The plant is spewing high and dangerous amounts of smelly hydrogen sulfide gas and soot into the air above Catawba, South Carolina and nearby counties. While emergency orders have been issued to stop the smell created by the New-Indy Containerboard paper mill, no regulatory actions have been taken to curb their air pollution.
Issues began after an investment group led by Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots football team, acquired the mill in 2019 for about $300 million, Reuters reported. It was previously owned and run by Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products Inc.
Towards the end of 2020, the plant shut down to convert to making cardboard instead of bleached paper products. This manufacturing switch also led to a build up of fiber waste in collection bins, which likely elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide output, a New-Indy corrective action plan filed with regulators said, Reuters reported.
"Hydrogen sulfide is a gas formed by decaying organic matter — in this case waste from the paper mill," WFAE reported. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), absorbing hydrogen sulfide through the skin or inhaling it can cause everything from nausea and headaches to skin and eye irritation to delirium and convulsions.
In February, the New-Indy plant reopened after completing its processing conversion, and complaints began pouring in of a noxious smell, reported WBTV.
"Sour, pungent, sharp distinct smell," said Bridget Francis, who also lives in the nearby Legacy Park neighborhood, reported WBTV in March. The news agency described the fumes as "a smell so strong it is almost indescribable" and likened it to "rotten eggs, nail polish, sewage and more."
In March, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) told WBTV that the smell was not toxic and that they thought it could be related to the paper plant switching from white to cardboard processing. New Indy Containerboard paper plant is 25 minutes from the Legacy Park neighborhood.
Nevertheless, DHEC set up a complaints hotline. Since its inception in March, over 30,000 complaints have been filed about the smell, some even from North Carolinians. And, the issue wasn't just an olfactory nuisance: Some residents reported symptoms of nausea, headaches and burning in their eyes, throats and lungs, WBTV reported. These are the same symptoms that the CDC associates with exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
By April, DHEC discovered that the manufacturing change had indeed created a total reduced sulfide ("TRS") residual, which does often smell like rotting eggs. An Environmental Affairs Bureau of Air Quality Inspection/Investigation Report found that the New-Indy mill is exceeding its annual capacity for burning fuels by almost double the maximum allowed, WBTV reported.
According to Reuters, an April site visit to the mill by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uncovered hydrogen sulfide levels as high as 15,900 parts per billion. Breathing problems, headaches and nausea can occur from prolonged exposures between 2,000 and 5,000 parts per billion, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said, Reuters reported. Death can even occur from concentrated exposures, the news report added.
DHEC's investigation also uncovered issues related to the mill's handling of wastewater. WFAE reported that the mill began diverting "foul-smelling liquids" into an open-air lagoon instead of to their incinerator and steam stripper — devices used to remove contaminants from industrial waste before they are released — when it began its conversion to cardboard manufacturing in Nov. 2021.
Unfortunately, along with hydrogen sulfide, the mill also releases dangerous levels of soot. The amounts of soot even rival and beat the release levels of the country's largest oil refineries, Reuters reported. Despite this, no regulatory action has been taken against New-Indy for this air pollution crisis.
Soot is actually small particulate pollution, which is "among the most harmful pollutants," Reuters noted. In New-Indy's case, the soot comes from burning wet bark and old tires in power milling operations.
New-Indy's most recent stack test, from 2020, revealed small particle pollution that maxed out at nearly 300 pounds an hour, Reuters reported. This is as much as 50 times higher than other large U.S. paper mills, the news report noted after an examination of disclosures with the EPA. For contrast, the news report offered Exxon Mobil Corp's Baton Rouge oil refinery, which averaged 138 pounds an hour during its latest available stack test. This was already the highest among U.S. refiners, Reuters noted.
Despite this, regulators told Reuters that the mill's performance was "within federal limits."
New-Indy's 2016 stack test, conducted when it was still run by Resolute Forest Products, measured particulate matter production at the same boiler averaging around 100 pounds per hour, or 36% less than the 2020 average rate, the news report added.
Other comparable paper mills can operate with "only 13 pounds per hour of small particle pollution," Reuters noted.
"I haven't seen anything like this in 20 years," Amy Armstrong, executive director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), told the news report.
In May, state and federal orders were finally given to New-Indy. The EPA issued an emergency order for the New-Indy plant to reduce hydrogen sulfide emissions and to install air pollution monitors around the plant, Reuters reported. According to The State, DHEC's order merely asks New-Indy to check its regulations and equipment in order to decrease emissions.
In July, the federal government issued an injunction under the Clean Air Act against New-Indy, WSOC reported. Data from July 9 showed that hydrogen sulfide was still detected in all five neighborhoods where the monitors have been placed, the report noted. The injunction will serve "essentially [as] a follow-up" to make sure the company continues to follow requirements set by the EPA.
Additionally, three federal lawsuits have been filed against the mill owners, alleging that the odor is harming local families, WFAE reported.
Currently, residents are still awaiting a solution to their health and air pollution crisis. As one resident told the EPA, "We are prisoners in our own smelly home."
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By Jake Johnson
Footage of New Yorkers struggling to wade through filthy, waist-deep water at a Manhattan subway station as heavy rainfall engulfed the city's aging and long-neglected infrastructure on Thursday added fuel to progressive demands for a robust federal spending package that confronts the climate crisis — which is making such extreme weather more frequent and destructive.
"It's been raining for two hours and our infrastructure is flooding and overwhelmed," tweeted Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). "Our infrastructure package must address the climate change crisis with the urgency it deserves — with massive investments in decarbonization and clean energy."
"The impacts of climate change are already here," Bowman added. "It is urgent that our infrastructure package makes significant investments to prepare for and mitigate future emergency weather events."
One New Yorker who witnessed the scene at Manhattan's 157th Street Station told Gothamist that "people were pacing back and forth deliberating whether they were going to brave the waters or not." The person described the water as "real disgusting."
Some subway system ya got there. This is the 157th St. 1 line right now. @NYCMayor @BilldeBlasio https://t.co/xyfTAUPPNu— Paullee 🤠 #TaxTheRich (@Paullee 🤠 #TaxTheRich)1625776315.0
Rain flooding the platform at spring street on the @mta 6 line... #mta #nyc #Elsa https://t.co/9jzqQcMaz0— ISSA KHARI (@ISSA KHARI)1625779398.0
Other videos posted to social media on Thursday showed cars nearly halfway submerged in water as commuters attempted to navigate through the storm. One person was seen driving a jet ski on a badly flooded street.
"A 'bipartisan' infrastructure bill isn't big enough to stop climate change," said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), referring to a $579 billion White House-endorsed package that includes hardly any climate funding — an omission progressives are attempting to remedy with a separate multitrillion-dollar bill that will move through the budget reconciliation process.
