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Exxon and Shell Double Down to Defeat Climate Change Legislation
The dark channels through which corporations influence legislation are notoriously hard to trace, but a new detailed report estimates that the world's largest fossil fuel companies are spending upwards of $500 million per year to obstruct climate laws.
Published Thursday by the UK-based non-profit InfluenceMap, the report looked at two fossil fuel giants (ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell) and three trade lobbying groups, discovering that all together the five companies spend $114 million dollars a year to defeat climate change legislation.
More significantly, InfluenceMap says, "Extrapolated over the entire fossil fuel and other industrial sectors beyond, it is not hard to consider that this obstructive climate policy lobbying spending may be in the order of $500m annually."
"It's remarkably useful to see exactly how much Exxon and its brethren are still spending to bend the climate debate," responded Bill McKibben of 350.org in a statement. "There's a shamelessness here that hopefully will be harder to maintain in the full light of day."
The group drew particular attention to the sinister lobbying group American Petroleum Institute (API), "one of the best funded and most consistently obstructive lobbying forces for climate policy in the United States," as InfluenceMap notes:
"With a budget in excess of $200m, we estimate, through a forensic analysis of its IRS filings and careful study of its lobbying, PR, media and advertising activities, that around $65m of this is highly obstructive lobbying against ambitious climate policy. We estimate that ExxonMobil and Shell contribute $6m and $3m respectively to API's obstructive spending of $65m. Its CEO Jack Gerard received annual compensation of just over $14m in 2013, probably one of the world's highest paid lobbyists. In the run up to COP21 last year, he dismissed the Paris process as a 'narrow political ideology.'"
InfluenceMap created the report to help concerned investors see how fossil fuel corporations were obstructing legislation to combat climate change. Since the #ExxonKnew scandal broke last year, such tactics have been under increased scrutiny from shareholders. "So far in 2016 alone," the non-profit said, "there have been over 15 shareholder resolutions filed by investors in the U.S. with fossil fuel companies on the issue of influence over climate policy."
In addition, the "sheer fuzziness of corporate influence prompted the project," wrote Bloomberg. "Nations hold companies to different standards—or none at all—for disclosures of how they are trying to influence public policy and what it costs. "
Bloomberg explained the study's methodology:
"To come up with its numbers, Influence Map first had to define what 'influence' actually means. The researchers adopted a framework spelled out in a 2013 UN report written to help companies align their climate change policies with their lobbying and communications strategies. It's a broad approach to understanding influence that includes not only direct lobbying, but also advertising, marketing, public relations, political contributions, regulatory contacts and trade associations."
Unfortunately, though, because of poor regulatory standards the "new report excludes so-called dark money or money spent on think tanks and institutes, as identified by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle in 2013," Bloomberg said, because "the researchers were unable to determine how these groups are funded."
"We now know that Exxon knew about climate change impacts for decades and kept the public in the dark while they lobbied to prevent meaningful action," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin pointed out. "This report shows that while the world came together in Paris to embrace climate action in 2015, Exxon was doubling down with Big Tobacco tactics and obstruction. We cannot change this corporation by engaging with it, we must instead bring change from the outside by using economic pressure and divesting from Exxon."
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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