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By Sabrina Kessler
Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.
The case is not about the damage to the planet the energy giant has caused. Instead, ExxonMobil is being forced to answer allegations that it played down the consequences of climate change to consumers and investors for decades.
What looked like a clear victory for the Attorney General's Office, however, now threatens to turn into a damp squib. The prosecution quickly admitted it had failed to prove that the company deliberately deceived shareholders and a few days ago, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Zweig dropped one of the main allegations — investor fraud.
The state of New York had wanted to prove that the Texas-based oil giant knowingly misled shareholders. ExxonMobil is said to have built a "long-standing fraudulent system" to cover up the true impact of climate change. All this to push up the stock price. Similar allegations were once made against the tobacco industry, which publicly denied the risk of cancer, even though it knew better. What followed were penalties in the billions.
ExxonMobil did not respond to a request from DW. The Group's website contains a statement from last month in which the company promised it would be exonerated in court: "The allegations of the New York Attorney General are false," it said.
The student protest is one of several held outside the New York Supreme Court during the trial.
Investors had been informed through regular announcements about how the company responds with climate-related risks, the company added. "The New York attorney general's case is misleading and deliberately misrepresents a process we use to ensure company investments take into account the impact of current and potential climate-related regulations."
However, this remaining lawsuit is not just against any company, but one built by the man once considered to be the richest American of all time. ExxonMobil's roots go back to John D. Rockefeller, the U.S. oil magnate who built one of the country's first oil refineries in 1863. His company, the Standard Oil Company, grew so powerful that within a few decades the U.S. Supreme Court ordered it to be broken up into more than 30 companies, two of which grew into today's ExxonMobil.
This company, in turn, rebuilt itself into one of the largest in the world: the oil multinational recorded sales of $279 billion (€253 billion) last year alone. By way of comparison, Apple achieved $266 billion in 2018.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously had a decade-long tenure as Exxon Mobil's chair and CEO.
Impact Known for Years
Success does, however, have its negatives. ExxonMobil is one of the largest global climate sinners. Not only are forests being cleared and waters and soils polluted to unearth more than 4 million barrels a day of black gold, the oil giant also contributes almost 2% to global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to calculations from the UK-based Carbon Disclosure Project. Over the last 50 years, it has created 42 billion tons of CO2.
The oil companies know only too well how much they endanger the climate. Exxon Mobil, for example, is said to have known since the 1970s about the impact the oil business was having on the planet. However, these findings never reached the outside world. "Exxon Mobil is a climate criminal," alleges 350.org, a nonprofit environmental organization that supports students in their protests.
Despite this, the state of New York has not yet been able to prove ExxonMobil's culpability. Not a single shareholder who testified in court claimed to have been deceived. The prosecution now has to prove that the oil giant was wrong to assure its investors that it was adequately preparing its own business for a decarbonized future. A ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
ExxonMobil's biggest challenge, however, is a different one. A glance at Wall Street data reveals that the energy sector is increasingly losing its standing. Today, the industry represents less than 5% of the total market value of all companies indexed in the S&P 500. Five years ago, it was still over 15%.
Oil Price Remains Low
ExxonMobil is struggling with its greed for profits. Since its all-time high five years ago, the stock price has collapsed by a third. It has long been clear that coal, gas and oil can no longer earn as much as they used to. Coal, for example, is increasingly being replaced by natural gas, which is much cheaper. Oil is also being fractured in such quantities that the market is literally flooded. Not even the military attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields in September caused a lasting rise in the price of oil. It has lost 20% since January.
Exxon Mobil has the 14th-largest oil and gas reserves and is the largest refiner in the world.
For analysts, one thing is clear: ExxonMobil needs new ways to revive itself. "The Stone Age didn't end because the stones ran out," analyst Stewart Glickman of CFRA Research told DW. In other words, it will not be the lack of oil that will put a spoke in the wheel for the oil giants, but the lack of profitability. Competitors like Royal Dutch Shell have long been experimenting with renewable energies in order to do justice to the zeitgeist. ExxonMobil is years behind.
The company's future strategy is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. This includes the production of shale oil (fracking) in the West as well as natural gas plants in Papua New Guinea, oil wells in South American Guyana and the development of new fields in Brazil and Mozambique.
The Group intends to invest $230 billion in these projects in the coming years. However, only a fraction of this is for environmentally friendly technologies. The oil giant has committed just $10 billion to these types of projects — in the last twenty years.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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By Alexander Freund
In a pilot study at the University of Helsinki, dogs trained as medical diagnostic assistants were taught to recognize the previously unknown odor signature of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And they learned with astonishing success: After only a few weeks, the first dogs were able to accurately distinguish urine samples from COVID-19 patients from urine samples of healthy individuals.
