Exxon Withholding Climate Knowledge Is an Intergenerational Crime Against Humanity
Coal, oil and gas are tremendous resources: solar energy absorbed by plants and super-concentrated over millions of years. They're potent fuels and provide ingredients for valuable products. But the oil boom, spurred by improved drilling technology, came at the wrong time. Profits were (and still are) the priority—rather than finding the best, most efficient uses for finite resources.
In North America, governments and corporations facilitated infrastructure to get people to use oil and gas as if they were limitless. Companies like Ford built cars bigger than necessary, and although early models ran on ethanol, the oil boom made petroleum the fuel of choice. Public transit systems were removed and governments used tax revenues to accommodate private automobiles rather than buses and trains.
The oil industry fulfilled many of its promises and became the main driver of western economies. It increased mobility and led to job and profit growth in vehicle manufacturing, oil and gas, tourism and fast food, among others. Petroleum-derived plastics made life more convenient.
The industry boom and the car culture it fueled had negative consequences, though—including injuries and death, rapid resource exploitation, pollution and climate change. Plastics are choking oceans and land.
Are these unintended consequences? When did people learn burning large quantities of fossil fuels might be doing more harm than good? Evidence suggests scientists, governments and industry knew all along there would be a steep price to pay for our excesses.
In the late 1800s, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius warned that burning fossil fuels and increasing carbon dioxide emissions would initiate feedback loops and increase water vapor in the atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise. Scientific evidence for human-caused global warming has since increased to the point of certainty, but while few would dispute that burning coal, oil and gas causes pollution and public health problems, many still believe the role of fossil fuels in climate change is contentious.
There's a reason for that: According to volumes of research by journalists, investigators and academics—including a new peer-reviewed study—some of industry's largest players have long been deceiving the public about climate science.
The new study, by Harvard's Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes and published in Environmental Research Letters, analyzes 40 years of research and communications by Exxon Mobil. "Our findings are clear: Exxon Mobil misled the public about the state of climate science and its implications," Oreskes and Supran write in a New York Times opinion article. "Available documents show a systematic, quantifiable discrepancy between what Exxon Mobil's scientists and executives discussed about climate change in private and in academic circles, and what it presented to the general public."
Taking up Exxon's challenge to "Read all of these documents and make up your own mind," the researchers examined the company's scientific research, internal memos and paid public-facing "advertorials." They concluded that, although the company knew of and communicated internally about its product's climate impacts and the danger of it becoming a "stranded asset," it told the public a different story.
Exxon placed paid opinion articles in the New York Times between 1989 and 2004, at a cost of US$31,000 each. Contrary to the company's own research and internal communications—as well as overwhelming scientific evidence from around the world—the articles argued, among other things, that, "The science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil," and, "We still don't know what role man-made greenhouse gases might play in warming the planet."
Oreskes and Supran also note Exxon is being sued by current and former employees and investigated by the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general and the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. Much relates to whether the company "misled consumers, shareholders or the public about the environmental or business risks of climate change, or about the risk that oil and gas reserves might become stranded assets that won't be developed, affecting shareholder value."
Given climate change's serious implications, the fact that fossil fuel companies, aided by compromised governments and shady "think tanks" and media outlets, would put fossil fuel profits ahead of human health and survival is an intergenerational crime against humanity. We should commend Oreskes and others for their tireless efforts to bring this truth to light.
The move comes after regional authorities declared a state of emergency over the weekend after sightings of more than 50 bears in the town of Belushya Guba since December.
This year's letter from Bill and Melinda Gates focused on nine things that surprised them. For the Microsoft-cofounder, one thing he was surprised to learn was the massive amount of new buildings the planet should expect in the coming decades due to urban population growth.
"The number of buildings in the world is going to double by 2060. It's like we're going to build a new New York City every month for the next 40 years," he said.
By Shana Udvardy
After a dearth of action on climate change and a record year of extreme events in 2017, the inclusion of climate change policies within the annual legislation Congress considers to outline its defense spending priorities (the National Defense Authorization Act) for fiscal year 2018 was welcome progress. House and Senate leaders pushed to include language that mandated that the Department of Defense (DoD) incorporate climate change in their facility planning (see more on what this section of the bill does here and here) as well as issue a report on the impacts of climate change on military installations. Unfortunately, what DoD produced fell far short of what was mandated.
Trump is losing his rallying cry to save coal. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) voted on Thursday to retire two coal-fired power plants in the next few years despite a plea from the president to keep one of the plants open.
Earlier this week, the president posted an oddly specific tweet that urged the government-owned utility to save the 49-year-old Paradise 3 plant in Kentucky. It so happens that the facility burns coal supplied by Murray Energy Corporation, whose CEO is Robert Murray, is a major Trump donor.