In this special bonus episode, Andrea talks with award-winning investigative climate journalist, Amy Westervelt, about the new season of her podcast, Drilled. Season 8, Light Sweet Crude, centers on Exxon’s activities in Guyana. Unlike the climate influence Andrea (strongly) encourages, this fossil fuel giant Amy reports on so well has perfected a more negative influence. Exxon is buying up social brands (like sports teams) in every corner of the country to fuel their power over it. If average citizens aren’t benefiting from an oil boom does oil really equal prosperity? Amy has thoughts, and this conversation will make you want to head right on over to Drilled to subscribe and hear the full story of Exxon’s influence in Guyana.
Drilled Podcast, Amy Westervelt
Living Change: A Quest For Climate Leadership, Produced by Larj Media
Amy Westervelt / Drilled Podcast
Andrea Learned (00:05):
I’m Andrea Learned, and welcome to Living Change, a podcast exploring unconventional climate leadership. I talk to people who’ve converted their personal values into business and policy decisions in a load of different sectors. I believe that the more we’re visible about these changes, the more we chart the way for other leaders wanting to create new social norms. In this special episode of Living Change Climate journalist and podcaster, Amy Westervelt and I discuss her new podcast series: Light, Sweet Crude, a crossover of her award-winning podcast Drilled. Amy dives deep into ExxonMobil’s activities in Guyana, debunking the moral case for fossil fuels. As a longtime climate journalist, she has a 30,000 foot view of what’s going on. We get into the lessons learned from watching bad corporate influence, things like the importance of local reporting and big picture narrative framing, something the good guys are just not as good at. We even had a light bulb moment over a new role corporations should consider.
Amy Westervelt (01:03):
Andrea Learned (01:04):
How’s it going? Good. It’s great to meet you.
Amy Westervelt (01:06):
I was like, I’ve like interacted with her on social media before, but we’ve never talked . Yeah.
Andrea Learned (01:11):
This is the thing, and I don’t know how long I think it was, this is the thing that I actually wanna talk about a little bit, is climate media on Twitter. Like it’s you got, yeah. How are, how are you feeling about not the, you know, the where it is right now, but just that’s how I found you. That’s how we started to engage. Yeah. How is climate media feeling about Twitter right now? And tell me why you do use it a lot and why you have.
Amy Westervelt (01:38):
Yeah. Um, I don’t, I, I feel, I feel conflicted about Twitter right now just because of all of the stuff that’s been happening there. And then there has been like a huge uptick in trolls. Yeah. And a lot of like, um, you know, kind of climate denial bots. There’s this one bot that just like posts Noah data
Having climate tweet, which nice . Yeah. Um, but anyway, so that, you know, and also I’m, I’m finding that like, um, I’m not seeing as much of the people that I actually follow my feed mm-hmm. . So it’s harder to keep track of what’s going on with different climate things unless I’m just like going to specific people’s profiles mm-hmm. and looking at what they’ve been saying. Um, it’s weird. It’s weird. So I’ve been, I, like, I have a Mastodon account now too. Yeah. And there’s some interesting stuff happening over there as well, and I’ve been just spending a lot less time on Twitter, which is great for getting actual work done, so. Oh,
Andrea Learned (02:47):
That’s good. Good. Who
Amy Westervelt (02:48):
Knew? I know
Andrea Learned (02:49):
well, it’s interesting. I mean, I’m really glad that I’ve been following you for a while and that we’ve engaged a little bit because it, it’s super exciting to watch your work and it’s, thank you. This new, uh, show is really, there’s only two episodes up so far. Yeah. And it’s been amazing. But the thing that I noted just kind of leading in with social media is talking the second episode, talking with the publisher, Glenn.
Amy Westervelt (03:13):
Andrea Learned (03:13):
Right. And so, I mean, I, I could just jump right in, but the deal is that he is just like la right? He’s on this and he’s on this. And so tell me a little bit about when, like, that’s a big deal that this guy is like, fully trying to use it. So tell me about that.
Amy Westervelt (03:27):
Yeah, it’s really interesting. And actually like, um, I think I, I might put this out as a bonus episode cuz I had a long conversation about with him, about like sort of the, the parameters of that as a publisher and like how much you should and shouldn’t be trying to influence, you know, public opinion about things Yeah. Or politics or whatever. And he kind of sees himself as a publisher as like, well, he’s like, I’m not a journalist, I’m a publisher. So it’s different. But also like, you know, I am also a citizen of this country, so I should be allowed to have opinions about how the country is being run and things like that. But anyway, it was interesting, but he is very like really out there on social media making videos on TikTok and he’s on YouTube and he, like, he’s, you know, doing stuff all, all the time. He has a newspaper and a radio station and he, um, he likes to, his main thing is to translate the news into local dialect, which they call Creoles
Andrea Learned (04:30):
Amy Westervelt (04:31):
Yes. As a way to like, speak to predominantly like the, the working class, um, population there. So it’s pretty interesting how he, how he uses it. I mean, he’s, he’s gotten really into TikTok. Like he, he’s making like a video a day. He’s got like a green screen. He is really like elaborate sets and isn’t
Andrea Learned (04:52):
He just using it like a verb too? I tiktoked I just,
Amy Westervelt (04:56):
I I’m TikTok you again today. Like he’s, it’s yeah, he’s very entertaining. I thought
Andrea Learned (05:00):
It was so cool. But it kind of gets right into kind of the influence that you’re talking about, the influence of Exxon there, which is, and we can get deeper into it, right. Which is advertorials and all the stuff that we’re gonna talk about. And he’s just like, yeah, what, how can I even, you know, come up with balancing that? And, and so I guess the question there would be how into listening to social media or following TikTok or whatever are the people. So tell me about the balance. Obviously it’s hugely out of proportion, but what’s the balance of people that are paying attention to him versus reading advertorials or whatever?
Amy Westervelt (05:36):
You know, actually, I think he’s having a lot of influence. And I say that because I, the things that Exxon starts to do marketing videos on are often the things that he’s like getting people riled up about.
Andrea Learned (05:49):
Oh my gosh, I love that.
