Edelman Clarifies Position on Climate Change, Executive Firing

edelman-logoWe have to admit that we’re a little surprised that VICE has assumed the role of public relations overseer, but last week the publisher’s Motherboard blog earned a lot of attention by calling out Edelman over its decision not to join other firms in promising The Guardian that they would not represent climate change “skeptics.”

This was an interesting development particularly because in 2009, then-VP of CSR/Sustainability Mark Grundy told our co-founder Joe Ciarallo that “in terms of the facts, I am in no doubt of where we are with this.”

As if to further prove that the publisher is now a force to be reckoned with, Richard Edelman called the blogger himself to explain — and the follow-up post ran yesterday.

Senior Editor Brian Merchant’s query: how, if Edelman believes firmly in climate change, can it also represent the American Petroleum Institute?

The issue has come up before: last year an environmental blogger caught an Edelman rep (who had worked for the EPA in the past) on tape explaining to clients in the coal industry how one can convince concerned environmentalists that they, too, care about the climate even though they stringently oppose any and all related regulations.

Edelman told Merchant that he does, in fact, agree with Grundy and that the firm did not respond to the earlier VICE piece in the proper way. Edelman quotes from the follow-up:

“I’m totally unequivocal about climate change…I just want you to know we’re not bad people.”

Regarding the accidentally leaked email in which now-former US CEO Mark Hass wrote “I do not believe we are obligated in any way to participate”:

“I blame the ham-head who filled out the questionnaire…We do not accept clients that seek to deny climate change.”

Edelman followed that conversation with a brief SOP post on his blog, but Merchant wasn’t convinced.

While API’s website states that emissions from its own product “may be helping to warm our planet”, Merchant goes on to outline the group’s “astroturf” efforts to combat any potential emission regulations, noting that Edelman assisted in these efforts while representing the group.

Edelman told Merchant that API is not “a bad actor” but did not discuss the firm’s past work with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that does not explicitly deny the reality of industry’s effects on climate but does act aggressively to prevent related regulations and has — according to advocacy group PR Watch — gone so far as to argue that increased CO2 in the atmosphere may be a good thing.

Merchant’s voice is ultimately not as powerful as those of industry representatives or the congressmen they seek to influence. But we can safely say that he will not be satisfied with Edelman’s response until the firm either drops the three clients he singled out in the article or admits that those clients do act to promote climate change denial, no matter what the representatives they hire might think.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.