Editorial: The Saudis mastered 'sportswashing,' so now they're trying oil-washing

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Op Eds

World leaders gathered in Egypt this month for a summit to address climate change, but thanks to heavy lobbying by Saudi Arabia, they couldn’t quite bring themselves to put into writing the two main culprits behind climate change: humans and their consumption of fossil fuels. If the major and minor nations of the world can’t agree on a common statement outlining what is causing the world’s rapidly escalating climate disasters, how can they ever hope to impose effective solutions?

The omission from the climate summit’s final communique is a monument to Saudi Arabia’s ability to throw its weight — or, more appropriately, its money and petroleum resources — around to create an artificial image that all’s right in the world as long as everyone keeps burning oil.

The Saudis have tried “sportswashing” to clean up the kingdom’s tattered international image by bribing professional golfers to join a Saudi-sponsored international tour. The best soccer team money could buy just whipped Argentina at the World Cup soccer tournament. All this to distract the world from what U.S. intelligence agencies say is the Saudi crown prince’s complicity in the murder and dismemberment of journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Now comes oil-washing. At the climate summit, the Saudi delegation pulled out all the stops to ensure that fossil fuels didn’t get blamed for the wildfires across the Western United States and Western Europe, or East Coast hurricanes, or massive flooding that affected more than 33 million Pakistanis, or the rising sea levels that are wreaking havoc on poorer coastal nations.

Conferees didn’t dare approve a communique calling for nations to phase out their consumption of fossil fuels. “It does not bring a high degree of confidence,” said Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s executive vice president. “It does not address the yawning gap between climate science and climate policy.”


The Saudis have spent massively on public relations to recast the image of oil as a basic necessity that gets unfair blame in the news media, The New York Times has reported. Part of that campaign consists of promoting expert analyses playing down the role fossil fuels play in climate change and casting doubt on the workability of replacing gasoline-fueled cars with electric ones. Why? Because if the world figures out how to function without oil, Saudi Arabia would be out of business.

The ability of Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations to sway the conference attests to the world’s addiction to oil — and oil money. The United States and other Western powers don’t dare do anything to offend, lest the Saudis curtail production and cause oil prices to skyrocket. The good news is that oil floats, which might offer the Saudis a new way to market oil barrels as flotation devices the next time drowning Pakistanis (or Americans) need rescuing from catastrophic flood waters.


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