Amy Westervelt (05:50):
It’s so interesting. So yeah, like they, he’s been talking about this contract thing there for a long time where he’s like, it’s not really 50 50 because they are paying themselves back for expenses before anything gets split and all of this stuff. Like, he’s really been hammering on the point that this contract that Exxon has with the government of Guyana is not fair to Guyana, and that they’re never gonna make any money off of it and all that stuff. And so Exxon just put up a bunch of billboards all around Georgetown being like 50 50. It’s a fair deal, you know? And I’m like, wow, Glen Glen’s getting to him.
Andrea Learned (06:25):
They’re using his phrasing in his, oh, you know what? That he’s got a lot of influence. That’s huge, isn’t it?
Amy Westervelt (06:32):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s really big. So yeah, I mean, he’s really, um, I do think, and of course like people criticize him too. They’re like, oh, he’s just mad because he’s not getting rich off of the oil. Or, you know, he, um, doesn’t understand like what it took for Exxon to, you know, get this going and, you know, it’s perfectly fair that they pay themselves back some expenses and all of that kind of stuff too. Um, but yeah, he’s definitely having, uh, an influence and he’s not afraid to like be very public. Um, so yeah.
Andrea Learned (07:09):
That’s incredible. So the episode, the contract is the second episode of Light Sweet Crude, and it’s incredible. And so can you give hahaha a short synopsis of what that is for, for, for us today? Yeah. . Yes.
Amy Westervelt (07:24):
So, um, Exxon in 1999, actually like, um, inked, uh, a contract with Guyana, and at that point it was Exxon in partnership with Shell. And they, you know, got an agreement in place to do some exploratory drilling off the shore of Guyana and like around, uh, the coast and land and stuff too. But they didn’t really like do much because they were both in Venezuela at the time and other parts of South America where it was a lot easier to get at the oil. And nobody knew quite what the deal was in Guyana. But then in 2008, Exxon started exploring in earnest offshore, still wasn’t really finding much shell pieced out. And in 2015, Exxon announced like, oh, we found a lot of oil. We think there’s like a considerable amount of oil here. Um, and started drilling. So they, um, inked a new contract in 2016, and that’s the contract that’s in place now. And theoretically it’s a 50 50 profit share between the oil companies and the country, the government of Guyana. But the way that it’s been structured is that the oil companies can take 75% off the top, um, to pay themselves back for various costs. And those costs continue to grow as they like look for more and more oil offshore and drill more wells. So the tab just kind of keeps getting
Andrea Learned (08:57):
And people of Guyana will not get anything it seems like. Right.
Amy Westervelt (09:01):
That’s like, that’s kind of the, that’s what a lot of financial analysts have said. Now what they’re doing about that, and this, this is like maybe a little bit of a spoiler, but it’s gonna be in the news soon too. So, okay. Um, in April, the government of Guyana is going to have a big auction and they’re going to auction off oil blocks to various other companies. Exxon has bought in to like, be able to be a bid as well. So they might end up, you know, doing another contract with Axon on those blocks, or they might end up doing a contract with Chevron, which is one of the companies that’s interested. Shell, like, there’s a lot of companies that have paid, there’s like a fee you have to pay to get access to the, the seismic data and whatnot to, to put a bid in. So instead, so what Guyana has said is like, basically, look, we can’t, there’s no way we’re gonna be able to renegotiate this contract. Like, you know, if Exxon wanted to renegotiate, it would only be like, to try to make it more beneficial to themselves, like their company. They’re not gonna be like, yeah, let’s sit down and, you know, make this pencil out worse for us. You know? Right, right,
Andrea Learned (10:14):
Amy Westervelt (10:14):
Um, so the government has said, well, we’ll just open it up to other companies because if we can get a couple of contracts in place that are more lucrative to us, then that kind of gets everyone off our back about not getting enough money in off on
Andrea Learned (10:28):
This deal. Right. Right. So, which
Amy Westervelt (10:31):
Is very interesting. Yeah,
Andrea Learned (10:33):
Very interesting to see what happens to that. The other interesting thing right now that, that this show is just coming out is the I P C C report. . So That’s right. So it’s just like every story Oh, the, it’s like the IG indignation doesn’t, well, you can’t even, that isn’t enough.
Amy Westervelt (10:51):
I know, I know. Yeah. So, yeah, the I P C C has once again said, there cannot be any more new fossil fuel developments.
Andrea Learned (11:00):
Amy Westervelt (11:01):
Okay. They been saying it. Um, you know, and it’s, but it, it’s a really complicated issue because, and this is why actually we wanted to do this season on Yes.
Andrea Learned (11:09):
Amy Westervelt (11:10):
It’s a, it’s a really good example of what’s going on kind of in the world right now. For the last four or five years. A lot of global south country leaders have been saying like, well, if you don’t want us to drill for oil, then we need, uh, money from somewhere else to be able to adapt to climate change, transition to renewables, all of this stuff, right? Mm-hmm. and have been saying rightly so, like, how dare the global North tell us not to develop our fossil fuel resources when you guys did it for, you know, a hundred years or more. Right. Right, right. Um, and so, you know, it’s like, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. The problem is the global climate system is the global climate system, and in many cases we’re talking about countries that will be hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change.
Mm-hmm. . So it’s this real, it’s this really like, kind of ridiculous situation where, because the global north has not come through on commitments that they’ve made to pay for climate adaptation and to pay climate reparations and to actually help the global south transition, they are in the position of having to pay for climate adaptation by developing fossil fuels, which doesn’t make any sense at all. . Right, right, right. Um, so that’s very much kind of the, the predicament for Guyana. 90% of Guyana’s population lives on the coast. 90%. Wow. It will be underwater by 2030.
Andrea Learned (12:49):
I mean, that’s pretty soon.
Amy Westervelt (12:51):
That’s very soon. It’s the, it’s the first year that analysts are saying like, could possibly be when they like, start to get more oil money in. Oh, just, just for context, . Wow. You know? Oh. So it’s really, you know, so as we kind of, you know, build through the season, we’re really looking at like, okay, what are the trade-offs that are being made here? What are the climate implications of this? You know, how do we evaluate this idea that fossil fuels drive development and are necessary to end poverty and all of this stuff? Because it’s, it’s a very entrenched narrative. Mm-hmm. , but actually, if you look at the economics data from 1980 onward, none of the global south countries that got into oil have wound up better off. It’s like, it’s it, you know, like maybe you have a little bit of a spike and maybe even on paper it looks like, oh, the GDP has gone up.
