Big Oil Knew—Big Oil Lied—And Planet Earth Got Fried

— by Jon Queally, staff writer at Common Dreams
New report exposes why fossil fuel companies didn’t need the warning from the public scientific community to start a decades-long campaign of denial. They already knew their business model was a threat.

Image: Union of Concerned Scientists

A new report, The Climate Deception Dossiers, chronicles how Exxon and other major fossil fuel companies did not take action to disclose or reduce climate risks in the ensuing years, but instead actively misled the public and policymakers about them.

They knew. They lied. And the planet and its people are now paying the ultimate price.

It’s no secret that the fossil fuel industry—the set of companies and corporate interests which profit most from the burning of coal, oil, and gas—have been the largest purveyors and funders of climate change denialism in the world.

Now, a new set of documents and a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) answers the age-old question always asked when it comes to crimes of corruption, cover-up, and moral defiance: What did they know and when did they know it?

As it turns out, “The Climate Deception Dossiers” shows that leading oil giants such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell—just like tobacco companies who buried and denied the threat of cancer for smokers—knew about the dangers of global warming and the role of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions long before the public received warning from the broader scientific community. And what’s worse, of course, is not only that they knew—but how they have spent the last nearly thirty years actively denying the damage they were causing to the planet and its inhabitants.

The new report, explains UCS president Ken Kimmell, “is a sobering exposé of how major fossil fuel companies have … neither been honest about, nor taken responsibility for, the harms they have caused by extracting and putting into commerce the fossil fuels that now place our climate in grave danger. Instead, either directly or indirectly, through trade and industry groups, they have sown doubt about the science of climate change and repeatedly fought efforts to cut the emissions of dangerous heat-trapping gases.”

And as this video shows:

The new report reviews internal documents from some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies—including BP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Phillips, and Shell—spanning the course of 27 years. UCS obtained and reviewed memos that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The documents show that:

  • Companies have directly or indirectly spread climate disinformation for decades;
  • Corporate leaders knew the realities of climate science—that their products were harmful to people and the planet—but still actively deceived the public and denied this harm;
  • The campaign of deception continues, with some of the documents having surfaced as recently as in 2014 and 2015.

UCS has made the complete collection of 85 internal memos—totaling more than 330 pages—available online.

As part of its research, UCS discovered that as early as 1981—nearly seven years before NASA scientist James Hansen made his famous testimony before Congress about the dangers of human-caused global warming—internal discussions about the reality of the threat were already occurring inside the corporate offices of ExxonMobil and others.

In the case of Exxon, an email by one of the companies key scientists explains that, “Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia.” The email explains that the company knew the field was rich in carbon dioxide and that it could become the “largest point source of CO2 in the world,” accounting for 1 percent of projected global CO2 emissions.

The email in question was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University.

Speaking with the Guardian newspaper, director of the Institute Alyssa Bernstein said the email makes it clear “that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision making, in making their economic calculation.”

Though stating she did not want to appear “melodramatic,” Bernstein told the Guardian that Exxon’s behavior amounts to a supremely larger moral offense than even the tobacco industry’s obfuscations on smoking “because what is at stake is the fate of the planet, humanity, and the future of civilization.”

Given the scale of their crime, UCS says the “time is ripe to hold these companies accountable for their actions and responsible for the harm they have caused.”

Offering recommendations for what the industry should be doing, the group said companies must:

  • Stop disseminating misinformation about climate change. It is unacceptable for fossil fuel companies to deny established climate science. It is also unacceptable for companies to publicly accept the science while funding climate contrarian scientists or front groups that distort or deny the science.
  • Support fair and cost-effective policies to reduce global warming emissions. It is time for the industry to identify and publicly support policies that will lead to the reduction of emissions at a scale needed to reduce the worst effects of global warming.
  • Reduce emissions from current operations and update their business models to prepare for future global limits on emissions. Companies should take immediate action to cut emissions from their current operations, update their business models to reflect the risks of unabated burning of fossil fuels, and map out the pathway they plan to take in the next 20 years to ensure we achieve a low-carbon energy future.
  • Pay for their share of the costs of climate damages and preparedness. Communities around the world are already facing and paying for damages from rising seas, extreme heat, more frequent droughts, and other climate-related impacts. Today and in the future, fossil fuel companies should pay a fair share of the costs.
  • Fully disclose the financial and physical risks of climate change to their business operations. As is required by law, fossil fuel companies are required to discuss risks—including climate change—that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. Today, compliance with this requirement is not consistent.