When there’s a flood in NYC, you know the Bronx was prepared to bring the jet skis out 😂😂😂 https://t.co/X8kgvh1G4b— Truthfully ‘THE EXCEPTIONAL’ Ruthless (@Truthfully ‘THE EXCEPTIONAL’ Ruthless)1625783731.0
The fierce rainfall and heavy winds came as Tropical Storm Elsa made its way up the East Coast of the U.S., sparking tornadoes in Georgia and North Carolina and prompting warnings of additional flooding in the Northeast on Friday.
"Flash flood watches were in effect for parts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut until noon on Friday, as Elsa was expected to deliver heavy rain across the area," the New York Times reported. "Transit officials, already girding for Elsa's arrival, said they had crews out across the city addressing the flooding problems as quickly as possible and warned against entering stations that might still be inundated."
The tropical storm hammered the Eastern U.S. as the Pacific Northwest grapples with a heatwave that experts have characterized as "the most extreme in world weather records." The historic temperatures, which reached as high as 121°F in British Columbia, killed hundreds of people — and more than a billion intertidal animals — in the U.S. and Canada.
On Wednesday, officials in Multnomah County, Oregon deemed the devastating heatwave a "mass casualty event" as the death toll in the state rose to 107.
A rapid-response analysis published earlier this week by a group of more than two dozen scientists found that the heatwave "would have been virtually impossible" in the absence of the human-caused climate crisis, and warned that such extreme events will become increasingly common without a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
"Firenados in northern California. Ocean fires in the Gulf of Mexico. Subway waterfalls in New York City. A heat dome in the Northwest melting power cables, killing hundreds, and frying marine animals," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, tweeted Friday. "I have been told that combating climate change is expensive. Compared to what?"
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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As you seek to optimize the performance of your residential solar panels, there are a number of factors to consider. One thing you'll want to think about is the best direction for solar panels. The orientation of your roof in relation to the sun can have a huge impact on overall solar efficiency.
In this article, we'll outline the best direction for solar panel orientation as well as the optimal angle. We'll also explain solar tracking technology, which can ensure your panels face the sun for as long as possible each day. Read on to learn more.
Basics of Solar Panel Orientation
So, what is the best direction for solar panels? For homeowners who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the rule of thumb is that solar panels should be oriented toward true south. (For those in the Southern Hemisphere, solar panels should be oriented toward true north.) This is the best orientation because it ensures that solar panels receive direct sunlight throughout the day.
It's also worth noting that solar panels are most efficient when the sun's rays strike them perpendicularly. Again, this true south/true north orientation can be helpful, but angle also plays a large part in this parameter.
Best Direction for Solar Panels
As you consider solar panel installation, it's crucial to remember that, for the highest energy production, you'll want your panels to receive direct sunlight throughout the day. Again, for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere, this means orienting your panels toward true south, and vice versa in the Southern Hemisphere.
Note that, when we talk about true south, we're talking about geographic south, not magnetic south. In other words, you should orient your solar energy system based on the lines of longitude on a map, not by the directions on a compass.
Something else to keep in mind is that it may be beneficial to have a rotation slightly away from the best direction if you want to adjust the hours that your solar panels provide you energy (like facing them southwest to get more energy in the late afternoon as the sun is setting).
Hopefully, you have a south-facing roof that is optimally positioned for your solar panels. If the orientation of your roof isn't quite right, however, that doesn't mean solar power is off the table. There are several other options to consider, including solar carports and ground-mounted solar panels that can utilize south-facing panels for optimum electricity production.
Best Angle for Solar Panels
In addition to choosing the best direction for your solar panels, it's also helpful to select the right angle. Here, the general rule of thumb is to set the solar panel tilt angle equal to the geographical latitude. In other words, if you're at 35 degrees latitude, set your panels at a 35-degree angle.
The angle of your solar panels will help ensure the sun hits them perpendicularly, promoting the highest solar production and, thus, the highest electricity bill savings for your household.
With that said, you'll also want to consider how weather impacts solar panels. A good example of this is heavy snowfall. If you live in a part of the country where there is excessive snow accumulation, that could ultimately impede the efficacy of your solar panels. By tilting your panels at a sharper angle, you can minimize the buildup of snow or other debris.
This may all sound technical, but it's worth noting that professional solar installers will work with you to design a solar power system that works optimally; that includes recommending where to place your panels, how to angle them and more.
Solar Panel Tracking Systems
For ground-mounted panels, you might also consider installing a solar panel tracking system. Solar trackers maximize panel efficiency by rotating your panels throughout the day, allowing them to follow the movement of the sun from its rise to its set.
Just how much more efficient can a tracker make your solar panel system? One study showed that on a clear day, the average efficiency of a tracking panel was about 67%, while fixed panels only got about 40% efficiency.
As you consider solar panel tracking systems, you'll need to decide between a single-axis or a dual-axis system. Single-axis systems only move in one direction, typically north to south. A dual-axis system allows for movement along the north-south axis and the east-west axis.
Dual-axis systems take up more space, and thus are mostly used in commercial settings. They can certainly be effective, enabling your solar panels to reposition in accordance with changing seasons when the sun is higher or lower in the sky, but they typically aren't necessary for residential use.
Are Solar Panels Right for Your Home?
When deciding whether solar panels are worth it for your home, roof position should always be taken into consideration.
Most reputable solar installers offer free home consultations, during which a representative will survey your roof and let you know whether rooftop solar would be a good idea based on your roof's positioning and how much sunlight your home receives throughout the year.
To get a free, no-obligation quote and set up a consultation with a top solar company near you, fill out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Best Direction for Solar Panels
Is east or west better for solar panels?
For most homeowners in the Northern Hemisphere, panels need to face toward the geographic south, but not necessarily toward the east or west. The north-south axis tends to be more determinative of a solar panel's efficiency.
Should solar panels face south or west?
For homeowners in the Northern Hemisphere, geographic south is typically the best direction for solar panels.
Do solar panels need to be south facing?
For homeowners who live in the Northern Hemisphere, it is recommended that solar panels be oriented toward geographic south (as opposed to magnetic south). In other words, orient your panels according to lines of longitude rather than magnetic poles.
Which is the best direction to face solar panels in Australia?
For Australian homeowners, north-facing solar panels tend to be most effective, though a professional installer can give a more specific recommendation.
'This Is Our Future' Without Climate Action, Advocates Warn After Pipeline Causes Fire in Gulf of Mexico
By Julia Conley
A fire that raged for hours in the Gulf of Mexico Friday offered the latest illustration of the climate emergency and the urgent need to end fossil fuel extraction and invest instead in burgeoning renewable energy industries.
An underwater gas pipeline controlled by Mexico's state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, also known as Pemex, burst in the early morning hours, sending flames "resembling molten lava" to the water's surface.
The "eye of fire," as news outlets and observers on social media called the blaze after Pemex publicized the incident Friday night, happened about 150 yards from a drilling platform in the Ku-Maloob-Zaap offshore field. According to Bloomberg, the field produces more than 700,000 barrels of oil per day.
It took emergency workers about five hours to put out the flames.
