s deep ties with API would make it increasingly awkward for the firm to represent the interests of its clients to the US Department of Defense, so there’s that.
Edelman certainly isn’t done with all of its fossil fuel accounts. However, the firm is also cultivating a growing roster of cleantech companies, including Solar Frontier.
Here’s how Edelman is positioning itself for the future:
…we will need more energy from all sources, smarter generation and consumption, and improved infrastructure…we will need to inform and engage in conversations with a range of stakeholders – from the private and public sectors, to NGOs and industry groups, to independent experts and ordinary citizens – on how we can address the societal, economic and environmental challenges associated with energy.
Edelman also represents Unilever and a number of other firms that are heavily engaged in the transition to more sustainable business practices, so it really does appear that the firm is choosing up sides in the climate action battle.
Given the peas-in-a-pod linkage between the misinformation strategy of the climate denial lobby and the tobacco industry (in which Edelman took an active hand), it’s also worth noting that the American Lung Association is now an Edelman client.
Take a look at the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer and you can see why climate change denial (ok, so outright lying at times) completely upends the trustworthy image that Edelman is so carefully crafting for itself.
So, is cutting ties with API just a one-off for Edelman? Just a wild guess, but now that Edelman has thrown API under the bus, TransCanada and its notorious Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline might not be far behind.
Photo Credit (cropped): Courtesy of US Navy.