Thursday, October 22, 2015

ExxonMobil on climate change

The outrage directed at ExxonMobil for knowing that climate change was real but pretending otherwise explains SO much about why the environmental movement has gone nowhere for at least a generation.  Because while Big Oil has acted wretchedly in this matter, institutional analysis pretty much would predict that a company that specializes in selling oil products would hardly be expected to do anything else.

The biggest failure of analysis is caused by the differing perceptions of what oil companies actually do. For much of the environmental movement, oil companies are these evil people who go around starting wars and toppling governments so that they can steal the oil that is not rightfully theirs. The oil companies on the other hand believe that they are providing customers with the critically necessary resources to power their lives. They know what happens to a country when it runs short of oil. Just sitting in fuel lines for a few times in the 1970s made people so angry they were willing to kill each other.  All their customers want is gasoline that burns in their cars for the cheapest price possible.  The way the oil folk see themselves, is "If we didn't work so hard, you ungrateful people would die in the resulting chaos.  We literally bring civilization!  Would it kill you to say 'thank you' once in a while?"

The factoid that has the environmental community in a blood red rage these days is a new report that the top scientists at ExxonMobil knew about the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change as far back as the 1970s. This story is totally believable. When Standard Oil was broken up, the division that got all the high tech scientists and research people was Mobil. The link between burning fossil fuels and climate change was first written about by Svante Arhennius in 1893. So the possibility that someone at ExxonMobil knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change must be nearly 100% given the high level of chemists and chemical engineers that work in the petroleum industry. My guess is that those glory days of Mobil are long behind us—there's been a lot of cost-cutting in the big oil companies since the 1970s.

What probably happened is that when these papers first came out inside of ExxonMobil, there was probably a bunch of optimism for other energy products besides fossil fuels. We saw that also happen at British Petroleum when they introduced their "BP—Beyond Petroleum" ad campaign. Of course that effort too flickered and died. And the reason is probably pretty simple—an oil company looked at itself carefully and decided it wasn't going to be a solar company or a wind company or anything else because it had billions invested in the skills necessary to find, extract, and refine petroleum.  I'm pretty sure that nobody inside Big Oil expected anything to replace fossil fuels in any reasonable timeframe so the people who thought this was possible probably just retired or quit. Pretty soon these traditional oil companies were all oil once again.

And while it would have been nice if Big Oil had figured out a way to transition to other energy forms, it is really not so shocking they did not.  It would have been wonderful if they had not instead spent money spreading doubt about the reality of climate change when it is pretty obvious that most of their scientific staff probably knew better.  But since the environmental community hasn't figured out what to do about climate change either, it would probably be prudent if we stop dreaming about a world where oil companies spend their days figuring out how to put themselves out of business and figure out realistic ways to come up with fossil-fuel alternatives ourselves.

House Democrats Press DOJ To Investigate If Exxon Broke The Law With A Climate Change Cover-up

Reports accuse ExxonMobil of hiding its research from decades ago, which tied fossil fuels to climate.

Laura Barron-Lopez, The Huffington Post 10/16/2015

WASHINGTON -- Two House Democrats are urging Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch an investigation into allegations that oil giant ExxonMobil hid research, which verified that fossil fuels play a role in global warming.

In a letter to Lynch, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) argue a probe is needed, to determine whether ExxonMobil broke the law.

Lieu and DeSaulnier's request is based on two independent investigations published by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, which document research conducted by a number of Exxon's senior scientists. Their findings warned of increases in the global temperature as a result of burning fossil fuels.

"In this case, Exxon scientists knew about fossil fuels causing global warming and Exxon took internal actions based on its knowledge of climate change," Lieu and DeSaulnier wrote. "Yet Exxon funded and publicly engaged in a campaign to deceive the American people about the known risks of fossil fuels in causing climate change."

"If these allegations against Exxon are true then Exxon's actions were immoral," they added. "We request the DOJ to investigate whether ExxonMobil's actions were also illegal."

The LA Times investigation found that while senior Exxon researcher Ken Croasdale studied the long-term impact of climate change on the companies operations, Exxon was "crafting a public policy position that sought to downplay the certainty of global warming."

The Inside Climate News piece chronicled work by Exxon scientist James Black, going all the way back to July 1977 when he told the company's management committee that the "most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels."

The publication noted that Black's assessment and presentations to Exxon bosses came before a majority of the world was aware of climate change and its potentially devastating effect on the environment.

Lieu and DeSaulnier offered a damning critique of Exxon in their letter to Lynch, comparing it to "cigarette companies that repeatedly denied harm from tobacco."

Since the LA Times and Inside Climate News reports were published, climate change advocates have criticized Exxon.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben called the company's actions an "unparalleled evil."

RL Miller, founder of Climate Hawks Vote, a super PAC that supports lawmakers pushing for action on climate change, praised Lieu and DeSaulnier's letter.