"Having to put out a fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico feels just too difficult to believe," tweeted HuffPost editor Philip Lewis. "And yet..."
Having to put out a fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico feels just too difficult to believe and yet https://t.co/8OFNNiKyrj— philip lewis (@philip lewis)1625263714.0
"The frightening footage of the Gulf of Mexico is showing the world that offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous," Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Washington Post. "These horrific accidents will continue to harm the Gulf if we don't end offshore drilling once and for all."
Pemex has seen production declining recently, according to Bloomberg, with output falling every year for the past decade and a half and putting the company into $114 billion in debt.
Entrepreneur and fair wage advocate Dan Price catalogued several of the past week's climate-related emergencies, including the fire in the gulf as well as deadly heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, which sparked outraged calls for climate action in recent days.
"The Gulf of Mexico is on fire, it's 112 degrees in Portland, roads and rails are crumbling from the sun, wildfire and hurricane season are here in record time and people are concerned about the cost of going green," said Price. "COMPARED TO WHAT?"
The pipeline burst days after undercover journalists released footage of lobbyists from fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil, in which the lobbyists discussed their fight against climate science and their reliance on centrist lawmakers such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Jon Tester (D-Mt.) to ensure the failure of far-reaching climate action legislation.
The progressive advocacy group RootsAction released a version of the Gulf of Mexico fire footage with images of the centrist lawmakers.
We looped the Exxon lobbyist talking about the company's relationship with Joe Manchin and Joe Biden over the video… https://t.co/sy0kzVaSqS— RootsAction (@RootsAction)1625273085.0
"This is our future," the group said of the image of the world's largest gulf on fire. "Don't forget who is responsible."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Rich Collett-White and Rachel Sherrington
Fossil fuel companies could face legal challenges over their misleading advertising, after a DeSmog investigation uncovered the extent of their "greenwashing."
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have put companies on notice with the publication of the Greenwashing Files. The analyses, which use DeSmog's research, show how adverts of major fossil fuel companies and energy producers continue to overemphasize their green credentials, giving the public a misleading impression of their businesses.
DeSmog analyzed the advertising output of Aramco, Chevron, Drax, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Ineos, RWE, Shell and Total, and compared this with the reality of the companies' current and future business activities.
ClientEarth submitted a complaint against BP's advertising in 2019, before the company decided to withdraw its "Possibilities Everywhere" campaign. The lawyers say other fossil fuel companies could face similar challenges if they mislead the public through their advertising. The group is calling for tobacco-style advertising bans and health warnings to counter fossil fuel companies' "deceptive" marketing.
DeSmog's investigation found messaging that touts companies' climate pledges without being transparent about their large emissions contributions is widespread across advertising campaigns and social media promotions.
The adverts regularly highlight the companies' preferred solutions to climate change — from carbon capture and storage, to experimental algae biofuels, and investment in renewable energy sources — without being open about the small percentage of overall investment allocated to these technologies, nor their various limitations.
The Greenwashing Files lay bare the contrast between the public image these adverts create, and the reality of the fossil fuel companies' activities.
All companies featured in this article were contacted for comment.
ExxonMobil – 'Powering Progress'
"We're working on ways to provide energy while addressing the risks of climate change, producing clean-burning natural gas to reduce emissions from power plants, capturing CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere, and exploring unexpected energy sources like biofuels made from algae," a reassuring voice tells us in Exxon's "Powering Progress" advert – one of several released in recent years that present the US oil giant as a leader in green technologies.
But while the ad shows Exxon scientists hard at work developing "algae farms" and technology designed to suck carbon dioxide from the air, its business activities tell a different story.
Exxon is increasingly an outlier among fossil fuel companies and other major emitters, having refused to set an absolute emissions reduction target, opting instead for gradual "carbon intensity" reductions which still allow for overall emissions to increase. It has no plans to cut oil and gas production, which energy analysts say is urgently needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
While Exxon remains responsible for a significant portion of global emissions – with documents in 2019 revealing a total annual output roughly equivalent to that of Canada – its spending on clean energies has been a tiny fraction of its investments, with just 0.2 percent of its investment in new projects going to low carbon sources between 2010 and 2018.
And while "Powering Progress" and other ads put Exxon's investments in algae biofuels at the fore, it has spent just $300 million on the technology in a decade, compared with yearly capital investment of around $20 billion. Experts doubt whether the technology will ever be commercially viable or usable at scale.
RWE – 'We are the new RWE'
A video by German energy giant RWE takes the viewer through landmark inventions that have spurred on human civilisation since the industrial revolution – the light bulb, the radio, mass transport – before arriving at the present day. "Every time has its energy," the ad tells us, adding that "times are changing. Society is changing. Companies are changing, and we are changing too."
The images cut to wind turbines, and the forces of nature that are powering what we are told is today's "renewable age." The company positions itself at the heart of this transition, telling the viewer it is "focusing on renewable energies and storage, for a sustainable world," and that it is providing "clean, reliable and affordable" energy as part of its transition to "the new RWE."
The campaign accompanies pledges to become "carbon neutral" by 2040 and oversee a significant expansion into wind and solar energy.
But the growth of RWE's low-carbon activities has not been matched by an exit from fossil fuels. RWE remains the largest emitter in Europe, according to a recent study by Greenpeace, and its three major lignite coal-fired power stations all feature in the EU's top five highest-emitting plants. Under current plans, it will continue to generate coal-fired electricity until the end of 2038, almost a decade after the deadline recommended for OECD countries by climate experts, at the same time as expanding its already significant fossil gas business.
Despite its claims to focus on clean energy, 80 percent of the company's energy still comes from non-renewable sources, mostly highly-polluting brown coal, hard coal and gas. The company also counts controversial and carbon-intensive biomass amongst its "renewable" energy sources despite warnings from scientists over its use.
Drax – 'Beyond Coal'
Drax, another energy company that now relies heavily on biomass and operates the UK's largest power station in North Yorkshire, has worked hard to bolster its green credentials in recent years, positioning itself as an ally in the fight against climate change.
Last year, it released an advert celebrating the company's shift away from coal-fired energy production, which it completed in March. Set to an uplifting soundtrack, the video calls the move a "major step towards Drax's ambition to become carbon negative by 2030," while touting a new "Zero Carbon Skills Taskforce" to ensure the surrounding area "isn't defined by its past, but by its future."
A 2020 year-in-review video meanwhile describes Drax as "among Europe's lowest carbon intensity power generators," producing "77 percent renewable electricity."
But the company's claims about the climate-friendliness of biomass, which has now taken over from coal as the principal source of energy at its power station thanks to generous government subsidies, have been widely disputed. Burning wood pellets has been found to be more carbon-intensive than fossil fuels in most circumstances, while experts doubt that trees planted in their place can re-absorb the carbon dioxide emitted, on a meaningful timescale.
Carbon capture and storage – another key plank of Drax's low-carbon strategy – remains uneconomical at scale, with the company's own use of the technology still in the pilot phase.