But if you look at per capita wealth, no. If you look at things like education or even access to energy, cuz that’s another big thing that the industry is like, oh, well, you know, we need to get poor people fossil fuels. Right. They can claim it’s that. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. They claim that Nigeria, which, you know, has been in the oil business for a really long time, is last in the world Oh. Of energy access. So I’m like, if you’re gonna make that argument, like you might wanna invest in, in like actually getting the energy to people so that they feel like they are getting something out of it, you know, , because right now, like global oil majors get rich uhhuh, and that’s pretty much it. Yeah. You know? Um, so yeah, it’s really like, it, it reminds me of what happened with, um, cigarettes and now actually with combustion engine automobiles, Uhhuh where like, as you know, the, the US and Europe and other, you know, northern countries start to pass regulation on these things. Mm-hmm. companies just shift the market elsewhere. It’s happening with too. It’s like, you know, it gets dumped on the global south and then, you know, there’s all of this sort of, uh, ru like rhetorical gymnastics done to convince people in the global south that it’s a gift. You know, I call it, I, I told something the other day, I feel like fossil fuels are the pox infested blanket of today. . Like, it’s really not. Yeah.
Andrea Learned (15:14):
The, what you were talking about the social, kind of the influence, what was the term that you used? It’s just like they’re, uh, supporting the cricket team and making it a big Oh yeah. I want this fascinating Yes. Building social license. Let’s dig in on that. Oh my goodness.
Amy Westervelt (15:29):
It’s so interesting. So yeah, in, they do this in like the US and all over the world too, oil companies in general. So, you know, like Shell is the, the sponsor of Jazz Fest in New Orleans.
Andrea Learned (15:41):
Amy Westervelt (15:42):
That. Right. , they sponsor like a bunch of different museums everywhere. Aquariums, they love to do aquarium exhibits that show like how
Andrea Learned (15:50):
Amy Westervelt (15:52):
Offshore platforms are for like fishing Sea life . Yes. It’s like, look, it provides something for Coral to grow on.
Andrea Learned (16:00):
I’m, oh my goodness. Oh, that term that, that just really got to me. Um, because it’s the, it’s the greenwashing and just to bring it back kind of to what I work on, which is trying to do the opposite. Right. So this is, are there ways that this influence, so in, in the corporate sustainability world, say there’s a lot of advising, start to write up ads, start to whatever, whatever. Right. So one of the bigger topics I had for you was, you now know what all this influence is doing kind of negatively do. Have you seen like, well shoot, if corporate leaders would just take these two tools and leverage ’em better, we could maybe counter this. Have you seen anything like that that you could point out?
Amy Westervelt (16:43):
That’s a good question. Um, I don’t know the, like, the problem is often that the, the industry has been doing it for so long and so broadly, so it’s like, it’s not just an op-ed. It’s like at the same time they’ll have, you know, a program running in k a 12 schools.
Andrea Learned (17:04):
Amy Westervelt (17:05):
Um, the jazz fast sponsorship and a bunch of museums, um, you know, lobbying on Capitol Hill, lobbying at the state level, lobbying at the local level, and like a weekly op-ed and their CEO is like going on all of the cable shows and like, you know, framing the
Andrea Learned (17:23):
Narrative, they’re so far ahead and their money is so in all these areas before that, anyone who’s kind of starting to think about doing it on the positive side, it’s just like a huge mountain. They don’t think they could ever climb out.
Amy Westervelt (17:35):
It is. But I do think that there’s like a couple things. Well, and also I think it’s important to remember too, that they’ve been doing this for like over a hundred years. That’s why they’re so good at it. Yeah. You know, like they have, they were like the early beta testers of like market research and, and all of that kind of stuff too, you know, so like, so yeah. Like they’ve been, that, that was like in the early 19 hundreds already, standard Oil of New Jersey was doing like, market surveys and really drilling down into, you know, and getting really, really specific about like who like would re like, which messages would resonate with which audiences and all of that kind of stuff. So, so like, I think number one, like don’t beat yourself up for not being able to immediately counteract that because it’s like, it’s a lot, you know.
Andrea Learned (18:20):
Thank you. Yes. Number one. number one. Yeah. Well, number one, don’t think it’s over already.
Amy Westervelt (18:26):
Andrea Learned (18:27):
Right. I think that’s exactly’s a good point to make. Okay. So what’s number two?
Amy Westervelt (18:30):
I actually think that people need to invest more time and, and money into, like, thinking through narrative framing. And that sounds really wonky and like abstract, but I, I like, this is the thing that I think the industry does so well and like, is, is decide like what framing best, um, like most benefits them. And then, and then they figure out, okay, what are all the ways that we’re gonna seed this? Mm-hmm. , the, what I see, uh, corporate sustainability people doing and like people in the climate movement doing a lot is like starting with the particular tool and then like, figuring it out. Yeah. Versus like, okay, how do, like, how do we wanna change people’s minds? And then like, what are the things that could actually get us there?
Andrea Learned (19:18):
Well, at a very, very small scale, one of the things that I see is literally people will call me for advice and be like, okay, we wanna get on, you know, on the cover of whatever. And I’m like, does, has anyone heard from your CEO e o for the last five years on this topic? No. . Right. So it’s, it’s building, building social capital and to, and also to your That’s right point. That’s right. Like this narrative thing is really interesting. Have you seen some of the publicity, just as an aside, have you seen some of the publicity lately about kind of Hollywood and changing storytelling in Hollywood? Have you seen any of that?
Amy Westervelt (19:50):
Yes. Yes. Which I think is really, it’s really important. And I feel like there again, there’s this huge moment, right, in Hollywood right now where like, there’s like, people are more interested, there’s money mm-hmm. , um, being thrown at these things like, you know, don’t look up, did really well. And that helped to unlock a lot of mm-hmm. Interest in these things. Yeah. Um, but there’s huge potential for very problematic narratives to get baked in because in a lot of cases, like even to the extent that, you know, I know there’s projects like the Good Energy Project, and there’s another one called Climate Spring that’s in the UK that are doing great work on trying to connect, you know, screenwriters and directors with climate experts. Yeah. Um, but climate is one of those things where I think a lot of people think they have a grasp on it.