“These companies aren’t just trying to block new polices, they’re trying to roll back clean energy and climate laws that are working and are widely supported by the public,” said Nancy Cole, a report author and UCS’s campaign director for climate and energy. “Climate change is already underway – and many communities are struggling to protect their residents and prepare for future changes. The deception simply must stop. It’s time for major carbon companies to become part of the solution.”


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Naomi Klein Makes Moral Case for World Beyond Fossil Fuels

Activist and author, Naomi Klein, praises ‘courageous’ invitation by Pope in face of fossil fuel industry’s power

by Nadia Prupis, staff writer

Author and activist Naomi Klein spoke at the Vatican on Wednesday, calling climate change a “moral crisis” that should unite all people. (Photo: Adolfo Lujan/flickr/cc)

Naomi Klein—activist, author, and self-described “secular Jewish feminist”—spoke at the Vatican on Wednesday where she championed the Pope’s message for global action on climate change and made the case for “the beautiful world” beyond fossil fuel addiction.

Klein, who was invited to speak by the Vatican, gave her speech ahead of a two-day conference to discuss the Pope’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, on the environment and the threat of the global economic system—subjects that the author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate knows well.

The encyclical has garnered praise from environmental campaigners like Greenpeace International’s Kumi Naidoo, who called it a “clarion call for bold, urgent action.”

“Pope Francis writes early on that Laudato Si’ is not only a teaching for the Catholic world but for ‘every person living on this planet.’ And I can say that as a secular Jewish feminist who was rather surprised to be invited to the Vatican, it certainly spoke to me,” Klein told reporters ahead of the conference, which is called People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course.

She praised what she described as “the core message of interconnection at the heart of the encyclical.”

Klein also expanded on what may appear to be an unlikely alliance with the leader of the Catholic Church.

“Given the attacks that are coming from the Republican party around this and also the fossil fuel interests in the United States, it was a particularly courageous decision to invite me here,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “I think it indicates that the Holy See is not being intimidated, and knows that when you say powerful truths, you make some powerful enemies and that’s part of what this is about.”

“In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality.”  — Naomi Klein

“I have noticed a common theme among the critiques. Pope Francis may be right on the science, we hear, and even on the morality, but he should leave the economics and policy to the experts,” Klein said in her speech. “They are the ones who know about carbon trading and water privatization, we are told, and how effectively markets can solve any problem. I forcefully disagree.

“The truth is that we have arrived at this dangerous place partly because many of those economic experts have failed us badly, wielding their powerful technocratic skills without wisdom,” she said. “In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality. Because if we agree that endangering life on earth is a moral crisis, then it is incumbent on us to act like it.”

Echoing the Pope’s message to address inequities, Klein said that “our current system is also fueling ever widening inequality.”

But Klein stressed that her appearance at the Vatican did not mean that any one world view was “being subsumed by anyone else’s.”

“This is an alliance on a specific issue. It’s not a merger,” Klein said. “But when you are faced with a crisis of this magnitude, people have to get out of their comfort zones.”

Despite the magnitude of the crisis, Klein stressed: “We can save ourselves.”

“Around the world, the climate justice movement is saying: See the beautiful world that lies on the other side of courageous policy, the seeds of which are already bearing ample fruit for any who care to look.

“Then, stop making the difficult the enemy of the possible.

“And join us in making the possible real,” she said.

The two-day conference, which comes in the lead-up to the COP21 international climate talks in Paris later this year, is being coordinated by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity (CIDSE), an alliance of Catholic development agencies. Alongside Klein, other speakers include Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, pontifical council president H.E. Cardinal Peter Turkson, and CIDSE secretary general Bernard Nils.


