Who's co-opting whom?

Short orders of business first: Chevron has launched an ad campaign that purports to address the issue of the peak oil crisis, saying in part that “It took us 125 years to use the first trillion barrels of oil. We’ll use the next trillion in 30.”

Aside from some quibbles with their math (you could argue that it took us more like 10,000 years to use the first trillion barrels, right Jared Diamond?), I’m all in favor of opening a discussion on how to wean ourselves from oil dependence. But in the context of a Chevron-branded campaign, it seems all too similar to George W. Bush’s insistence that we need "more research" instead of action on global warming.

Another oil giant is also in the news this week. ExxonMobil, the biggest (and arguably the worst) company in the industry, is the target of a boycott and letter-writing campaign targeting the company for its profiteering, broken promises and refusal to invest in green technologies. ExxposeExxon is made of a vast and rangy horde of conservation groups, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and many more.

The Sierra Club is also making waves as part of this week’s biggest enviro controversy: an unlikely partnership between the Club and the Ford Motor Company. The Sierra Club has agreed to promote Ford's new Mercury Mariner Hybrid SUV to 300,000 Sierra Club members, as well as inviting Ford to spotlight the new vehicle at the group's Sierra Summit in September.

Cordial if not cozy relationships between green groups and automakers reliably generate cries of greenwashing, if not outright selling-out. The Rainforest Action Network and Global Exchange, while not bashing Sierra Club for teaming up with Bill Ford, told the New York Times that rather than offer a carrot like SC has done, they'd continue "to wield the stick with the company that has been their main target in the auto industry."

To that end, the groups have launched Freedom from Oil, part of the groups' JumpStart Ford project, an ongoing program to spur the auto giant to increase the absurdly low fuel efficiency of its fleet. It's definitely a much-needed campaign, since Ford vehicles have been ranked last in miles per gallon for the last five years.

It's true that Ford has unabashedly created quite a few monsters of inefficiency. But it's also true that Ford is also the third auto maker, and the first from the U.S. or Europe, to offer a hybrid vehicle. Sure, the Mariner is only slightly better than a regular SUV, with mileage projected in the low 30s in stop-and-go traffic when it runs fully electric, or high-20s on the open road. And calling a 30-mpg SUV a dramatic leap forward in automotive technology is a long stretch of the imagination.

But progress is progress, and it's pretty difficult to deny that even minor improvements should be welcomed from the notoriously stubborn and anti-conservation auto industry.

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