Um, and it’s so much bigger than what most people really necessarily know. And especially like, there’s just like, there’s like, not everyone can have like 20 years worth of history on what’s been going on in their head, you know? Mm-hmm. . So, like, for example, someone told me the other day that they got pitched a story from this screenwriter, and it was like a romcom and this and that. And it’s like, she was, she’s like, yeah, I was reading it and I was like, this is so great. And then one of the plot, um, things in it was like that these were two climate scientists and they were going to an international climate summit, and that one of them, um, wanted to like fudge the numbers so that people would understand how urgent the issue was. Right. And I was like, um, this is literally climate gate . And like, yeah. So she was like, oh, no. Like, you know, so she was able to tell this guy, like, like, okay, let me sit you down and tell me about, tell you about this thing that happened and why this is like, problematic. And he was like, oh, I had no idea. But of course you wouldn’t, because like, that’s such a tiny thing to know about, you know? Um, so Yeah.
Andrea Learned (21:49):
And how would they, so if there are whole bodies, and so this sector heading in that direction is fantastic. We’re all for it. Yeah. And these, there are these organizations that are trying to help, but what would you even recommend or what would help them do it? Like, I feel like if everyone just read climate journalists and listening to your podcast, it sure would help. You know what I mean?
Amy Westervelt (22:08):
Yeah. I mean, of course. I agree. No, of course
Andrea Learned (22:11):
You do .
Amy Westervelt (22:12):
No, I really think, I mean, it’s the same thing that I think we need in mainstream media across the board, is like, there need to be people like with some amount of authority in the writer’s room or in Yes. The production company or whatever that actually know what they’re talking about. Okay. Like, I actually don’t think it’s something that can be solved by like just bringing in a consultant for a few hours. Okay, great. You know? Yes. Um, I feel like, I don’t know, like almost, I almost wonder if like, there maybe there needs to be like a, a few companies that like just specialize in that and like they partner with lots of bigger companies or something because so
Andrea Learned (22:52):
Would there be the chief climate science storytelling per, like, so, so corporations have a chief sustainability officer. Right. But it, so it’s almost like, yeah. I I I so agree that you that and that you have to, like, you have to, you have to have someone on staff doing that. It’s almost like the intimacy coordinator right now. We have, there’s an intimacy coordinator on these sets. Hello? To having some sort of climate
Amy Westervelt (23:18):
Science. That’s so interesting. You’re right. I hadn’t thought about that, but Yes, exactly. Like something like that. Yes. You’re
Andrea Learned (23:23):
Doing intimacy wrong and we’ve gotta change things. And so that’s what climate is, right?
Amy Westervelt (23:27):
Yes. Yes. That’s a great parallel because it’s similarly like kind of niche, but also huge, you know, like, but
Andrea Learned (23:35):
Also huge with the impact. I mean, I’ve been watching that Hollywood space and I interviewed somebody earlier in the season on that, and I’m just going… This is amazing. Um, yeah. And, and the influence, so I, what I talk about in lot of my world Yeah. Work is climate influence, right? Yeah. And Living Change is a podcast, but so influence, right. Going back to what we were talking about a little earlier, which is the greenwash and the negative. Yeah. So what are these large bodies of sectors Yeah. That have some major influence potentially, and how can we help trigger that? So yeah. Hollywood, yeah. Corporations, like get people to really, and let’s talk a little bit about pledges versus acting over and over again. Yes.
Amy Westervelt (24:17):
Right. Because, well, I think it’s, it is tough for corporations right now because I feel like there’s this whole system that’s been created that like rewards companies for mar marketing, right? Yes. I mean, literally, like, that’s what it, it’s like all, there’s so many of these like, um, CSR awards that, that just go off of like your CSR report, which can, could theoretically just be marketing. Yes. You
Andrea Learned (24:43):
Amy Westervelt (24:44):
Yeah. Yeah. There’s so many companies that have, their chief sustainability officer is in the marketing department, right? Like, um, they’re not in operations. They’re not in, you know, so like, I think that, um, thinking about it in a way that is different from the way corporations that are really just trying to hide emissions have done it, is like a really good start. Like, I actually think that the companies that are serious about it need to kind of like chuck out what’s been done before and think about like, what are we Yes. Hallelujah. We actually trying to do, and like, you know, like, not what are we trying to market or what are we like trying to promote, but like, what are we actually trying to do mm-hmm. , and then figure out the, like the marketing piece around it. Mm-hmm. , you know, versus for the most part, it’s often like the marketing first and then figuring out the nuts and bolts later. And like, you know, I think that’s not great because actually, like, um, companies, especially when companies within the same industry can come together and sort of like Yes. Consolidate some of that power and influence, they can really move the needle a lot. You know? Um,
Andrea Learned (25:55):
My argument would also be that we need a couple first movers. Like we need like one or two. And, and one of the things that I look at is what we’re actually looking for Yes. Is a perceived shift in social norm of leadership. We don’t need the shift to actually be scientific. We need it to look as if the ball is already rolling. Yeah. That, that’s, I think that’s huge. And with regard to your work Yes. And the greenwashing, right? So Yes. It’s greenwashing make that sucker so irrelevant that those companies look like buffoons because all the coal companies, whether they have money or not, are coming out and being smarter about TOS or whatever it is. Right. We have a couple leaders that step out and do something different and take boulder steps. So Yeah. I, yeah. There’s so, so much power in this influence. And I, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I we’ll pause there because I could just go on, but it Yeah. There’s a real opportunity. So let’s go back to light sweet crude and talk about your role as a climate media person. And Yeah. The, the beginning of the first episode is, Hmm. My hotel room was canceled again.
Amy Westervelt (27:09):
Andrea Learned (27:09):
Right? Talk about that. Yes. A little scary.
Amy Westervelt (27:12):
Yes. And actually, like, we cut some stuff out of that episode because, um, because my lawyer was like, Ooh,
Andrea Learned (27:19):
You know? Okay. Yeah. Yeah.