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It Was a Good Week in the Fight to Stop Tar Sands

Statoil postpones Alberta tar sands mine project;  pipeline expansion that would have gone through conservation area on hold

by Andrea Germanos, CommonDreams staff writer

A demonstration against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion project. (Photo:  Niall Williams/flickr/cc)

Opponents of tar sands got some good news this week.

Oil and gas company Statoil announced Thursday that it was shelving its Corner tar sands project in Alberta.

The Norwegian firm’s decision to postpone the project “for a minimum of three years” is due to economic costs of labor and materials, according to a press statement from the company.

“Market access issues also play a role—including limited pipeline access which weighs on prices for Alberta oil, squeezing margins and making it difficult for sustainable financial returns,” part of the statement reads.

A similar announcement was made earlier this year by French energy firm Total, which said it was shelving its Joslyn tar sands mine in Alberta because of escalating costs. In addition, Shell announced in February that it was stopping work on its Pierre River mine in the Alberta tar sands.

Anthony Swift writes at NRDC’s Switchboard blog that these announcements show it is

…time to abandon the tattered argument that major pipelines like Keystone XL would not enable substantial tar sands expansion and associated carbon emissions. Industry doesn’t believe it – and neither should policy makers.

[…]

If we build Keystone XL, we’ll see many of the tar sands projects that are being cancelled and postponed become viable once again. At a time when decisive action on climate change is urgently needed, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would make the problem of carbon pollution worse – enabling the production of some of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels.

Also on Thursday, tar sands critics in the city of Burnaby, British Columbia scored at least a temporary victory in their fight to stop energy giant Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion—a project facing strong opposition.

Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) said that at this time it could not force the city to allow the company to conduct its surveys and studies for the work in the conservation area, which would violate the city’s bylaws.

CBC News reported that “Kinder Morgan wants to bore a hole under [Burnaby] mountain as part of a proposal to nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, but the city has vowed to block the project however it can.”

In its statement, the NEB writes “that the motion filed by Trans Mountain raises a constitutional question as to whether City of Burnaby bylaws are inapplicable to the company as it exercises its powers under the National Energy Board Act and whether the city should be prevented from enforcing those bylaws.”

It is now up to the company to provide formal notice to the attorneys general of Canada and the provinces if it wants to continue, and the issue would then return to the NEB.

Environmental group ForestEthics has said that among the tar sands pipeline’s problems is that it could “increase tanker traffic in the region from about 80 a year to over 400 tankers a year.”

Mayor of Burnaby and pipeline foe Derek Corrigan said at a rally this month that “that is the scariest concept for us as a city and as a province that you can imagine. When you think about the potential catastrophe that could occur as a result of one of those tankers being damaged in our inlet—the destruction that that would cause to the reputation of this city…the people that surround that inlet…[and] to the wildlife—and never mind the tourism.”


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Giving a Big Story the Cold Shoulder

TV news coverage of climate change is spotty and misleading.

By Don Kraus

Don Kraus

It’s summer — time for barbecues, family vacations, and July 4th fireworks.

Unfortunately, summer has also become a time for wildfires, drought, triple-digit heat waves, catastrophic storms, and other deadly reminders of the impact climate change has on our planet.

This May, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million for the first time in 3 million years. That number offers a stark indicator that current initiatives to slow climate change are failing.

The scientific evidence is mounting. Last year was the hottest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency described 2012′s extreme heat as part of a longer-term trend of hotter, drier, and potentially more extreme weather.

The heat was apparent at Georgetown University where President Barack Obama sweated under a hot summer sun as he laid out his next steps on climate change before a cheering crowd of mostly college students saying, “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Obama raised the stakes on the Keystone XL pipeline decision, noting the “net effects of climate impact will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project will go forward.” He identified climate change as the major challenge of the century.

This slow motion disaster is big news, right? Not, unfortunately, in the major media. The three major TV networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — covered climate change in depth on their nightly news programs a total of 12 times in 2012. So far, in 2013, they have only reported segments on the issue nine times (including coverage of Obama’s climate speech), according to the watchdog group Media Matters.

Even with extreme events like Colorado’s wildfires and Superstorm Sandy, the networks aren’t making the connection between the increased tempo of catastrophic events and global warming. This is literally bad news because nearly 30 percent of Americans stay on top of current events by watching network TV. (A slightly larger share of us get our news from cable TV).

