Private Empire: a tale about the big oil companies

2 06 2012

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power is a very interesting book. It tells the story of the giant American company Exxon, from the catastrophe of oil carrier Exxon Valdez in 1989, through the changing policies of the multinational company in response to all the political changes in the 1990s. This was in fact an epoch of turmoil in which the former global political blocs disappeared, and countries in Middle East, Africa and South America took hold of the control of oil resources. Nonetheless Exxon prevailed by adapting itself to changing times. Steve Coll explains very well how the company builds a common system of beliefs, and style, that makes a number of people about 150,000 to operate as a single team, with common goals and responses to identified problems and needs.

Another important piece of the story is how the company fiercely opposed all means to relieve climate change by reducing carbon emission, starting from a strong denial of the general chief executive, Lee Raymond, to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, by recommending the communist government of the People´s Republic of China to oppose the policy of Clinton´s USA administration.  It is then described the ensuing years of ideological battle in Washington, in which the oil companies would lobby to deny the reality of carbon emission based climate change: “Strategists created layers of disguise, subtlety, and subterfuge—corporate-funded “grassroots” programs and purpose-built think tanks, as fingerprint-free as possible. In such an opaque and untrustworthy atmosphere, the ultimate advantage lay with any lobbyist whose goal was to manufacture confusion and perpetual controversy. On climate, this happened to be the oil industry’s position (p. 86)… The corporation’s advocacy campaigners (followed) a subtle strategy involving the use of money to advance corporate interests by exploiting the uncertainties and argumentation that can be innate to science (p. 87).”

P.S. august 2012

while working on my book I have found some outstanding scientific papers signed by people I much admire and I see they were working for Exxon at that time:

Cody, G. D.; Tiedje, T.; Abeles, B.; Brooks, B.; Goldstein, Y. “Disorder and the Optical-Absorption Edge of Hydrogenated Amorphous Silicon”. Physical Review Letters 1981, 47, 1480-1483.

Yablonovitch, E. “Statistical ray optics”. J. Opt. Soc. Am. 1982, 72, 899-907.


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