BASKIN: It wouldn't be Milan without a fashion show.
But this isn't the House of Versace. It's a United Nations conference on global warming this one just last month. And a party is a good way to keep the delegates happy.
But don't be misled. What's going on in Milan is of vital importance to the world.
Mainstream scientists point to rapid melting of polar ice caps as one of many signs that greenhouse gases are causing an unnatural and potentially dangerous warming of the earth's atmosphere. As a result, they predict, temperatures will rise more rapidly in the next hundred years than in the past ten thousand.
Extremes in weather like severe droughts and flash floods are expected to become more common and more intense. Radical weather patterns could threaten our food supply… and water systems. What should be done about global warming is at the core of the climate change debate. The focus has been on "greenhouse gases" created by burning oil and coal.
Six years ago, world leaders signed the Kyoto protocol, agreeing in principle to limit production of greenhouse gases. Most of the world's nations support the treaty…and sent representatives to Milan to move forward on the agreement.
But guess who else turned up at the global warming conference? Swarms of energy industry executives and lobbyists, with a very different agenda. There is a concerted effort by the industry to derail adoption of the Kyoto protocol… a well-heeled, well-organized lobbying effort bent on stopping it from ever becoming a reality.
Meet Dale Heydlauff, senior vice president of American Electric Power, the largest electric company in America. His reasons for opposing Kyoto are economic.
BASKIN: Most of the world supports the Kyoto Protocol. The energy industry is opposed to it. Why?
HEYDLAUFF: Primarily because of the fact that the energy industry is predominantly fossil fuels. And there will be significant economic impacts to American industry in particular.
BASKIN: Heydlauff says the Kyoto treaty would be costly to American consumers, by making energy more expensive. And, he argues that the treaty's language discriminates against America and other developed countries.
HEYDLAUFF: Because the Kyoto Protocol only imposes legally binding obligations on the 38 industrial nations of the world and exempts the 132+ developing countries.
BASKIN: Annie Petsonk has been following the global warming debate for the mainstream environmental organization, environmental defense. She says what industry is really afraid of is losing profits and that it has a coordinated plan to prevent the treaty's passage.
PETSONK: America's policy on global warming is being set by a limited set of energy companies. Mainly ones whose approach is to deny, and delay, and debunk.
BASKIN: Petsonk, an attorney, helped develop climate policy for two presidents who supported limits on greenhouse gasses: Bill Clinton and the first George Bush. Now she's here trying to convince delegates to ratify Kyoto.
She's up against some powerful opponents.
PETSONK: If you're a large oil company and you're concerned that a treaty to limit greenhouse pollution might encourage consumers to drive more efficient cars, use more efficient light bulbs, maybe use a little less electricity you'd have an incentive to spend a fair amount of money trying to stop that treaty.
BASKIN: Oil companies won't reveal just how much they are spending, but it runs into tens of millions of dollars.
Representatives of the oil, coal, and electric industries are all in Milan to spread their gospel. But there's one person here who's credited with doing more to advance industry's agenda than any other. His name is Don Pearlman, and he's been called "the high priest of the carbon club."
Pearlman heads an organization with a name that makes it seem a neutral party The Climate Council. The group won't say who funds it. Critics say it's a secretive front group for the energy industry. We tried to talk with Pearlman about The Climate Council, but he would only say that it's "a coalition of U.S. energy companies." Pearlman's a fixture at these annual meetings, ostensibly as an observer. But in Washington, he's a registered lobbyist and acts like one here. He's constantly working the floor.
PETSONK: I personally saw an event a couple of years ago where Mr. Pearlman actually put written instructions under the nose of an OPEC delegate who was actually snoozing. And Mr. Pearlman went in and woke him up and said, "You've got to read this. It's time to read it now in a meeting."
BASKIN: UN officials were concerned enough over that episode that afterwards, they took action to prevent it from happening again, instituting a policy to prevent lobbyists from approaching delegates on the floor during negotiating sessions.
BASKIN: It's like the unofficial Pearlman rule?
PETSONK: Yes, there are many people who actually speak of it as the Pearlman rule.
BASKIN: Here's Pearlman in deep conversation with a member of the Saudi delegation. Pearlman spends a lot of his time with OPEC countries, none of whom have ratified the treaty. Since the Kyoto protocol is all about fossil fuels, they're key players here. Later, the Saudi delegate told us he and Pearlman were simply "exchanging pleasantries."