In response to questions from DeSmog, Drax said emissions from biomass energy are "already accounted for in the land-use sector and therefore considered carbon neutral at the point of combustion," in line with "established global best practice" set out by the UN IPCC.
It also said biomass should be considered renewable "because the forests we source from are growing and storing more carbon" and pointed to its plans for a bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) unit by 2027, "creating tens of thousands of jobs" and "permanently removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year."
Aramco – 'The Moment is Now'
The Saudi Arabian state-owned oil and gas giant, Aramco, became the most valuable listed company in history when it floated on the stock market at the end of 2019. But the fossil fuel behemoth is at pains to assure viewers it is concerned about more than just its bottom line.
In an advert titled "The Moment is Now," an Aramco employee tells a lecture theatre full of colleagues that "as we open up to the world, we know more than ever before that we must continue towards a sustainable future."
"We value the natural resources we discover but never forget it is our human energy that drives us to create a better world," she says to the audience, who reward her presentation with a standing ovation.
Elsewhere, the company insists it is driven by a "commitment to preserving the environment because protecting our planet is one of our most important values."
That's despite the company being the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter, responsible for an estimated four percent of all global emissions since 1965.
Aramco's oil and gas reserves total more than those of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total combined, while the company refuses to disclose its full emissions. Its majority shareholder, the Saudi Arabian government, has been at the forefront of efforts to stall international action on climate change for decades. At the last UN climate talks in Madrid, over a third of Saudi Arabia's representatives were associated with the oil and gas industry, many with Aramco.
Equinor – 'This is what changed us.'
Previously trading under the name Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned oil and gas company Equinor rebranded in 2018, with the hope of highlighting its transformation into a "broad energy company" and its growing low-carbon energy division.
Equinor explained its reasons for the name change in an advert called "Equinor. This is what changed us." Scenes of raging storms and melting ice caps are displayed while the narrator says: "Some changes are so profound that they transcend everything. Changes that require us to find a new balance."
In a more recent ad, the company insists that "emissions must come down and it must happen fast."
Equinor is certainly taking steps to increase its investments in low-carbon technologies, with plans to up its renewable energy capacity to 4-6 gigawatts by 2026, and has set a "net zero" emissions target for 2050.
But this shift is largely in addition to, rather than in place of, its core oil and gas business. The company is still exploring for more oil and gas reserves and does not intend to start reducing its fossil fuel production before 2030. Last year, it opened the largest oil field in Western Europe and is heavily involved in ventures in the Arctic.
Equinor promotes natural gas as the "perfect fuel to balance renewable energy" and was given a warning two years ago by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority for claiming the fuel was a "low-carbon" energy source.
Another technology the company touts is carbon capture and storage (CCS), but all of the projects it is involved in currently amount to less than three percent of its overall emissions.
ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White said the collection of adverts showed the fossil fuel companies were involved in a "great deception."
"We need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But instead of leading a low-carbon transition, these companies are putting out advertising which distracts the public and launders their image," he said.
"These adverts are misrepresenting the true nature of companies' businesses, of their contribution to climate change, and of their transition plans," he added, saying that "we cannot underestimate the real world impact this advertising has on the pace of change."
You can find the full set of adverts and analyses here.
Additional research by Michaela Herrmann. Edited by Mat Hope.
Disclaimer: ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac sits on the board of DeSmog UK Ltd.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
By Kenny Stancil
The city of Hoboken on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against multiple Big Oil players—including ExxonMobil, incorporated in New Jersey—joining an increasing number of state and local governments using litigation in efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for defrauding the public about foreseen climate crisis damages and to make companies "pay their fair share" of the costs of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a warming planet.
The lawsuit argues that the defendants—ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, and the American Petroleum Institute—knew that "their production, marketing, and sale of fossil fuels would cause global climate change," but they engaged in a massive "disinformation campaign" to protect their profits, which would diminish in conjunction with decreased fossil fuel use.
Big Oil began redesigning its own assets to adapt to rising sea levels at the same time it was "telling the world that climate change was a hoax," the lawsuit states.
According to the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), Hoboken is the 20th community to take fossil fuel giants to court to "recover billions of dollars in damages caused by the oil and gas industry's deception about climate change."
Richard Wiles, executive director of CCI, said in a statement that "with climate costs surging everywhere and local budgets depleted, more and more communities are turning to the courts as their only recourse to make polluters pay for their fair share of the wreckage they knew their products would cause."
Exxon and their co-conspirators can't run from this growing wave of climate lawsuits. Thanks to Hoboken, for the first time, Exxon will have to defend its shameful record of climate damages, disinformation, and denial on its home turf. It takes guts to sue the most ruthless, deceitful, and unapologetic climate polluters on the planet. Hoboken's elected leaders should be applauded.
According to local reporters, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla's announcement of the legal action came one month after "the low-lying city suffered two flooding events that theoretically should have occurred once in 50 years."
In addition, residents remember the devastating impact that Superstorm Sandy had in 2012, when a 14-foot storm surge overwhelmed outdated sewer systems to cause over $100 million in damage in the city.
At Wednesday morning's press conference, Bhalla described his intentions to get Hoboken off the list of coastal communities at risk of becoming inundated within the next five decades.
The mayor said:
At the same time we've invested hundreds of millions of dollars adapting to the realities of climate change, Big Oil companies have engaged in a decades long campaign of misinformation that has contributed to global warming which has disproportionately impacted our residents. We cannot stand idly by and allow Big Oil to continue profiting at the expense of Hoboken residents. It's time these companies pay their fair share and be held accountable for their actions.
Over the past decade and in response to rising sea levels, Hoboken has invested $140 million in climate change adaptation, including several projects that are part of its Rebuild by Design comprehensive water management strategy, according to a statement from the city.
Hoboken's lawsuit aims to "recover funds to pay for the costs that the city is undertaking, and will undertake as a result of the substantial impacts of climate change, which has been exacerbated by Big Oil."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Norway’s Largest Private Asset Manager Divests in Chevron, Exxon for Lobbying Against Climate Action
A Norwegian hedge fund worth more than $90 billion has become the first major financial institution to divest from companies that lobby against action on the climate crisis, The Guardian reported Monday.
Storebrand, as the fund is called, is the largest private asset manager in Norway, according to Reuters. As part of its new policy, it dumped its shares in major U.S. oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron, as well as in mining giant Rio Tinto and German chemical company BASF.
"The Exxons and Chevrons of the world are holding us back," Storebrand chief executive Jan Erik Saugestad told The Guardian.
Storebrand announced the divestments as part of a wider set of new climate policies Monday.