Amy Westervelt (27:20):
It’s just like Exxon in particular, oil companies in general are not super, like, friendly to journalists. And, you know, we see proof of this all the time. Um, and Exxon in particular has kind of a reputation for like, trying to intimidate journalists. So like, I interview this guy in the first episode, Steve Call, who wrote an excellent book called Private Empire about the way that Exxon operates, like, around the world. And he said, , he was like, uh, I covered Al-Qaeda, I covered the cia. And like Exxon was by far the scariest and the most intimidating and like, hard to cover.
Andrea Learned (28:02):
I mean, when I, when I listened to that, I was like, you know, I almost had to stop, because you’re right. Yeah. He makes such an incredible point.
Amy Westervelt (28:09):
, you know, I was like, Ooh. Um, but he’s like, you know, yeah. Like, they do these things to try to intimidate people and they’re very good at it. And, you know, and they’re very powerful. I think that, like, he did a great job in that book of really showing how like, these global companies in many ways are more powerful than any one government, right? Mm-hmm. , because they have so much influence across multiple governments mm-hmm. that they kind of operate like above, you know, above the laws of any one government. Um, and that can make them a little, you know, scary to cover. Um, a
Andrea Learned (28:48):
Little bit. Little bit. And you, you’re, and that’s your, your work is digging in on that and this investigative reporting style. Yeah. So how did you, in your career get brave enough to go? Yeah, no, what? I’m gonna super dig in.
Amy Westervelt (29:01):
I’m gonna do it anyway. . Um, I think I just have like a thick skin about that stuff. Like, I, I, I, I, yeah, I don’t know. I feel like I just kind of, I’m not a big rule follower and
Andrea Learned (29:16):
Amy Westervelt (29:17):
When someone tells me no, I’m kind of like, are you sure? Cuz I feel like I could. Um, so, so yeah, I think that’s partly it. And also I just, I have like a really, like, I don’t know, overdeveloped sense, sense of sort of like righteous indignation. I, I’m like very like, you know, into underdog movies and all of that kind of stuff. And I feel like for me, I’m like, on climate, I kind of feel like the, like most of us are the underdog and there’s this, you know, group of very powerful people that mm-hmm. have been able to, to do things mostly cuz we don’t know about them or, you know, we don’t have, um, or we don’t think we have the power to stop them. But I think that the more that people know and understand the, the more, I don’t know, like the better armed they are to actually like, show up to the fight. And like, that feels important to me. So,
Andrea Learned (30:12):
Amy Westervelt (30:13):
Andrea Learned (30:14):
Yeah. One of the things that you, you’d mentioned, and then you dig in and you’re speaking with this reporter, Kiana. Yeah. And, and one of the things that I’m always interested in climate reporting, and especially these big stories that are far off right, you really rely on some locals on the ground. She’s incredible. But I’m certain you’ve run across
Amy Westervelt (30:32):
Those people. She’s really incredible.
Andrea Learned (30:32):
Tell us a little bit about local reporting, her and specific and just broadly and all of your work, how important that is and what it makes a difference about
Amy Westervelt (30:40):
It. Yeah, it’s huge. So her name’s Kiana Wilberg, she’s a reporter in Guyana. She’s from there. Um, she’s been on the oil and gas beat for the last five or six years. And initially the, I met her because we were looking to hire someone on the ground in Guyana. Um, and purely coincidentally, my producer on the show had had a professor at university who was from Guyana, no
Andrea Learned (31:05):
Amy Westervelt (31:06):
Yes. Who was a professor at the university there for a while. And so she asked him like, just on the off chance, Hey, do you know anyone that’s an oil and gas reporter? And he recommended Kiana, and that’s how we met her. Wow. Um, and she’s incredible. She’s really young, but like, so good and like so determined to do a good job. And she has this real, like, she has, she’s quite religious too, and she feels that like this is her calling and that like she is, um, she made a promise to God that she would like keep working on this reporting. And, which is interesting because, you know, part of what’s happening, part of the social licensing that’s happening in Guyana is that both Exxon and the government now are hiring journalists away from their newspapers to work in their corporate communications departments.
Andrea Learned (31:59):
Amy Westervelt (32:00):
And, um, they have tried to hire Kiana twice now, and they, you know, they offer like a big salary and a free car and an amazing title and like all of this stuff, right? Yep. But she has this feeling of like, you know, a I have a responsibility to my country and my fellow citizens, and b you know, I made this commitment because she, she wanted to be a teacher, and when she tried to go be a teacher, they told her that she looked too young for the boys to take her seriously.
Andrea Learned (32:33):
Oh, . I
Amy Westervelt (32:34):
Know. And so she like, but thank
Andrea Learned (32:37):
Goodness. Right. Thank
Amy Westervelt (32:38):
Goodness. Because that it worked out well for, for all of us. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So she, um, she prayed and a, you know, sort of asked for a, a, a job that would still allow her to read and write. And the next day she got a, an, an interview for this job at the newspaper and, you know, sort of away she went. So, um, so yeah, she’s, she’s amazing. So yeah, we started out having her doing some interviews for us on the ground because it was covid and we couldn’t travel and we kept having, like, we kept planning stuff and then it would get canceled because there would be a new wave or whatever. Right. . Right. You know, so we were working with her back and forth the whole time. And then, um, and then when we went to Guyana, my producer and I, like, we spent several hours with Kiana over the course of, you know, several days.
And I was just, I was like, I think she has to like, be in it. Like, she’s so compelling when she talks about the changes that she’s seen and, you know, like everything that has been happening. Like, I, I want it to be in her voice, not like me describing it or whatever, you know, so. Right. Um, so anyway, then we had to kind of like shift gears a little bit, but, um, but yeah, she’s, she’s been huge because we can ask her too. You know, we had her walk us through the sort of fraught political landscape in Guyana, which is very racialized Oh, okay. And very complicated, you know mm-hmm. . And we had her, like, there’s been little things that I’ll see in the news where I’m like, wait, why is this happening? And she can explain it. And I, I feel like that’s really critical if you’re coming from outside of the country to, you know, not just like, um, swoop in and sort of like, what a lot of journalists will do is like, come in and ask someone for like, contacts and information and then that’s it, you know?
