ExxonMobil’s Propaganda

With all due respect to legions of well-meaning McKibbenite activists, our problem is cars and corporate capitalism, not fossil fuels. Nevertheless, it is true that, because of the continuing reign of cars, some very powerful corporations enjoy spectacular privileges, including outsized influence on our minds. In order to perpetuate this remunerative arrangement for as long as possible, these corporations do engage in rank, fully-knowing propaganda. To wit, this little ditty from ExxonMobil, which runs frequently on corporate TV:

Gosh, Exxon, if your scientists have unlocked algal oil as a source of automotive fuel, why the wait? Why “someday”? Why not now?

The answer, of course, is that algae are absolutely not a potential source of meaningful amounts of automotive fuel, now or ever. This is due to the nature of algae and the laws of physics. Trying to make them so would require converting the entirety of the nation’s arable lands to alga bogs. ExxonMobil knows this full well, yet hires marketing agencies to sell the direct opposite claim. Such is the foundation of “our” economy.

Biofuels as Propaganda

Again, sheer prevarication. It would take enormous amounts of fossil fuels to build and run an algae biofuel farming and distilling infrastructure — almost certain more fossil fuels would be used in this than would otherwise simply get burned by automobiles, since algae biofuel has a terrible EROEI (which inturn explains why Tillerman and Exxon do not, in fact, take it seriously).

A year ago, Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson granted Business Week magazine an interview.  The BW reporter asked him about alternative fuels:

Tillerson told reporters in January that Exxon isn’t investing in existing alternative energy technology because “we think these technologies are old. If there is going to be a fundamental shift” away from fossil fuels, the technology “hasn’t been discovered.”

Tillerson allows that a shift from fossil fuels is coming, but not for decades. Exxon forecasts that oil and gas will continue to supply 60% of the world’s energy needs through 2030, and that a “game-changing” shift to alternatives will begin only after 2050.

Fancy, then, the “algae-based biofuels” television ad being run by Exxon-Mobil at present.

Rather a huge gap between what Exxon tells the business press and what it would have the general public believe, no?

This is more stark evidence that so-called “alternative fuels” are an intentional distraction, rather than a real answer.  To corporate planners in the auto-industrial complex, biodiesel and its cousins are not, as Exxon-Mobil would have us rubes believe it believes, a serious path to a better future.  They are merely a diversionary marketing trick promulgated to buy the overclass the chance to finish extracting as much wealth as possible from cars-first transportation, before it implodes. After that, the deluge, as always.

Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that the press plays its mis-reporting role in all this with fine and true fidelity.  Googling “Exxon algae” produces scores of headlines trumpeting Exxon-Mobil’s “major” investment of $600 million in algae biofuel research last year.  A real journalist would ask:  Was that investment serious, or merely a marketing device, a PR-supporting gimmick?

One simple way to answer that question would be to compare the scale of the ballyhooed algae “investment” against Exxon-Mobil’s basic finances.

Anybody doing so would see that $600 million is 1.3 percent of Exxon-Mobil’s 2008 book profits, or, more coservatively, a whopping 3.1 percent of its 2009 profits.

This is major investment?  Not quite.

By the way, it would also be hard to find a 30-second advertisement that packs in a higher quantum of brazen lies than this algae ad.  Take a look.  It’s quite Orwellian.

“Algae are beautiful.”  Irrelevant, and calculatedly so.

“We could runs our cars.”  Nobody disputes that diesel can be made from algae, but the relevant question is could we conceivably run the nation’s or the world’s existing auto fleet on algae fuel?  No fucking way, as CEO Tillerson knows and admits to his corporate peers.

“Not competing with the food supply.”  Sheer, massive, in-your-face falsity.  To make any dent in fueling automobiles, algae farms would have to devour enormous tracts of arable land.  Nobody eats algae. It isn’t corn or even sugar cane.  But, nonetheless, serious algae farming would take land and lots of it.

“Help solve the greenhouse problem.”  Again, sheer, defiant, Big Brotherian prevarication.  Exxon knows all too well that it would take enormous amounts of fossil fuels to build and run an algae biofuel farming and distilling infrastructure.   In fact, given biofuels’ terrible existing and potential EROEI rates, it is virtually certain that far more fossil fuels would be used in running cars on algae-derived diesel than would, in the absence of such a scheme, get burned by automobiles under existing arrangements.  All of which explains why Tillerson and Exxon do not, in fact, take algae or any other “alternative fuel” seriously, except as devices of salesmanship.