Considered an expert at manipulating the rules to stall the talks, Pearlman seems to be everywhere at once.
PETSONK: Both today and yesterday I talked to negotiators who told me that in the meetings they were in, countries were trying to reach agreement on a subject and Saudi Arabia consistently was objecting. In some instances, it was China that was consistently objecting. And basically, if you want to see who the objectors are, sort of look at who was Don Pearlman talking with today, and sure enough that seems to be the country that's leading the objections.
BASKIN: Here's another industry man in Milan. Ray Harry is an executive with the Southern Company, America's second largest electric utility. In recent years, the company has emerged as one of the most influential industry voices in Washington. During the last election cycle, no other electric utility spent more on federal campaign contributions than Southern.
BASKIN: What's your title first with Southern?
HARRY: I'm Director of Environmental Affairs.
BASKIN: Director of environmental affairs for Southern. But your badge says that you're with The Climate Council. So what does that mean?
HARRY: Individuals companies cannot register for these conferences. So you register under an organization.
BASKIN: this practice of industry executives attending these conferences as members of groups like the climate council is commonplace.
BASKIN: What would you like to see the outcome of the meeting be?
HARRY: We really don't have a desire here. We're just watching the scene…what the discussions are and where parties are and what ultimately might come out as some sort of agreement.
BASKIN: Maybe, but according to THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, at one recent meeting the Southern Company, worked hand-in-hand with Don Pearlman to help engineer the ouster of a high-ranking UN official, a climate expert concerned about global warming. It's worth noting that Southern operates some of the dirtiest power plants in the United States, cited some sixteen times in the last two years for Clean Air Act violations alone.
Here's Pearlman again in Milan. The woman on the left is a coal industry representative. And the man in the middle? That's Harlan Watson, the chief U.S. negotiator at the convention, a snapshot of the cozy relationship between industry and the U.S. government.
ExxonMobil suggested the White House add Harlan Watson to the negotiating team. And it was Watson as a Republican congressional aide in the early '90s who urged the coal industry to hire Pearlman as a lobbyist.
FLANNERY: I think the key industry…
BASKIN: Like most of the industry, ExxonMobil has a man in Milan, Brian Flannery.
BASKIN: Exxon has been one of the most vocal opponents of having caps.
FLANNERY: Of having caps and targets and timetables.
BASKIN: And why is that? Why are you so opposed to it?
FLANNERY: We're not convinced the science justifies such a step at this time.
BASKIN: In fact, the industry insists that the jury is still out on the science of global warming, even though an overwhelming majority of America's mainstream scientific community, including the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, substantiate the science that proves global warming is occurring, accelerating, and a threat to the planet.
Environmentalists accuse the energy industry of fueling a stealth campaign to confuse the public. Even though mainstream scientists agree about the dangers of global warming, energy companies funnel money to think tanks and front groups who publish slick reports challenging the scientific consensus.
One example: take a look at ExxonMobil's Web site, showing millions of dollars going to organizations who raise doubts about global warming. The goal is to mold public opinion.
PETSONK: To some extent, the mainstream press suffers from what others have called "the curse of evenhandedness." That is, if these scientists were to announce tomorrow that the earth is flat, it would be published under the headline that says, "Shape of Earth: Views Differ."
BASKIN: This strategy was laid out six years ago in this oil industry memo, prepared with the help of Exxon. It's called "A Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan." It says, quote, "Victory will be achieved when…uncertainties in climate science…become part of the conventional wisdom."
SMITH: Global warming, as it's generally presented, is a simplistic world. Evil modern man is burning up energy, leaving destruction for the only planet we have. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa, we must expiate for our evil ways.
BASKIN: Fred Smith is president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. That oil industry memo about "achieving victory" specifically mentions the Competitive Enterprise Institute as one of the groups that can be used to create doubt about global warming. CEI is currently one of the most influential Washington think tanks.
SMITH: Energy use, remember, is what distinguishes us ream primitive societies. We have lights. We have air conditioning. We have heat. We have mobility.
And, energy use in the modern world means carbon based energy. Which means greenhouse gases and whatever attendant risks that may be there. There are risks of using energy. But there are risks of energy deprivation also. And they're far more serious in our view.
