Coal ad campaign disputes warming idea Utilities that burn fossil fuels consider taking campaign national.

July 08, 1991|By New York Times

Coal-burning utility companies and coal producers, disturbed by public acceptance of the idea that burning fossil fuels will change the climate, are deciding whether to go national this fall with an ad campaign they tried in three markets earlier this year.

The campaign produced nearly 2,000 requests to a toll-free telephone line for more information, said Gale Klappa, a vice president of Southern Co., a coal-using utility based in Atlanta.

The goal of the campaign, according to one planning document, is to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)."

The advertising effort was tried out in Flagstaff, Ariz.; Fargo, N.D.; and Bowling Green, Ky.

In Bowling Green, an ad showed a cartoon horse in earmuffs and scarf and said, "If the Earth is getting warmer, why is Kentucky getting colder?"

Another, with a cartoon man bundled up and holding a snow shovel, appeared in Minnesota and substituted "Minneapolis" for "Kentucky."

"Those who are predicting catastrophe have been very effective at getting their message across in national media, and in so-called 'public service' announcements," Klappa said. "But there is another viewpoint, a substantial viewpoint from a body of reputable scientists, and that

viewpoint has really not been made available to a large majority."

The document was included in a packet of internal correspondence and other information relating to the campaign.

The packet was provided to The New York Times by the Sierra Club, the San Francisco-based environmental group that favors taking steps to reduce the risk of global warming. It had apparently been given the materials by someone who disagreed with the campaign's goals or approach.

Many climatologists are alarmed by the rising concentration in the Earth's atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other gases that they say will trap the sun's heat, raise temperatures and change rainfall patterns around the world. But scientists differ as to the extent of climate change or the speed with which it will occur.

The three scientists who form a "science advisory panel" for the campaign said the salient element in two of the ads, that some areas might be getting cooler, did not contradict the theory of global warming. But one of the three, Robert C. Balling Jr., director of the office of Climatology at Arizona State University, said the advertising campaign designers felt that an ad that simply discussed the contradictory state of evidence for global warming was "not punchy enough."

Balling and another member of the panel, Dr. Patrick J. Michaels, Virginia's climatologist and a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, have both asked to have their names removed from future mailings.

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