"Out of Balance" climate film targets ExxonMobil

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Environmentalists love taking aim at ExxonMobil Corp., which many see as the biggest corporate culprit in human-fueled climate change. A documentary on global warming takes this to a new level: buy the $24.99 DVD online, and the film’s distributor will donate $10 to victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

“Hey, $10 might not be the $339 billion in revenue that ExxonMobil’s going to generate ... this year, but it’s what we can do,” said Halfdan Hussey, executive director of Cinequest, which is distributing the film “Out of Balance.” “We might be able to write a $100,000 check.”

The donations would go to the Bidarki Youth Center in Cordova, Alaska, on Prince William Sound, where the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in March 1989, spilling 11 million gallons (50 million liters) of crude oil along 1,200 miles of Alaskan coastline.

The Valdez spill was what originally got filmmaker Tom Jackson interested in ExxonMobil and its influence.

“I was in college then and pretty upset by that whole thing ... and the way it was handled, or perhaps one would say, mishandled,” Jackson said by phone from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He stopped buying Exxon gas and noticed a boycott of the company’s credit cards, but did not then associate the company with the growing issue of global warming.

That came much later, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast and some scientists linked more severe storms with climate change. Scenes of the ravaged Louisiana coastline open the film.

“I myself took a while to come around to the whole climate change issue, and bought the whole ‘the jury is still out’ (argument),” Jackson said. But then he heard reports that ExxonMobil has funded those skeptical of the reality of global warming.


“When I started to find out who it was that was really fostering the confusion around the issue ... I just thought it was outrageous that here’s this company that basically has been portraying this major debate among climate scientists ... when largely the debate was over a long time ago, back in the 90s.”

Jackson, who made “Out of Balance” for about $50,000, said the connection between the Valdez spill and ExxonMobil’s stance on global warming was former chief executive Lee Raymond, who headed the corporation’s cleanup operations in Alaska in 1989. Jackson and others quoted in the film dismissed this operation as a “PR charade” aimed more at looking busy than fixing the problem.

ExxonMobil has weathered numerous accusations of funding what critics call “junk science” on climate change by saying that the corporation funds a wide range of organizations and does not dictate what they produce.

Asked specifically about the accusations in “Out of Balance,” ExxonMobil spokesman Gantt Walton said by e-mail, “This film was produced and originally aired a year ago and the recycling of discredited conspiracy theories diverts attention from the real challenge at hand: how to provide the energy needed to sustain and improve global living standards while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

ExxonMobil, unlike other oil companies including BP and Chevron, has not been very vocal in opposing climate-warming emissions. But it did run double-page spreads in The Washington Post and The New York Times to promote its new technology that could make the batteries in hybrid vehicles more efficient.

The ads ran on December 3, the opening day of an international conference in Bali, Indonesia, aimed at figuring out how to cut greenhouse emissions after the current Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012.

The Exxon Valdez case is still winding its way through the legal system. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the company’s appeal to overturn a $2.5 billion punitive damage award to about 32,000 commercial fishermen, Alaska natives, property owners and others affected by the worst U.S. tanker spill.

Exxon’s Walton called the spill “a tragic accident,” but said the company has paid $3.5 billion in cleanup and other costs and believes that no punitive damage payment is warranted.

Editing by Eric Walsh