Important Findings for Other Teams<p>The very rapid and promising findings from Finland are also important for other research teams, such as those in Great Britain and France, who are training sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19.</p><p>Fellow researchers from the <a href="http://assistenzhunde-zentrum.de/index.php/news/covid-19-hunde" target="_blank">German Assistance Dog Center (TARSQ)</a> have also benefited from the Finnish results.</p><p>"No one could tell us with certainty whether training with the aggressive virus is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/dutch-house-pets-test-positive-for-coronavirus/a-53460111" target="_blank">dangerous or not for humans and dogs</a>. We wanted to gather more information first before we started training because the German virologists advised us against it — after all, so little is known about the virus so far," explains Luca Barrett from TARSQ.</p>
Where Does the Characteristic Smell Come From?<p>It is still unclear which substances in urine produce the apparently characteristic COVID-19 odor. Since SARS-CoV-2 not only attacks the lungs, but also causes damage to blood vessels, kidneys and other organs, it is assumed that the patients' urine odor also changes. This is something which the dogs, with their highly sensitive olfactory organs, notice immediately.</p><p>Certain diseases appear to have a specific olfactory signature that trained dogs can sniff out with amazing accuracy, Barrett says.</p><p>"According to one study, dogs can detect breast cancer with a 93% probability, for example. And lung cancer with a 97% probability," she says.</p><p>But dogs can also identify skin cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer or prostate cancer very reliably, according to Barrett. "The hit rate, which was not so good in the early days of training, has risen enormously in recent years," she says.</p>
Hit Rate Decisive<p>Besides cancer, the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dog-makes-1-million-drug-bust/a-53433307" target="_blank">dogs</a> can also detect Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's sufferers smell different even years before they have the disease. "That's how we came up with the idea of training dogs as an early warning system for Parkinson's," Barrett says.</p><p>Dogs are also trained to detect malaria, but the hit rate is not yet satisfactory, she says. So far, the dogs recognize seven out of 10 infected persons, which is not enough.</p><p>A high hit rate is, of course, also absolutely necessary when training for the aggressive SARS-CoV-2 pathogen, according to Barret. "We hope that the hit rate for the coronavirus is significantly higher in the fully trained dogs; after all, it would be very dangerous if COVID-19 were not detected," she says</p>
Trained Tracking Dogs<p>Dogs' ability to smell is about a million times better than that of humans. Humans have about 5 million olfactory cells, compared with 125 million for dachshunds and 220 million for sheepdogs.</p><p>Dogs also inhale up to 300 times per minute in short breaths, meaning that their olfactory cells are constantly supplied with new odor particles. In addition, dogs' noses differentiate between right and left. This spatial sense of smell allows the animals to follow a trail more easily.</p><p>During the training sessions, the dogs — mostly Labrador retrievers or retrievers in general, but also cocker spaniels or sheepdog breeds — are each trained for one scent. That can be the smell of a drug or an explosive, or, as here, the olfactory signature of a specific disease.This means that one dog cannot recognize several types of cancer.</p><p>The animals are trained with containers holding samples of breath or sweat, for example. As soon as they have identified the smell they are looking for, the dogs hear a click and get a treat. They are reliably trained for the one smell on this reward principle.</p>
Great Potential, Great Skepticism<p>Drug and explosive detection dogs have been used for some time. But trained medical scent detection dogs are also now working in hospitals. For example, they sniff the bodies of patients with suspected skin cancer to try and detect the disease — only with the patients' consent, of course. So these skilled snufflers are helping doctors in diagnosing diseases and detecting them early on.</p><p>However, so far there are only very few medical detection dogs. The dog owners almost always work voluntarily and the trained sniffer dogs live in normal households. There is great skepticism, especially among traditional doctors and health insurance companies, even though the first indications given by the dog have to be followed by further medical tests anyway and a lot of time and costs could be saved by early cancer detection.</p>
Possible Coronavirus Applications<p>If the findings from Finland are confirmed, the sniffer dogs with their extremely sensitive sense of smell could prove to be a great help in the fight against the new coronavirus.</p><p>Luca Barrett from TARSQ can easily picture coronavirus sniffer dogs being used in situations where there is a high risk of infection. For example, people attending football matches and other major events could be checked before they are admitted.</p><p>The dogs could also be employed at airports to scan people entering a country. "When the dogs go down the queue, they can detect if someone is healthy and can enter the country. But if a person smells of COVID-19, the handler could send that person to a coronavirus testing center instead," Barrett says. That is because a second test is still needed to confirm the dog's initial sniff detection.</p><p><span></span>Barrett says dogs could also be used to search for the virus on surfaces. For example, before passengers board an aircraft, a four-legged friend could first check whether the machine is free from SARS-CoV-2. Similar measures are planned for doctors' surgeries, aged care homes or nursing homes that have had to be evacuated because of COVID-19 cases. Before these are used again, a sniffer dog could check whether the environment is "clean."</p>
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