"Exxon’s malfeasance may constitute violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, the False Claims Act, or the Securities Exchange Act -- or all of the above," Miller said. "The Obama administration needs to act without delay to stop Exxon’s climatecriminality.”

Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company "unequivocally" rejects the allegations.

"The media reports that are the basis for their allegations are inaccurate distortions of ExxonMobil’s more than 30-year history of climate research that was conducted in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN International Panel on Climate Change," Jeffers said in an email. "Suggestions that ExxonMobil suppressed its climate research are completely without merit."

Jeffers pointed to some 50 peer-reviewed papers that Exxon scientists contributed to on climate change and carbon dioxide's effect on the planet "during the time when the media reports said we were suppressing climate science."

A recent blog post by Ken Cohen, Exxon's vice president of public and government affairs, said "nothing could be further from the truth," referencing the allegations in the LA Times and Inside Climate News pieces.

"It should surprise no one that we have remained committed to pursuing climate change research since that initial discovery," Cohen said. more

Exxon's climate lie: 'No corporation has ever done anything this big or bad'

Bill McKibben, 15 October 2015

The truth of Exxon’s complicity in global warming must to be told - how they knew about climate change decades ago but chose to help kill our planet

By 1978 Exxon’s senior scientists were telling top management that climate change was real, caused by man, and would raise global temperatures by 2-3C.

I’m well aware that with Paris looming it’s time to be hopeful, and I’m willing to try. Even amid the record heat and flooding of the present, there are good signs for the future in the rising climate movement and the falling cost of solar.

But before we get to past and present there’s some past to be reckoned with, and before we get to hope there’s some deep, blood-red anger.

In the last three weeks, two separate teams of journalists — the Pulitzer-prize winning reporters at the website Inside Climate News and another crew composed of Los Angeles Times veterans and up-and-comers at the Columbia Journalism School — have begun publishing the results of a pair of independent investigations into ExxonMobil.

Though they draw on completely different archives, leaked documents, and interviews with ex-employees, they reach the same damning conclusion: Exxon knew all that there was to know about climate change decades ago, and instead of alerting the rest of us denied the science and obstructed the politics of global warming.

To be specific:

By 1978 Exxon’s senior scientists were telling top management that climate change was real, caused by man, and would raise global temperatures by 2-3C this century, which was pretty much spot-on.

By the early 1980s they’d validated these findings with shipborne measurements of CO2 (they outfitted a giant tanker with carbon sensors for a research voyage) and with computer models that showed precisely what was coming. As the head of one key lab at Exxon Research wrote to his superiors, there was “unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere”.

And by the early 1990s their researchers studying the possibility for new exploration in the Arctic were well aware that human-induced climate change was melting the poles. Indeed, they used that knowledge to plan their strategy, reporting that soon the Beaufort Sea would be ice-free as much as five months a year instead of the historic two. Greenhouse gases are rising “due to the burning of fossil fuels,” a key Exxon researcher told an audience of engineers at a conference in 1991. “Nobody disputes this fact.”

But of course Exxon did dispute that fact. Not inside the company, where they used their knowledge to buy oil leases in the areas they knew would melt, but outside, where they used their political and financial might to make sure no one took climate change seriously.

They helped organise campaigns designed to instil doubt, borrowing tactics and personnel from the tobacco industry’s similar fight. They funded “institutes” devoted to outright climate denial. And at the highest levels they did all they could to spread their lies.

To understand the treachery – the sheer, profound, and I think unparalleled evil – of Exxon, one must remember the timing. Global warming became a public topic in 1988, thanks to Nasa scientist James Hansen – it’s taken a quarter-century and counting for the world to take effective action. If at any point in that journey Exxon – largest oil company on Earth, most profitable enterprise in human history – had said: “Our own research shows that these scientists are right and that we are in a dangerous place,” the faux debate would effectively have ended. That’s all it would have taken; stripped of the cover provided by doubt, humanity would have gotten to work.

Instead, knowingly, they helped organise the most consequential lie in human history, and kept that lie going past the point where we can protect the poles, prevent the acidification of the oceans, or slow sea level rise enough to save the most vulnerable regions and cultures. Businesses misbehave all the time, but VW is the flea to Exxon’s elephant. No corporation has ever done anything this big and this bad.

I’m aware that anger at this point does little good. I’m aware that all clever people will say “of course they did” or “we all use fossil fuels”, as if either claim is meaningful. I’m aware that nothing much will happen to Exxon – I doubt they’ll be tried in court, or their executives sent to jail.

But nonetheless it seems crucial simply to say, for the record, the truth: this company had the singular capacity to change the course of world history for the better and instead it changed that course for the infinitely worse. In its greed Exxon helped — more than any other institution — to kill our planet. more

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