Chocolate Industry

The influence of the father of forestry on the big oil companies

At the ABCs of Big Oil, a new podcast miniseries by Earther and Drilled, climate journalist Amy Westervelt and I spent two episodes examining the oil and gas industry’s centuries-old assault on American education; how he shaped school curricula to limit how Americans think about the climate crisis and how to deal with it. In today’s episode, we take a look at their takeover of high school programs. Listen – we promise we won’t give you a whirl!

For decades, the fossil fuel industry has funded educational materials in high schools that instill a very particular idea of ​​conservation, which views nature as a resource that humans can extract as they need. Melissa Aronczyk, a media studies specialist at Rutgers University’s School of Communication, said the view has its roots in the teachings of a man named Gifford Pinchot.

Known as the father of forestry, Pinchot was the first chief of the Forest Service and twice was governor of Pennsylvania. He is celebrated in textbooks across the United States as the premier conservationist because he advocated for the management of parts of the country to preserve them for future generations. But a closer look at his worldview reveals what he envisioned for the rest of the public lands under his responsibility.

In a 1910 text, Pinchot sets out his views that conservation “also and above all means the recognition of the right of the present generation to the fullest and most necessary use of all the resources with which this country is so abundantly endowed. Conservation requires the welfare of this generation first, and then the welfare of subsequent generations. “

In 1921 Pinchot wrote that forest managers had “made strides” in the public perspective on conservation. Why? Because “we hear less about the influence of forests on climate and health, and more the need for wood”.

This also played out in Pinchot’s politics. Pinchot would once have been close to famous contemporary environmentalist John Muir, but they fell out over a proposal to create a dam in California. Pinchot, unlike Muir, has compromised with the logging and mining companies.

As Aronczyk explained in the episode, Pinchot delivered this message directly to school children by writing high school textbooks. This means that these messages have been forced on American students since the early 1900s, and have formed the basis of extractive industries discourse on students in the decades since.

We saw how it played out. The extractive industry has time and again pushed to open up untouched expanses for their own interests, destroying the ecosystems upon which wildlife and humans depend while lining their pockets. But thanks to this propaganda story, the fossil fuel industry has a good foundation to build on to convince children that it is good, in fact – indigenous peoples, ecosystems and the climate are to hell.

The energy sector’s efforts in high schools exude Pinchot’s ideas. Many of these efforts have focused on the economy, particularly the idea that all environmental decisions must take into account the immediate costs to the economy. In episode two, Kert Davies of the Climate Investigations Center told me about his daughter fed on mining propaganda in elementary school.

“She said we did this really cool lesson today where the teacher gave us a chocolate chip cookie and a toothpick and we had to carefully extract the chocolate chips without breaking the cookie,” a- he declared. “And the lesson was, you can safely mine.”

Davies reviewed the lesson plan and found the American Coal Foundation and other coal interests. And the chocolate chip cookie lesson plan isn’t just for elementary school students, either.

“There are even economics courses where they put a price on the toothpick and a price on refurbishment. How much mess you make with the cookie [dictates] how much land you have to pay to reclaim, and you pay yourself for how many chocolate chips you get from the cookie, ”he said. That’s right, you can see these lesson plans all over the internet. They have also been linked to the coal industry.

It’s not just coal, either. Oil and gas are also very present in secondary education. To take an example, the STEM Careers Coalition was launched in 2019 by the educational arm of the Discovery Channel. Discovery Education has a solid reputation among educators for producing accessible and stylish material. If you check out the site for this new project, it looks legitimate.

But if you take a closer look, things get weird. Check out the coalition’s ‘About Us’ page and you’ll see that oil and gas interests are listed as partners. Oil giant Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, and electricity and energy utility AES all give them money. And so, it seems, is If / Then Philanthropies, which is listed as a “content partner”. This group was started in 2018 by a woman named Lyda Hill, heir to an oil fortune amassed by tycoon HL Hunt. At one point, Hunt was the richest man in the nation thanks, in part, to the values ​​Pinchot stood for about mining. This isn’t Discovery’s only rodeo with the oil and gas money, but it’s particularly disgusting to use those funds for stuff for the kids.

We have contacted Discovery Education for comment and will update this article if we have any news. We would like to know more about this project. If you are a teacher who has used Stem Careers Coalition materials in your classroom, please contact us. You can reach us at [email protected] or tip anonymously through Drilled’s SecureBox.

Amy Westervelt and Trevor Gowan contributed reporting for this article.