– We are not only vulnerable to the systemic disruptions that #climatechange will unleash on ecosystems, societies… https://t.co/PgDrZl1hAb— Storebrand (@Storebrand)1598523456.0
In addition to divesting from companies that lobby against the Paris climate agreement and climate change regulations, the fund will also:
- Make investment decisions in line with scientific consensus and the goals of the Paris agreement
- Divest from companies that make more than 5 percent of their revenues from coal or oil sands
- Make decisions that maintain nature's ability to store carbon dioxide, with a special focus on stopping deforestation
- Increase investments in low-carbon companies
- Connect with energy companies with a view towards encouraging them to transition towards renewable sources
- Provide regular progress reports
- Inform clients about low-carbon, sustainable investment funds
"We aim to maintain our position as a leading provider of sustainable solutions," Saugestad said in a statement. "With this policy we will excel and improve our work on climate and greening the financial system. We will use all the tools at our disposal, including divestment, investing more in solutions and engaging with companies in order to achieve substantial change."
The divestment, completed this year, represented a small share of the fund's assets, Bloomberg News reported. The fund divested a total of $47 million, almost half of it from Exxon and Chevron.
In response, both oil companies said they supported the goals of the Paris agreement and are investing in low-emission technologies.
"[Exxon] is focused on the dual challenge of meeting the growing demand for energy and minimizing environmental impacts and the risks of climate change," spokesman Casey Norton told Bloomberg News in an email.
Chevron, meanwhile, said it was considering a shareholder vote that would encourage transparency around climate lobbying.
UK nonprofit InfluenceMap has reported that Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total spend around $200 million a year working to delay or block climate policies, according to The Guardian. While the fund did not divest from major European oil companies like BP or Norway's own Equinor, they are not off the hook.
"This initial move does not mean that BP, Shell, Equinor and other oil and gas majors can rest easy and continue with business as usual, even though they are performing relatively better than US oil majors," Saugestad told The Guardian.
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By Hannah Thomasy
From 2014 to 2016, the Gulf of Alaska experienced the worst marine heat wave of the decade. From single-celled organisms to top predators, practically no level of the ecosystem was left unscathed. During the Pacific marine heat wave, tens of thousands of dead seabirds washed up on beaches, unusually low numbers of humpback whales arrived in their summer habitats, and toxic algal blooms spread along the West Coast of North America.
Now, a new study in Scientific Reports casts doubt on whether Gulf ecosystems will be able to return to their pre–heat wave conditions. This study—a collaborative effort between researchers at NOAA and several other government and research organizations—combined dozens of data sets to build a detailed picture of how many heat wave–induced changes have persisted. Thanks in part to long-term monitoring efforts by Gulf Watch Alaska, a program established in 2012 to assess the ongoing effects from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, scientists were able to compare pre–heat wave and present conditions in several different sections of the ecosystem.
"We were able to show these impacts—from the intertidal out to the pelagic [open ocean] ecosystem, and from algae and phytoplankton on up to whales and commercial fisheries, and a lot of different species in between," said Robert Suryan, a NOAA marine biologist and lead author of the study.
Shannon Atkinson, a professor in the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who was not involved in this study, said it's very important that we understand the changes taking place in the Gulf of Alaska. "The ecological significance is huge," she said. "We've seen such dramatic changes in the Far North…it really has made Alaska like a ground zero for climate change."
In addition to impacts on the animals that make their homes in the Gulf of Alaska, changes in the Gulf ecosystem could have major implications for the livelihoods of many Alaskans as well. This region supports subsistence fisheries, commercial fisheries, and a major tourism industry.
For some animals, the heat wave was devastating. Most metrics showed a decline in sea stars, herring, and Pacific cod; their populations today generally remain lower than pre–heat wave measures. Numbers of sea lion pups trended downward, and some areas had fewer nesting seabirds like common murres and kittiwakes.
But, Suryan pointed out, as some species suffered, others thrived. For example, researchers saw a major decrease in the amount of brown algae in the intertidal zone. That's bad news for species like herring, which lay their eggs on the algae. But as algae cover decreased, "that opened up space" for other organisms in the intertidal zone, explained Suryan. "In tidal communities, there's a lot of competition for space, so there was an increase in barnacles and mussels.… So that's a benefit to communities that rely more on those particular species."
Similarly, there have been positive and negative effects on different fisheries in the region. Although the Pacific cod fishery has suffered in the years during and since the heat wave, Suryan said that juvenile sablefish have been surviving and growing at greater rates than usual, so sablefish fisheries will likely do well in the coming years.
As ecosystems change, we as humans need to change how we interact with and manage them, researchers said. "With these types of studies, we're hopeful that we can really benefit the management of natural resources," said Suryan. "[We're] thinking about the communities in the region and the industries in the region—how can we help inform their adaptation to this change?"
An Uncertain Future
This study is just the beginning. Suryan looks forward to more focused research on the mechanisms by which these changes are occurring. Why do some species do better than others? Even within the same species, why do some age groups thrive while others decline? By understanding such mechanisms, he said, we will be better able to predict how the changing climate will affect the future of these important ecosystems.
In addition to measuring the number of animals in the population, Atkinson said that measuring things like reproductive rates and biomarkers of stress can also be valuable indicators of how well a group of animals is faring in a changing environment.
Unfortunately, climate change may not be the only threat these animals face. Atkinson said it's important to determine how animals will respond to cumulative stressors (including climate change, disease, and pollution) to predict how well populations will survive in the coming years.
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Jeff Turrentine
Tamara Lindeman certainly doesn't seem particularly anxious, or grief stricken, or angry. In fact, in a recent Zoom conversation, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter (who records and performs under the name The Weather Station) comes across as friendly, thoughtful, and a little shy.
Nevertheless, anxiety, grief, and anger are what fueled Lindeman's creative process for the making of Ignorance, her just-released fifth album. Over skittering drumbeats and densely layered sonic textures that hover somewhere between chilly and ethereal, Lindeman has crafted a 40-minute song cycle that examines our collective climate trauma as experienced through a single, highly agitated psyche.
"People are like, is it a political album? And I say no, it's an emotional album," she tells me. "I wasn't trying to write about these feelings; it's just that these were the feelings that I was having at the time, so they kept flowing through." Lindeman wrote more than 40 songs over the course of the winter of 2018–2019, much of which she spent in relative isolation. And when she wasn't writing, she was reading. "I had gone down the rabbit hole and had become obsessed with trying to understand the climate crisis," Lindeman says. "I was trying to figure out how I could be of use. Could I become an activist? Do I have that in me?"
Apparently she does. Lindeman joined the throngs who took to the streets as part of the "Fridays for Future" movement inspired by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg. She studied the massive report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that warned of the catastrophic consequences of failing to curb global carbon emissions immediately. Lindeman even hosted a series of public talks on the subject, interviewing economists, activists, political figures, and other artists about the need for climate action.
Amid all of this, she continued to compose—moving away from the indie-folk that had defined The Weather Station's earlier albums toward a new style that incorporates jazz, chamber pop, and (especially) the lushly produced soundscapes of artists like Kate Bush and Sarah McLachlan. It's a style well suited for a song like "Robber," Ignorance's opening track, which sets a tone of foreboding that permeates the entire album. As strings swell nervously, Lindeman sings of a thief who
permission by words, permission of thanks, permission of laws, permission of banks,
white tablecloth dinners, convention centers.