Oh, okay. And not use their help. Yeah. And well, and also like, not really credit them or pay them, or like, yikes. You know? Yeah. So I, I think it’s important to actually like, work with someone who’s on the ground and like, who’s from that place so that you’re not, you know, stepping af foul of like certain cultural things too. Mm-hmm. , like, there’s a, you know, it’s a very different place from, from the US and we wanted to make sure that, you know, um, we weren’t being thoughtless , you know? Yeah. Um, so yeah, so actually like she and Glen, the publisher that we were talking about, they’re the ones that like, um, got me really thinking about the cricket team sponsorship, because at our ho like the, at our hotel, the first day I came downstairs in the lobby and there were all these cricket players wearing, um, their uniforms, and it just said like, Exxon across the front.
Oh no. And I was like, wow, like that’s really something, you know, . And so I was talking to them about it, and they were like, yeah, actually, like that was a really smart move on Exxon’s behalf because everyone in Guyana loves cricket. And before Exxon, they couldn’t watch the games on tv. So that was a big deal. It was like, people were like, thank God for Exxon. Now we can watch cricket on tv. You know, and like, um, yeah. So anyway, just stuff like that, which you wouldn’t think about like an oil company, you know, sponsoring the cricket team or whatever. But that’s a big part of why they do sports sponsorships. It’s actually like the number one thing that they spend ad money on is advertising in, um, sports, sporting events, and then Yeah. Like supporting, um, teams and stadiums.
Andrea Learned (36:16):
It’s so funny that you say that because I don’t go to a lot of professional sports or whatever, but I’ve been, I don’t know, I think it was last season Ted Lasso, right? He, oh, there’s this, there’s this airline. And Yes,
Amy Westervelt (36:27):
That was such a great song.
Andrea Learned (36:28):
Wasn’t isn’t that a great episode I just was like, and so it’s the same thing, but it goes back to this social license thing. Yeah. Right. It’s like, that’s right. Because I, I actually, I was listening to the, your second episode on the contract right before I came in and I heard the part about the cricket and just that I was like, okay, yeah, that’s just too much. Yeah. I, there’s, it’s really, really creepy and super, super I impact, you know, powerful to do it that way. Yeah.
Amy Westervelt (36:56):
Yeah. Um, yeah, it totally reminded me of that, um, episode of Ted Lasso too, or that little arc.
Andrea Learned (37:03):
The little arc. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Amy Westervelt (37:05):
Oh, it was really, yeah.
Andrea Learned (37:08):
So it’s the part of that, the bigger, speaking of the bigger arc or the bigger narrative, you know, as we were talking about Hollywood and what could change is this sort of idea of debunking the idea that oil is bringing economic development and prosperity. Yes. And they’re just coming in with the storyline, oh, we are helping everybody.
Amy Westervelt (37:25):
We’re just saving the poor. Yeah. Yeah. This is such an interesting, and, and like entrenched framing where it’s basically so like, you know, throughout the nineties and early two thousands, it was like the fossil fuel industry, uh, would c like every time they would talk about international climate negotiations right? They would say, this is not fair because the US is being asked to do, you know, all these emissions cuts, but like the, like, all these other countries don’t have to, and that’s not fair. Right. You know, um, that’s, that was the messaging that they used to block the Kyoto protocol, for example, and all that. Now, the, like us doesn’t want oil anymore or whatever, like is supposedly trying to get off of oil mm-hmm. , the global north is trying to transition off of fossil fuels. Right. And so now it’s that it would be unfair to not allow the global south to have fossil fuels for longer.
So they’ve completely switched their tune because now they need those countries not just to develop oil and gas, but to, to get hooked on it, to use it. So, um, it’s really, yeah, it’s really interesting. So now the story is, you know, you can’t put solving the climate crisis above solving energy poverty. Mm-hmm. , the energy poverty issue is more urgent. And by that they just mean, you know, access to regular energy, like to, um Right. Regular access to energy. Mm-hmm. , so like consistent access to affordable energy. Um, where the, the like debunking part comes in is, like I pointed out about Nigeria before, there aren’t a lot of examples of, you know, starting a fossil fuel industry actually solving the energy poverty issue, including in our own country, by the way. Mm-hmm. , like, you know, there are still people whose like electricity bills are getting shut off in, you know, in Right.
Oil and gas states in the US mm-hmm. . So if proximity to oil and gas development was what dictated your access to or affordability of energy, then I think things would look very different in most countries in the world. Um, so, you know, and then the, the economics data doesn’t back it up either. So they make the argument all the time that, you know, uh, access to fossil fuels, uh, improves quality of life, extends lifespan, you know, all of these things. And actually there’s peer reviewed economic studies that have disproven that mm-hmm. for the last decade plus that have shown that actually, you know, yes, there’s a certain, um, level of energy that’s needed to, to deliver, you know, a certain quality of life and a certain lifespan, but a, it doesn’t have to be fossil fuel energy mm-hmm. . And there’s diminishing returns on that. So, you know, once you hit like the, what, you know, what you need to cover the basics, more energy does not improve your quality of life or your lifespan mm-hmm. or your health or any of those things. Right. Um, so anyway. Yeah. It’s, but it’s, it’s a very compelling narrative. It’s not just for, you know, business people and you know, the fossil fuel industry, but I think the climate movement too has been very quick to say, oh yeah, you’re right. Like, as part of a just transition Oh,
Andrea Learned (40:47):
Amy Westervelt (40:47):
You need to let these countries, you know, develop fossil fuels for longer. Yeah. And actually it’s been interesting to talk to some of the organizers in those countries who are like, actually, we see that as another form of racism, colonialism, whatever. Because what you’re saying is dump the stuff nobody wants anymore on us. Mm-hmm. , well, you guys transition to a better, you know, cleaner energy situation with less air pollution and,
Andrea Learned (41:17):
And they’re gonna get their full due of years and years and years of this. It’s like, no, no, no. You learn this. We can skip this down here. in Purple South.
Amy Westervelt (41:26):
Exactly. Exactly. So there are quite a few people that are fighting against pipelines and against more fossil fuel development in global south countries, um, who would like to see, you know, yeah. Either a transition to renewables or in some cases hydro, in some cases nuclear. Like there is, you know, something
Andrea Learned (41:47):
Other than fossil fuels. Yeah.
