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Who Tipped Off Whom?

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I'm feeling a little foolish. Earlier today I blogged about an ad in the March 2 New York Times Op-Ed section from ExxonMobil debunking concerns about peak oil -- even though the company's annual report last year made it clear that we should be very, very worried. Because I was on the road last week I didn't realize that the ad ran one day after a long op-ed by Times editorial writer Bob Semple that laid out the case for being concerned about peak oil.

So either it was coincidence that the oil company responded to Semple in the next news cycle, or ExxonMobil paid a premium price to preempt whoever had that space or the company knew the op-ed was coming and bought the ad space as a preemptive response.

Then, this morning, I was talking with a reporter about a forthcoming piece on global warming that will focus, in part, on Wal-Mart's announcement last year that it would make major efforts to reduce its oil consumption:

Wal-Mart's chief executive is set to announce on Tuesday a set of sweeping, specific environmental goals to reduce energy use in its stores, double its trucks' fuel efficiency, minimize its use of packaging and pressure thousands of companies in its worldwide supply chain to follow its lead.

It suddenly occurred to me just how likely it was that Wal-Mart made its decision based on its own calculation of the risk of a huge spike in the price of oil as a result of supplies becoming steadily tighter -- and that if a company famed for its zeal in controlling its costs decided that it was a rational business choice to make a huge investment in fuel efficiency, the rest of us should be very, very worried.

Then, this morning, the British government announced that global resource shortages, induced in part by global warming, have launched us into a new era in which scarcity, not ideology, drives conflict. British Defense Secretary John Reid warned that global climate change and dwindling natural resources are combining to increase the likelihood of violent conflict over land, water, and energy.

It's not a pretty scenario: Just at the moment when the global "cushion" provided by cheap oil begins to shred, our previous profligate use of that cushion begins to destabilize the climate and makes the need for that fast-disappearing cushion more urgent than ever.

Has there ever been a stronger argument for an absolutely focused effort to restore the energy cushion that lubricates the global system by ensuring that we use our remaining resources prudently and efficiently? If folks won't believe science and our British allies, then maybe they will believe ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart. Watch what they do, not what they say.