It was all done real carefully.
"I wrote that song right after I had read an article about Exxon," Lindeman says. "I hadn't known the full story of Exxon—that long before most people knew about climate change, [Exxon] knew about it. Because they had researched it, as far back as 1981." After tasking its own scientists to study whether the burning of fossil fuels could lead to climate change, the oil giant sat on its findings for decades and even funded a vast network of climate deniers in order to maximize profits. "They had two paths," Lindeman says, "and they chose, actively, not just to allow it to happen, but to hide what they knew and to make it difficult for us as citizens to fight back."
Notably, "Robber" never mentions Exxon—or oil, or climate change, for that matter. As she does with all of the songs on Ignorance, Lindeman approaches her subject obliquely. There's no calling out of specific bad actors, and there's certainly no discussion of carbon emissions or sea level rise. She understands that such language would instantly and lethally deflate these songs, plunging them from the realm of art into the wide but shallow pool of didacticism.
Instead, Lindeman gives us something very much like poetry. In another song, "Trust," she makes a final appeal to a lover at what feels like the ending of a relationship:
Bring me all the evidence,
the baskets of wild roses,
the crumpled petals and misshapen heads of reeds and rushes,
the bodies of the common birds, robins, crows, and thrushes,
everything that I have loved and all the light touches,
while we still have time.
That the lover remains undefined—is it a person or a planet?—is another indication that Lindeman is less interested in preaching than in exploring feelings of profound loss through the use of concrete, if highly personalized, imagery. But this song, too, has its creative origins in a real-life incident. In this case it was the songwriter's despair at witnessing the Canadian government, in the form of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), attack and arrest members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation in northern British Columbia for blocking a roadway in an attempt to stop the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their ancestral lands.
"The RCMP was approaching with dogs and helicopters," Lindeman says, recalling the late-2019 event that led to the writing of "Trust." "They looked like an invading army. And I thought: This is my government." As she followed the conflict on social media, Lindeman recalls, all the lines of communication from the scene suddenly went dead. "No one knew why. There was, like, two hours where the WiFi in the area went down and people weren't able to communicate. And I wrote that song in those two hours, while people were waiting to find out what had happened and if people were OK."
Lindeman acknowledges some ambivalence about sharing the story, "because obviously it's not my story to tell—I'm not Indigenous," she says. "But I felt, as a citizen, an immense betrayal. This government that had been elected to take action on climate and Indigenous reconciliation had essentially invaded people's land in order to protect a pipeline company. And people were there chaining themselves to fences to stop it from happening. Somehow that filtered into the song. There are other things that went into it—from my life, from my subconscious. But that image was the crux of it. Why are we still having to argue over the value of something like water, or a landscape?"
It's not easy to make poignant, lasting art about climate change. The problem is so immense and all-encompassing that the vocabularies of music, poetry, theater, painting, or film can seem insufficient to the task, but in fact, they may be just what we need. As people and governments mobilize to address this global existential crisis, we need artists to check our work, to hold us accountable, to spur us on. And we need them to remind us of the human toll—both physical and emotional—as we head deeper into an uncertain future.
And we need to them to be as persistent as the tiny yet full-throated creature Lindeman memorializes in her song "Parking Lot":
Waiting outside the club in a parking lot
I watched some bird fly up and land on the rooftop
then up again into the sky, in and out of sight,
flying down again to land on the pavement.
It felt intimate to watch it,
its small chest rising and falling as it sang the same song
over and over and over and over again,
over the traffic and the noise.
Reposted with permission from Natural Resources Defense Council.
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By Ian Urbina
About 100 miles off the coast of Thailand, three dozen Cambodian boys and men worked barefoot all day and into the night on the deck of a purse seiner fishing ship. Fifteen-foot swells climbed the sides of the vessel, clipping the crew below the knees. Ocean spray and fish innards made the floor skating-rink slippery.
Seesawing erratically from the rough seas and gale winds, the deck was an obstacle course of jagged tackle, spinning winches and tall stacks of 500-pound nets. Rain or shine, shifts ran 18 to 20 hours. At night, the crew cast their nets when the small silver fish they target — mostly jack mackerel and herring — were more reflective and easier to spot in darker waters.
This was a brutal place, one that I've spent the past several years exploring. Fishing boats on the South China Sea, especially in the Thai fleet, had for years been notorious for using so-called sea slaves, mostly migrants forced offshore by debt or duress.
Two-thirds of the planet is covered by water and much of that space is ungoverned. Human rights, labor and environmental crimes occur often and with impunity because the oceans are vast. What laws exist are difficult to enforce.
Arguably the most important factor, though, is that the global public is woefully unaware of what happens offshore. Reporting about and from this realm is rare. As a result, landlubbers have little idea of how reliant they are on the sea or the more than 50 million people who work out there.
Forced labor on fishing ships is not the only human rights concern. Hundreds of stowaways and migrants are killed at sea annually. A multibillion-dollar private security industry operates at sea, and when these mercenary forces kill, governments rarely respond because no country holds jurisdiction in international waters. Somewhere in the world, at least one ship sinks every three days, which is part of the reason that fishing is routinely ranked as among the deadliest professions.
And then there's the environmental crisis. Oil spills aren't the worst of it. Every three years, ships intentionally dump more oil and sludge into the oceans than the Exxon Valdez and BP spills combined. Acidification is damaging most of the world's coral reefs.
Most of the world's fishing grounds are depleted. Some research predicts that by 2050, the sea will contain more plastic than fish. Overfishing, often boosted by government subsidies, means smaller catches closer to shore and an industry becoming more desperate. One out of every five fish on American plates comes from pirate fishing vessels.
Recent events have reminded the world of its dependence on maritime commerce. In the Port of Los Angeles, a COVID-induced bottleneck of dozens of cargo ships left consumers with shipping delays and deckhands idling, unable to reach the shore. In the Suez Canal, one sideways-turned ship led to a $10-billion traffic jam.
Despite occasional news coverage when calamity strikes offshore, reporting from this untamed frontier is generally scarce. Many news outlets have pulled back from international reporting because it is time-consuming and expensive.
The Outlaw Ocean Project, a nonprofit journalism organization, is working to fill this gap. A report we published last year with NBC News revealed the largest illegal fishing fleet ever discovered: more than 800 Chinese fishing boats operating in North Korean waters in violation of UN sanctions. These ships were accelerating the collapse of the squid stock while violently displacing local and smaller North Korean ships, with deadly consequences, as hundreds of these local fishermen were getting stranded too far from shore and dying.
But even with striking stories — about the oceans or anything else — journalism is struggling to reach younger people, who increasingly are turning to alternate sources of information from online platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. And unless the public is engaged and interested, very little will change in terms of international policies or enforcement.
As much as we are devoted to the urgency of these ocean issues, it is clear that our investigations need to reach broad and new audiences to have impact. That's why we combined our traditional journalism with an experiment in using music to bring people to our work.