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only one in three Americans believe “global warming is a ‘very serious problem’.” In 2007, the same poll found that nearly half of Americans considered this to be the case.

U.S. media climate change coverage isn’t just spotty — It’s also misleading.

Unfortunately, some of the minimal network and cable TV news coverage on climate issues that Americans do see just provides a platform for groups and individuals who ignore scientific consensus, and deny either that the climate is changing or that global warming is being brought about by human activity.

In his Georgetown speech, Obama dismissed deniers, arguing ”it is imperative for the United States to couple action at home with leadership internationally. America must help forge a truly global solution to this global challenge.”

The next global climate talks will take place at a summit in Rio de Janeiro next year. Our nation must play a leadership role in these negotiations. To be a credible leader at these meetings, however, U.S. lawmakers and diplomats need the American people’s support.

And how can our nation have a serious conversation on climate when TV news won’t cover the climate crisis?


Don Kraus is the President and CEO of GlobalSolutions.org, which has launched the #CoverClimate campaign to focus attention on the need for better climate coverage.  GlobalSolutions.org is also asking Americans to sign a petition that calls on broadcast networks to pay more attention to this issue.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org  Photo credit to www.endangeredpolarbear.com

ExxonMobil’s Mayflower Mess

Tar sands crude is both more toxic and much harder to clean than ordinary oil.

By Michael Brune

Michael Brune

Several weeks after ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline gushed at least 500,000 gallons of tar sands crude and water into the Arkansas community of Mayflower, many of the evacuated families still can’t return to their homes.

Sierra Club organizer Glen Hooks, who grew up about 20 miles southeast of this disaster site, recently attended a meeting for the displaced families at Mayflower High School. “I had to really stare down some ExxonMobil goons who told me to leave because it was a private meeting,” he said. “I politely explained that it was a meeting in a public building about a public subject with numerous public officials in attendance, and that I was planning to stay.”

During the Mayflower meeting, Hooks listened as an ExxonMobil executive apologized to the families and said that the focus was on safety and helping the homeowners. “The meeting then moved into a phase where ExxonMobil met with individual family members about their claims in a side room guarded by no fewer than six uniformed police officers.”

Here’s something that the Big Oil leader probably didn’t tell those homeowners: In 2010, it was fined $26,200 by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for failing to regularly inspect each point where the Pegasus line crosses under a navigable waterway.

image

This is a pipeline that crosses under the Mississippi River — just one of the places ExxonMobil failed to do inspections. It’s hard to say which is more shocking: that “safety first” ExxonMobil has been so cavalier about pipeline inspections or that it was fined such a pittance for its irresponsibility. By my calculation, $26,200 comes out to less than 0.0001 percent of the $30.5 billion in net income that ExxonMobil’s raked in over the course of 2010.

Let’s put that in perspective. If ExxonMobil’s income were the same as the median family income in Faulkner County, Arkansas, where its pipeline leaked, then ExxonMobil’s fine for endangering the Mississippi River would have been about four cents.

No matter how much ExxonMobil ends up spending to clean up the mess in Mayflower, the impact on its profit statement will be miniscule. Unfortunately, no amount of cash can buy peace of mind for the families whose homes were violated by tar sands.

Tar sands crude is both more toxic and much harder to clean than ordinary oil. Just ask Enbridge, which has now spent almost $1 billion and two years trying to clean up the Kalamazoo River after the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history.

No wonder ExxonMobil is doing everything it can to keep reporters and everyone else as far away from the Mayflower disaster as possible. The more the American public learns about the real cost of tar sands crude, the more opposition to the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines will grow.

If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, it’s not a question of whether it will fail, but of when and where. The first disaster will be far worse than what happened in Mayflower, since TransCanada’s pipeline will pump 10 times as much tar sands crude as the Pegasus does.

I hope we heed this disaster’s two biggest lessons: No. 1: How oil companies talk about safety has no connection to how they act, and. No. 2: The last thing you want to wake up and find in your backyard is a tar sands spill.


Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. www.sierraclub.org  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)