Amy Westervelt (41:48):
But yeah, they’re like, why are you forcing us to get hooked on this thing that everybody says is gonna be worthless in 10 years? You know, that’s the other thing too, is like, oil companies have been worrying about what they call stranded assets mm-hmm. for a long time mm-hmm. , which are like, you know, oil reserves that they have a claim to that they’re not gonna be able to, um, to tap and sell before, you know, nobody wants it anymore, right? Mm-hmm. , this is part of why I think that they’re frontloading expenses in Guyana because they wanna make the most money while oil is still relatively high. And before, you know Yeah. Like half of those reserves in Guyana may end up being a stranded asset, we don’t know yet. Um, and if it they are, then it will be Guyana that inherits that problem, not Exxon, um, . Yeah. So, and that’s true of all these other countries too.
Andrea Learned (42:38):
Right? I, what’s, what’s so interesting about what you said about the, the Exxon and the fossil fuel companies knew, and they were doing this global north thing, and then they saw the writing on the wall and switched their narrative. And it kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier, which is why are is are no one is, is no one on the positive side or that knows what to do, thinking that long term in that arc and going, you know, what’s gonna happen? Yes. These companies are gonna start doing this narrative in global South, we should be ready. That’s right. It wasn’t like we couldn’t see that coming. Right.
Amy Westervelt (43:11):
Exactly. Exactly. I think like, yeah, we’ve certainly should have been able to see it coming, um, because I think, you know, it’s quite predictable. Um, and especially like I said, once, you know, you saw, especially after people saw what happened with tobacco, I think mm-hmm. , like the light bulb should have gone off for a lot of folks that like, oh, that’s what fossil fuel companies are gonna do. Mm-hmm. as well. Mm-hmm. , you know, and like I said, they’re doing it with plastic too, where they’re ramping up plastic production even though nobody wants it, and they’re trying to spur more demand for plastic in Africa and other global south areas. And then they’re gonna be like, it’s not our fault. All these countries in Africa just love plastic. They’re
Andrea Learned (43:54):
Demanding it. Right, right.
Amy Westervelt (43:56):
We’re just supplying a demand.
Andrea Learned (43:58):
Yeah. But then it goes to your work, I mean, the bigger picture of climate media, you know how Yeah. So it’s like you’re unearthing these and you’re sort of talking about this and really pointing it out and being loud. Right. Yeah. And then I know there’s this whole organization called Covering Climate, you know, trying to do a better job of it and all of that. It’s just like, is that, are, is covering climate educating people fast enough? Or what do you see the climate media kind of their role and, and are they gonna get on it pretty soon to the degree that we need them to?
Amy Westervelt (44:25):
Yeah, I do think that, well, I think the media, um, has a huge role to play. The media has played a huge role in delaying climate action. Yeah. And I think that it needs to acknowledge that and really like focus on doing, you know, playing a role in, in climate action now mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. Um, because, you know, the media has been used as a tool by various companies for a really long time, and there are still some very entrenched ideas around, you know, oh, um, if I’m gonna quote a climate scientist, I also need to quote an oil ceo, , or, you know, whatever. So that nobody thinks I’m like an activist or biased or whatever. Right, right. And like, look, you know, when we report on stuff, I always go to, um, axon or Shell or Chevron or whoever it is, and make sure that we do really thorough fact checking.
We give them a, an opportunity to comment. Mm-hmm. , I just this morning have been going back and forth with a spokesperson from Exxon about, you know, something that she had a problem with in one of the drilled episodes, which is always, you know, it’s a little like interesting, um, , but like, I’m not like, oh, you shouldn’t even talk to those companies. I just think that like, you need to evaluate what they’re saying through the lens of, you know, what are they trying to achieve by having this conversation with me? Mm-hmm. , what are, what do they want to be getting out to the public and like, does the actual data that I can gather from various sources mm-hmm. back up what they’re saying or not. Like is it just their opinion or is it fact? And like that’s our job as journalists. And I think that like there is starting to be some movement where I think journalists more and more are viewing these companies with like a healthy bit of skepticism mm-hmm. . Um, but unfortunately we’re also at a time when the, the business model for Amelia for media is totally failing. You know, I mean, like, there’s just, just this morning I was reading about the Texas observer being shut. Oh,
Andrea Learned (46:24):
I saw that. Yeah.
Amy Westervelt (46:25):
Um, we’ve ha we’re losing outlets. Um, NPR just laid off 10% of its staff. Right. Um, so I think that, yeah, it’s there again though, actually, I think similar to what I was saying about the Hollywood stuff, I think that more than having like a team of climate reporters or Yes. You know, a whole climate desk or whatever. Right. I think it would be really good to have like a really high level climate editor that’s helping to provide that lens on all of the stories, because that’s really what’s happening. It’s like almost every story has some kind of a climate angle to it. Mm-hmm. and we should be like working those angles in where it makes sense. I mean, you don’t have to shoehorn it into everything, but you don’t have to for the most part. Like, it’s pretty, it’s like pretty obvious layer that’s there. Um, in most stories.
Andrea Learned (47:18):
I think you just came up with a, a new career that is needed that maybe there could be majors in all sorts of gigantic universities. The climate editor, the person that, uh, gives context to anything. And that could be Hollywood, it could be corporations, right. It could be all these sectors. They all need an editor, which is they need some smart person who’s watching the overall thing. Right. The context and the history and can pull their networks and be like, you know what? I’m not sure of this, but I’m, I know exactly who to call and whatever. Exactly. I think you’re onto something. I think we need a whole new career. Yes. I think this is, I think the climate editor is the thing and I, I feel like journalists, you know, you all could have somebody that you can more easily do that with as could I. And anything I’m reporting on or talking about, I think, yeah. I think our job is done here with this podcast because that
Amy Westervelt (48:06):
We did it.
Andrea Learned (48:07):
That was great. So what, a couple more things cuz I would be remiss since the podcast is living Change, one of the things I’m wondering is tell me a little bit about your pivot point personally, like how your be any behavior change where you’re li you were like, oh my goodness, I need to start doing this. Any sort of behavior change or living change, uh, examples that you can tell me about in your life?