We created The Outlaw Ocean Music Project, an effort to help disseminate and financially support the reporting. More than 480 musicians from over 80 countries have joined the project to make albums in their own style and in a variety of genres, each inspired by the stories. The music has been published on more than 200 digital platforms (including Apple Play, YouTube and Amazon), with the streaming revenue funding more reporting.
Several artists from Seattle, Washington including Quackson, Petey Mac, and Hello Meteor, have participated in the project and share a common goal of creating EPs that tell the often-overlooked stories of the sea.
The musicians use audio samples from the video footage captured during the reporting, integrating sound clips such as machine-gun fire off the coast of Somalia and chanting captive deckhands on the South China Sea. This music has had a combined reach of more than 90 million people, many of whom move from the songs to the videos and to the written reports.
The oceans are existentially important. They are the circulatory system of global commerce, as 80 percent of the world's commercial cargo is carried by ships. They are also the lungs of the globe, serving as a carbon sink helping to clean the air while also producing half of the oxygen we breathe.
But for all its importance and breathtaking beauty, the sea is also a dystopian place, home to dark inhumanities. Too big to police and under no clear international authority, immense regions of treacherous water play host to rampant criminality and exploitation. The only way to better govern this offshore frontier, and to counter the human rights and environmental problems occurring out there, is to shine a continuous light on them. And for that, journalism — with an assist from music — has an urgent role to play.
Ian Urbina, a former investigative reporter for the New York Times, is the director of The Outlaw Ocean Project, a non-profit journalism organization based in Washington, DC, that focuses on reporting about environmental and human rights crimes at sea.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
As the world celebrated Earth Day, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio and Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson on Thursday announced that New York City filed suit over Big Oil's decades of lies about fossil fuels and the climate emergency — just the latest addition to more than two dozen similar cases launched by U.S. communities.
Like many of the other cases throughout the country, this lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in the County of New York, names fossil fuel giants BP, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell as well as the American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry trade group, as defendants.
A statement announcing the suit accuses the defendants of "systematically and intentionally deceiving New Yorkers" in violation of the city's Consumer Protection Law. The complaint says they engaged in "deceptive trade practices" including "false and misleading greenwashing campaigns."
“My message to Big Oil is: New York City will see you in court.” NYC sued 3 major oil companies for allegedly runn… https://t.co/P3lIx6GMJ7— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Bloomberg Quicktake)1619116109.0
"Climate change is very much on the mind of New Yorkers. Overwhelmed with the idea that there is nothing they can do, consumers are looking for ways to help, including by spending money on fossil fuel alternatives and rewarding companies that seem green," Johnson explained.
"The defendants in our lawsuit have spent millions to persuade consumers that they present a clean, green choice. But they don't," he continued. "They say they are making meaningful investments to protect the environment. But they aren't. They would like us to believe they are good faith partners in the drive to reduce fossil fuel consumption. And we don't."
Asserting that "consumers are entitled to clear, accurate information about products they may choose," Johnson added that "we are bringing this litigation to protect that right. The defendants' deceptive practices are squarely prohibited by New York City law and cannot be allowed to continue."
Other key city officials joined in calling out the oil and gas majors, including Lorelei Salas of the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, Dave A. Chokshi of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Ben Furnas of the Mayor's Office of Climate and Sustainability, and Jainey Bavishi of the Mayor's Office of Climate Resiliency.
"Fossil fuel companies are continuing to spin a tangled web of lies about the deadly products they produce and sell after decades of misleading consumers," said Bavishi. "There's undeniable scientific evidence that oil, gas, and coal are warming our planet and making climate disasters more frequent and more severe. We won't be able to protect New York City from climate change unless we stop these companies from lying to New Yorkers — and that's what we intend to do."
NYC sues ExxonMobil et al. for "systemically & intentionally deceiving New Yorkers". Should be a slam dunk: In 201… https://t.co/W45dNQs9Dr— Geoffrey Supran (@Geoffrey Supran)1619118058.0
The mayor, who has gained some international attention for his work to address the climate emergency, reiterated a point he has often made — that "our children deserve to live in a world free from climate change, and we must do everything in our power to give them hope and stop climate change in its tracks."
"That means taking on some of the biggest polluting corporations for false advertising and greenwashing," de Blasio added, describing the behavior as illegal. "My Earth Day message to Big Oil: See you in court."
Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), welcomed the filing in a statement.
"Oil and gas executives caused the climate crisis, then systematically lied about it. They need to be held accountable," he said. "Exxon, Shell, BP, and API have spent decades targeting policymakers and the public with climate disinformation. It's time for policymakers everywhere to realize that oil and gas executives will never be good faith partners in climate solutions."
The new lawsuit comes after a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of an earlier New York City nuisance suit that aimed to hold some of the same companies accountable for the cost of climate damages they knowingly caused. That ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court contrasts with other recent federal court decisions.
Responding to NYC's latest move, API, ExxonMobil, and Shell all highlighted the dismissal, while a representative for BP declined to comment, according to CNN.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Sharon Kelly
What's the single word that fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil's flagship environmental reports to investors and the public tie most closely to climate change and global warming?
According to newly published research from Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes and Harvard research associate Geoffrey Supran, it's a simple four-letter word, one that carries overtones not only of danger, but also — crucially — of uncertainty: risk.
Oreskes and Supran argue in the peer-reviewed study published in the journal One Earth, that by repeating that word over and over as it discusses climate change ExxonMobil continues to connect climate change to uncertainty, even in its most carefully worded and most scrutinized discussions of the topic.
That tiny word is one sign of a massive change underway in how fossil fuel companies talk about climate change in places where it's no longer considered credible to contest climate science. Instead, Oreskes and Supran write, ExxonMobil's statements subtly shift responsibility for climate change onto the shoulders of consumers, while avoiding the need to describe in detail the risks that are posed by climate change.
And that, for the record, is a lot to gloss over — not just in terms of what scientists predict about the future, but in terms of what climate change has already played a role in bringing about. Last year, for example, tied with 2016 as the "warmest" year on record, according to NASA — 2020 brought a brutal drumbeat of climate-linked calamities, including a record-obliterating wildfire season on the West Coast that memorably turned skies orange and red and an extraordinarily intense Atlantic hurricane season.
The way that ExxonMobil talks about climate change, the paper suggests, lets the company thread a very specific rhetorical needle, communicating two ideas that fundamentally benefit their interests. "On the one hand, 'risk' rhetoric is weak enough to allow the company to maintain a position on climate science that is ambiguous, flexible, and unalarming," the researchers write. "On the other, it is strong enough — and prominent enough, in [New York Times] advertorials and elsewhere — that ExxonMobil may claim that the public has been well informed about [anthropogenic global warming]."
And if that approach feels a little familiar, maybe that's because it's very similar to the tactics used by another industry in the past: Big Tobacco.
