3. INVESTIGATING THE ROLE OF BIG OIL IN THWARTING SOLUTIONS TO THE CLIMATE CRISIS
CSPW is investigating Big Oil, in general, and the Exxon Mobil Corporation, in particular, for the role they have played in obstructing the adoption of public policies for addressing the climate change threat by engaging in a massive, decades-long disinformation and denial campaign, akin to the public deception campaign lodged by the tobacco industry to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer. ExxonMobil is under criminal investigation by at least two state Attorneys General and possibly the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for potentially under-reporting the risks to its operations associated with climate change impacts to the point that it has committed securities fraud. The work CSPW is doing parallels these investigations and feeds into a growing national movement that seeks to hold fossil fuel industry players, as well as elected officials, accountable for a systematic failure to take positive action to cut carbon emissions and ameliorate the existential threat climate change poses. It also feeds into a potentially game-changing lawsuit filed by 21 youth against the President of the United States and key members of the Executive branch demanding meaningful climate change remedies. Neglecting to leave a habitable world for our children, their children, and future generations is a failure of epic proportions: the energy companies responsible for deliberately contributing to this malicious neglect should be held accountable.
To be fair, fossil fuels enabled the US Industrial Revolution and have fueled economic growth ever since, drastically improving our quality of life by allowing for heating, cooling, lighting, ground and air transport, and the power needed to run a vast array of appliances, instruments, computing and communications technologies, devices and gadgets. A world without fossil fuels is nearly unimaginable: yet, imagine it we must. Once humankind gained sufficient knowledge – via extensive, international scientific investigation – that byproducts of fossil fuel combustion (namely, emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases) accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere and cause global warming that disrupts Earth’s climate system in ways that are deadly and destructive, it was at this point in human history that it became incumbent on us, as a species, to reduce atmospheric carbon loading by aggressively pursuing an alternative energy future. This is the position of CSPW, but more importantly, it is and has been the position of US Presidents, a vast number of Members of the US Congress, and leaders of the majority of nations across the globe.
Pursuing an energy economy dominated by high-efficiency and zero- and low-carbon energy systems – e.g., wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydropower – has been slowed and impeded by entrenched fossil energy industries intent on maximizing production and profit, and maintaining and expanding market share, regardless of the cost to society of our continued dependence on oil, coal, and natural gas. Since it is not economically or practically feasible to capture or contain CO2 at the tailpipe or the smokestack, we must increase our reliance on less-polluting renewable energy systems that are now technologically mature and increasingly competitive with most applications of fossil fuels. Yet, despite rapid renewable market growth in the US and elsewhere, significant obstacles remain, obstacles that could be remedied by changes in public policy. Removing the billions of dollars in government subsidies to the oil and gas industry, amending the tax code to level the playing field by being more favorable to capital-intensive renewable energy systems, and passing a nationwide cap-and-trade regime for carbon dioxide emissions are just a few examples of climate-friendly public policies that the fossil industries have fought tooth and nail against. Contrary to typical fossil industry rhetoric, it is lack of political willpower, not lack of technology or know-how, that has bound us to an outdated, business-as-usual energy economy that is unsustainable and incompatible with the natural systems on which our very lives depend.
Deliberately deceiving the public and policymakers regarding the level of scientific certainty regarding the climate change threat has been the preferred modus operandi of major fossil fuel industry players for three decades: when the climate change problem became the proverbial writing on the wall, King Coal colluded with Big Oil to confuse the American people regarding the serious nature of the risk and scientists’ collective understanding of it, in order to confound support for new laws and regulations that would curtail CO2 and thus cut into corporate revenue. Rather than embrace the hard truth of climate change, energy executives made the strategic decision to attack the science and even the scientists themselves by discrediting their work and impugning their reputations. Despite the fact that major oil and gas companies like the Exxon Corporation had themselves engaged in robust research activities to better understand the role of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere in the 1960s and 1970s, by the time the 1980s rolled around, they were disparaging consensus science rather than meaningfully contributing to it. We call this well-orchestrated campaign of mass-deception the “global warming denial machine.” Sowing doubt and confusion in the public mind regarding the link between coal-fired power plants or gasoline-powered vehicles, and potentially devastating climate change impacts affecting real people in real places, was taken from the tobacco industry playbook written by executives who buried evidence that smoking causes lung cancer. Moreover, the very agents of climate denial are many of the same people who had worked to keep the public and policymakers in the dark regarding the cigarette-cancer connection.
CSPW’s investigation includes analyzing corporate financial statements to shareholders and the SEC, educating potential oil industry whistleblowers on their legal rights as truth-tellers, and working collaboratively with other organizations also involved in this work: our ultimate objective is to help stop and shut down the global warming denial machine, once and for all.