BASKIN: After campaign contributions and lobbying expenses, corporate funding of groups like CEI has been called the "third river" of money in American politics. That's led to charges that CEI and others are middlemen, simply putting out propaganda for big industry. In 2002 alone, ExxonMobil gave CEI more than $400,000.
BASKIN: How does that influence what you have to say on something like global warming?
SMITH: We were in this issue well before any companies wanted to stick their neck out. And we'll be in it if they all retreat next year. We make good dance partners. We're wonderful dance partners. But we're dancing, we're not getting married. We are independent. And we stand for things we believe in and we always have and always will.
BASKIN: CEI's endeavors have paid off for its "dance partner." So have years of effort by industry-funded lobbyists and front groups. Lawmakers are using studies by industry-funded scientists to frame American environmental policy. This group of U.S. Senators who've come to the UN conference echo the industry line.
PETSONK: You know, the Senators come here and they are absolutely determined that they do not believe the overwhelming majority of scientists on global warming.
BASKIN: They're saying it is psuedoscience.
PETSONK: That's right, that's right. And what they listen to is exclusively the quote unquote "scientists" who are funded by leading companies in the fossil fuel industry.
BASKIN: The Senate delegation is lead by republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Senator Inhofe once compared the Environmental Protection Agency to a "Gestapo bureaucracy." And as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, he's one of the most powerful players in the global warming debate. Inhofe came to Milan with a blunt message for the world the U.S. will never limit the use of oil and coal. It's a view he also made clear in a speech to the Senate last year.
SENATOR JAMES INHOFE [July 28, 2003]: With all the hysteria, all the fear, all the phony science, could it be that manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? I believe it is.
BASKIN: Not surprisingly, Inhofe's number one industry source of campaign contributions is the oil and gas business.
BASKIN: You have been probably the most outspoken critic, skeptic, of global warming, in fact, saying that you believe that global warming is a hoax. Do you believe that?
SENATOR INHOFE: No, no. I think the science and the way it came about, it really approaches that level.
BASKIN: But it's not just Senators like Inhofe who have embraced industry's position on global warming. The White House is on board, too.
It wasn't always that way. In 2000, candidate George Bush supported restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions.
GEORGE W. BUSH [September 29, 2000]: We will require all power plants to meet clean air standards in order to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide within a reasonable period of time.
BASKIN: Then, about a month into his presidency, Bush got this memo, warning "a moment of truth is arriving" on the regulation of greenhouse gases. It was written by Haley Barbour, who was working as a lobbyist for the giant utility, Southern Company. He'd also been chairman of Bush's 2000 presidential campaign advisory committee. Two weeks after Barbour's memo, the industry got its wish: the President announced the U.S. would not support Kyoto.
PRESIDENT BUSH [June 11, 2001]: Climate change, with its potential to impact every corner of the world, is an issue that must be addressed by the world. The Kyoto Protocol was fatally flawed in fundamental ways.
BASKIN: But not every Republican has signed on to the industry position. In Milan we spoke with moderate Republicans Jim Greenwood of Pennsylvania and Christopher Shays of Connecticut.
BASKIN: Are you concerned about the world's perception of America as not being very serious about doing something about global warming?
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R-CT): I'm concerned about the world's perception. I'm also concerned about the United States doing something in real terms. I don't think we're going to have a world to live in if we continue our neglectful ways.
REP. JIM GREENWOOD (R-PA): The administration and many of the conservative members of Congress believe that because we still have some unanswered questions, that that is an argument for moving more slowly. We think that because there's much we don't know, the stakes being extraordinarily high, the prudent thing to do is to act more expeditiously.
BASKIN: But these moderate Republicans and their allies are being outgunned. And last month, Russia joined the U.S. in officially opposing Kyoto. Now the treaty appears to be dead. Some fear that industry is, indeed, close to achieving its "victory," and that protecting the environment will no longer be in fashion…
BRANCACCIO: President Bush made no mention of global warming or anything else about the environment, for that matter in his State of the Union address.
And don't look to any of the Democratic presidential frontrunners to breathe life back into the Kyoto Protocol as it stands.
Howard Dean says he would renegotiate the treaty because it exempts developing nations. Wesley Clark and John Edwards say we need to rethink it. And John Kerry, the winner of this week's contest in Iowa, says he would not sign the treaty at all because it's already too late for the U.S. to meet the binding targets set back in 1997.