"Akin to early, tepidly worded warning labels on cigarette packages, ExxonMobil's advertorials in America's newspaper of record help establish this claim, sometimes explicitly: 'Most people acknowledge that human-induced climate change is a long-term risk,' a 2001 advertorial states (emphases added)," the paper continues. "'The risk of climate change and its potential impacts on society and the ecosystem are widely recognized,' says another the following year."
And that's just one example of the ways that ExxonMobil's favored ideas about climate change — ideas like "we are all to blame" or "society must inevitably rely on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future" — can become embedded in conventional wisdom and creep into how people think and talk about climate change, the paper argues.
While the new paper is hardly the first to draw parallels between the fossil fuel and tobacco industries, what sets it apart is how the research was done.
"Our analysis is the first computational study illustrating how the fossil fuel industry has encouraged and embodied AGW [anthropogenic global warming] narratives fixated on individual responsibility," the paper says. The study used automated methods to analyze 180 ExxonMobil documents, 32 previously published internal company documents, and 76 New York Times "advertorials" where the company took positions on climate change. The authors believe that these methods of efficiently reviewing a large number of company records could prove useful later in litigation, where larger batches of documents may need review.
The number of climate liability lawsuits worldwide and in the U.S. continues to grow. A January 2021 United Nations report tallied 1,200 cases in the U.S. and 350 other lawsuits in nearly 40 other jurisdictions worldwide — nearly double the number of lawsuits underway three years ago by the report authors' count. Not all of those cases involve ExxonMobil — but some of the highest profile lawsuits include those filed by state attorneys general and state and local governments alleging that the company misled investors or consumers or others.
Supran and Oreskes have both assisted with legal briefs or served as expert witnesses in climate liability cases, but in an email to DeSmog, Supran noted that virtually all of that work has been done pro bono (with the sole exception that Oreskes once billed 3.5 hours for her work reviewing the historical accuracy of allegations in one 2017 case). Supran called their work and testimony in climate liability cases "a logical application of our knowledge and expertise."
ExxonMobil did not respond to a request for comment about their study from DeSmog.
As it has become less credible to contest the legitimacy of climate science, the paper notes, the company has shifted its rhetoric on climate to focus on "risk."
"In ExxonMobil Corp's 2005 Corporate Citizenship Report, for instance, which extensively questions whether AGW is human caused and serious, a member of the public [is quoted asking]: 'Why won't ExxonMobil recognize that climate change is real…?'" Oreskes and Supran write. "The company replies: 'ExxonMobil recognizes the risk of climate change and its potential impact' (emphases added)."
That subtle shift lets ExxonMobil "inject uncertainty" into conversations about climate change, the paper continues, "even while superficially appearing not to."
"We have also observed that, starting in the mid-2000s, ExxonMobil's statements of explicit doubt about climate science and its implications (for example, that 'there does not appear to be a consensus among scientists about the effect of fossil fuel use on climate') gave way to implicit acknowledgments couched in ambiguous statements about climate 'risk' (such as discussion of lower-carbon fuels for 'addressing the risks posed by rising greenhouse gas emissions,' without mention of [anthropogenic global warming])," the paper reports.
It's also a way of talking that also lets ExxonMobil leave out any description of what, exactly, is being put at risk, the paper notes.
The company's public messaging pits clear-cut descriptions of the benefits of using fossil fuels against the risks of climate change — but while it offers examples of the ways people find fossil fuels useful, ExxonMobil is a lot more vague about what, exactly, the risks associated with climate change are, the paper argues.
That's not for a lack of available scientific data. "Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented climate extremes and volatility in every region and on every continent," U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a December 2020 address. "The science is crystal clear: to limit temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6 per cent every year between now and 2030."
The biggest remaining questions about climate change don't concern the ways that our lives will be increasingly disrupted by extreme weather, wildfires, rising seas and the like. There's a strong body of scientific evidence that lets scientists make good predictions about what happens when we collectively burn fossil fuels at different rates. And a peer-reviewed study published last year in the journal Geophysical Research found that climate models dating back to the 1970s through 2007 have proved remarkably accurate
The biggest open questions are about policy and products, not about what the science shows.
The real source of uncertainty, in other words, is how long we will continue doing the things that cause climate change.
Polling shows that Americans' understandings of climate science have shifted dramatically in recent years. In 2014, NBC News recently reported, less than half of Americans polled believed that climate change was caused by human activity. Polls from 2020, however, show that now 57 percent of Americans cite human activity as causing climate change, a jump of roughly ten percent.
But there may still be times and places where not only is discussion of risk familiar and habitually framed in terms of risk management, but also where ExxonMobil's framing might find a particularly receptive audience.
Asked by DeSmog, Supran said that investors may be particularly vulnerable to what he called ExxonMobil's "fossil fuel savior" framing.
"Within this frame, the company is an innocent supplier, simply giving consumers what they demand. That is, ExxonMobil are the good guys who we should trust to address the climate risks that we, the public, brought upon ourselves," he said. "It's also worth noting that these modern forms of propaganda are increasingly subtle and insidious, and so being exposed to them ad nauseam, as shareholders are, could make them more vulnerable to this 'discursive grooming'."
Going forward, the new paper predicts that companies like ExxonMobil may continue to rely on the strategies developed by the tobacco industry.
"In their public relations messaging, industry asserts smokers' rights as individuals who are at liberty to smoke," the paper says. "In the context of litigation, industry asserts that those who choose to smoke are solely to blame for their injuries."
"ExxonMobil's framing is reminiscent of the tobacco industry's effort 'to diminish its own responsibility (and culpability) by casting itself as a kind of neutral innocent, buffeted by the forces of consumer demand,'" it continues. "It is widely recognized that the tobacco industry used, and continues to use, narrative frames of personal responsibility — often marketed as 'freedom of choice' — to combat public criticism, influence policy debates, and defend against litigation and regulation."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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Even though 2020 lending was down 9% compared to the previous year, it was still higher than in 2016, when the Paris agreement took effect, and lending to the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest plans to expand actually rose by 10%. American and Canadian banks accounted for 13 of the 60 banks reviewed in the report, with JPMorgan Chase providing more fossil fuel financing than any other bank.
The report comes as pressure is mounting on financial institutions to stop investing in fossil fuels driving climate change and multiple banks have touted promises to cut and offset their greenhouse gas pollution, including JPMorgan, HSBC, and Citigroup.
As reported by The Guardian:
"When we look at the five years overall, the trend is still going in the wrong direction, which is obviously the exact opposite of where we need to be going to live up to the goals of the Paris Agreement," said Alison Kirsch, at Rainforest Action Network and an author of the report. "None of these 60 banks have made, without loopholes, a plan to exit fossil fuels."
"We have seen progress in restricting financing for special places like the Arctic or greenhouse-gas-intensive forms of oil, like tar sands, but these are such a small piece of the pie," she said.
For a deeper dive:
Correction: A previous version of this story stated wrongly that the biggest banks gave fossil fuel companies $32.8 trillion in financing. It is $3.8 trillion.
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