Amy Westervelt (48:28):
Yes. Um, I, I actually, I really like this question because I feel like there’s, there’s this kind of false dichotomy in the climate space a lot about like individual action versus systemic change. Yes. And it’s like, no, we need all of it. Like, individual action is how you drive towards systemic change mm-hmm. for the most part. Yep. Also, most of us are part of the like global top 10%, which the I P C C just said like, you know, we’re responsible for like half of the world’s emissions, right? Mm-hmm. , which means that our habits do actually make a difference. Mm-hmm. , and I’m not suggesting that anyone should beat themselves up and say, oh, I can’t hold Exxon accountable because I haven’t stopped using straws or whatever. Right, right, right, right. Is, you know, at all. Um, but I do think it’s important for people to kind of like, you know, take ownership. So anyway, for me, the thing that the things I always like to focus on are non-consumption, um, things. Okay. Because I feel like a lot of times this, this question becomes like, how are you buying different things?
Andrea Learned (49:36):
Oh, yes, yes.
Amy Westervelt (49:37):
Or like, I like it. How are, you know? So I’m like, oh. And
Andrea Learned (49:40):
Then it sounds kind of really judgey, like just right away it sounds
Amy Westervelt (49:43):
Really judgey and it also, it also reduces people’s individual power to, um, purchasing power and not like political power or organizing power or community power or, you know, like those kinds of things. Yeah. So for me, I, there’s a bunch of things like I, you know, try to walk everywhere I can, um, if I can and, and including like, even if it’s gonna take me two hours, I’m like, I, I’ll just walk. You know?
Andrea Learned (50:09):
That’s living change for sure. Yes.
Amy Westervelt (50:11):
I love it. Yeah. And um, but I also am really big on like ju and on having a lot of conversations with people in different communities about
Andrea Learned (50:20):
Like, thank you for saying that.
Amy Westervelt (50:21):
What’s going on? What could we be doing? Like, and in a, in a, a, like a, a non judgy way to,
Andrea Learned (50:27):
In a casual,
Amy Westervelt (50:29):
Yeah. I feel like people need to have the space to be like, I don’t really understand why X, Y, Z, or, you know, well I heard that actually, you know, climate’s not that bad and you know, maybe we don’t need to make really urgent changes or whatever it is. Like I think, or I’m really freaked out about it and I like can’t have a conversation without freaking out. You know, like that’s, all of that is really, really valid and I think it’s helpful for people to be able to just like have a conversation about it mm-hmm. where it’s not so high stakes. Um, so that is something that I like, make a point of doing a lot great with people. And then I also think I’m not like, oh, make sure you vote because I know that, you know, there are a lot of reasons why people feel like their vote is watered down or doesn’t matter as much or whatever.
And I understand why that is, but I also think that especially at the local level, there are a lot of ways to become civically engaged. Yes. And like finding out, you know, what’s really going on in your region, you know? Mm-hmm. , who’s like, I, um, I live in Costa Rica now, but I was living in Tahoe in California, which like is this very beautiful place. There’s like mountains and a lake and you know, it’s lovely. Um, and I think most of the people there had no idea that the guy who was our congressional rep was like a really like prolo climate denying like pro fossil fuels guy, you know? And so there were a lot of, there were a lot of efforts underfoot there to try to just make people aware of that mm-hmm. to be like, hey, because for a long time, I think pre-Trump, especially Americans, were really tuned out to what was happening in local and state politics. Yes. National too. But like, you know, sometimes it feels like it can feel like you’re actually having more of an impact when you’re working at like the county level mm-hmm. or the city level. Mm-hmm. and, and in a big way right now, cities and counties actually have quite a bit of power. You know, they can set like, you know, certain laws Yeah. They can bring, they can hire private law firms mm-hmm. to file lawsuits. All the big climate cases right now are filed on behalf of cities and counties. Mm-hmm.
Andrea Learned (52:55):
, well, two, I mean, I’m so glad you’re seeing this because half of the people I’ve interviewed for season one are local leaders. Right. So Alex That’s awesome. Alex Fisch from Culver City, you know, why does he, why did he ride a bike for transportation? Bowinn Ma, North Vancouver? Like why does she, all these people that I’ve interviewed ride a bike for transportation are a very specifically less car, et cetera, in making changes in bus lanes and the influence that they have. And then I will say to your point, by having influence and by being seen riding a bike or whatever themselves, then Right, right. It’s pushing out. So it’s almost like your conversations, your vote. That’s right. You’re mentioning it reverberates hugely. And I think people don’t be understand that they actually do have influence if they mention, I rode my bike here, or I’m voting for this guy. Oh,
Amy Westervelt (53:42):
Totally. Yeah, totally. Huge, huge influence. And actually there’s a, there’s a lot of research too that shows that if you are a public figure of any kind, talking about climate, that it is actually really important for you to be, to be seen living those beliefs too. Like that cause actually like the hypocrisy there, it’s really
Andrea Learned (54:02):
Amplified. Yes. Yeah. And that’s the whole reason that I’m doing these interviews. So I’m mm-hmm. , thank you. I am so glad that this worked out for us to talk. Amy, thank you so much for your time. I’m super excited. Of course. About light sweet crude. I hope everyone listens to it because it just, it again, it just raises these issues up and I, we’ll start to think differently and we’ll read the news differently. I just thank you so much. For taking the time. Thank you. It was so fun to
Amy Westervelt (54:26):
Talk. Yes. I’m so glad we finally got to talk in real life or close too .
Andrea Learned (54:30):
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Maybe we’ll see each other somewhere along the way, but, um, I, I’m happy to help amplify this and, and just I’ll see you on Twitter.
Amy Westervelt (54:37):
Awesome. Sounds great.
Andrea Learned (54:40):
Clearly one discussion does not do Amy’s wisdom and expertise justice, nor does it come anywhere close to covering all that light Sweet crude includes, but listening to that kind of makes you wanna learn more. Right. Head on over to the drilled podcast feed to hear the whole thing. And what a huge pleasure to chat with a climate media leader I’ve been following for years. Amy is truly a force of nature, and I know her reporting will energize you along your path to climate influence. Living Change is produced by Larj media. That’s L A R j Media. Until next time, pedal safely.