Unless "climate change" becomes a non-issue, meaning that the Kyoto proposal is defeated and there are no further initiatives to thwart the threat of climate change, there may be no moment when we can declare victory for our efforts.
American Petroleum Institute, “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan”, 1998.
A recent investigative series by Inside Climate News documented Exxon Corporation’s extensive knowledge--as early as 1977-- of the reality of man-made climate change, and of its own role in creating increased greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions all but certain to result in a future of catastrophic warming to the planet. ICN’s investigation also documented the abrupt and deliberate policy decision made by Exxon to become the industry leader in financing and fostering the denial of climate science, a decision that ensured that the rest of the human race would be fed a stream of disinformation until it was effectively too late, while Exxon profited to the maximum extent possible before the truth became overwhelming and, in essence, un-deniable.
New reporting by Neela Banerjee for ICN now reveals that it wasn’t just Exxon, but the entire oil and gas industry through its mouthpiece, the American Petroleum Institute, that collaborated to perpetuate the denial and “uncertainty” charade, to soak in as much money for themselves as possible at the expense of the rest of us and all future generations who would have to live through the consequences of their deception:
The American Petroleum Institute together with the nation's largest oil companies ran a task force to monitor and share climate research between 1979 and 1983, indicating that the oil industry, not just Exxon alone, was aware of its possible impact on the world's climate far earlier than previously known.
The API’s task force was made up of the senior scientists and engineers from Amoco, Mobil, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco, Gulf Oil and Standard Oil of California, probably the highest paid and sought-after senior scientists and engineers on the planet. They came from companies that, just like Exxon, ran their own research units and did climate modeling to understand the impact of climate change and how it would impact their company’s bottom line. The leader of the task force, James Nelson, in probably one of the most ironic admissions in corporate history, acknowledged to ICN that the multi-company effort was initially called the CO2 and Climate Task Force, but changed its name to the Climate and Energy Task Force in 1980.
In the heady days of the late 1970’s, before the Reagan era officially sanctioned corporate greed as an American value, there was actually some consideration by these companies of reducing emissions in order to spare the rest of the world the consequences of unchecked global warming:
API task force members appeared open to the idea that the oil industry might have to shoulder some responsibility for reducing CO2 emissions by changing refining processes and developing fuels that emitted less carbon dioxide.
Bruce S. Bailey of Texaco offered "for consideration" the idea that "an overall goal of the Task Force should be to help develop ground rules for energy release of fuels and the cleanup of fuels as they relate to CO2 creation," according to the minutes of a meeting on Feb. 29, 1980.
In the same 1980 meeting the task force also heard from Professor John Laurmann of Stanford University on possible conversion to alternate energy sources. Laurmann advised the task force of the potentially catastrophic consequences with continued global warming if fossil fuel consumption continued unabated. From the meeting minutes of Laurmann’s presentation to the API task force:
1 C Rise (2005): BARELY NOTICEABLE
2.5 C Rise (2038): MAJOR ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES, STRONG REGIONAL DEPENDENCE
5 C Rise (2067): GLOBALLY CATASTROPHIC EFFECTS
But this fleeting moment of concern and human conscience—just as it had it Exxon’s case—soon yielded to the enticing reality of seven and eight-figure executive salaries:
[B]y the 1990s, it was clear that API had opted for a markedly different approach to the threat of climate change. It joined Exxon, other fossil fuel companies and major manufacturers in the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a lobbying group whose objective was to derail international efforts to curb heat-trapping emissions. In 1998, a year after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by countries to cut fossil fuel emissions, API crafted a campaign to convince the American public and lawmakers that climate science was too tenuous for the United States to ratify the treaty.
Nelson acknowledges that in the 1980’s API moved abruptly away from science-based analysis of the climatic impact of the fossil fuel industry and began taking a more “political” view towards protecting its interests:
“They took the environmental unit and put it into the political department, which was primarily lobbyists,” he said. “They weren’t focused on doing research or on improving the oil industry’s impact on pollution. They were less interested in pushing the envelope of science and more interested in how to make it more advantageous politically or economically for the oil industry. That’s not meant as a criticism. It’s just a fact of life.”
Nelson excuses this shift by blaming it on the growing influence of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is something akin to the Tobacco industry blaming its misleading propaganda on the efforts of the FDA to regulate tobacco. The campaign of manufactured disinformation and doubt that ensued was deliberate, well-planned, and well-financed, and continues to this day. The following is an excerpt from the API’s Action Plan memorandum of the API, 1998, setting forth the industry’s goals to sow public doubt in American media about something they had been well aware of for nearly twenty years:
A majority of the American public, including industry leadership, recognizes that significant uncertainties exist in climate science, and therefore raises questions among those (e.g. Congress) who chart the future U.S. course on global climate change.
Progress will be measured toward the goal...[.]
Victory Will Be Achieved When
- Average citizens "understand" (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the "conventional wisdom"
- Media "understands" (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science
- Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current "conventional wisdom"
- Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy
- Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extent science appears to be out of touch with reality.
Interestingly, the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC) was identified as a “potential fund allocator” for the API’s initiative, which illustrates how long ALEC has been a willing tool of corporate malfeasance. In 2000 the group found a natural ally in George W. Bush, whose campaign professions of sincere interest in reducing global carbon emissions were swiftly reversed once he obtained access to the Oval Office. Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto treaty, well documented and attested to by then-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill in Ron Suskind’s, “The Price of Loyalty,” was a classic corporate-inspired betrayal of the environment:
API and GCC were victorious when George W. Bush pulled the U.S. out of the Kyoto agreement. A June 2001 briefing memorandum records a top State Department official thanking the GCC because Bush "rejected the Kyoto Protocol in part, based on input from you."
Lobbyists for API found a cozy sinecure in the Bush/Cheney Administration. The article describes API lobbyist Philip Cooney, chief of staff on Bush’s Council for Environmental Quality, who was discovered in 2005 to have rewritten federal research papers to sow doubts about climate change. Cooney resigned that year and went to work for Exxon/Mobil. The ICN investigation also documents the efforts of one Robert Campion, a senior scientist at Exxon and a member of the API task force, who was highly influential (and effective) early on in tamping down API’s emphasis on the effects and impact of continued, increasing CO2 emissions. An example of his efforts to dissuade a more aggressive agenda on CO2 by API is grimly ironic, in a black comedic sense:
Campion [urged a more limited agenda on CO2 emissions] because the Energy Department and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) were expected to issue a report "momentarily" based on an April 1979 climate symposium that "concluded no catastrophic hazards would be associated with the CO2 buildup over the next 100 years and that society can cope readily with whatever problems ensue."
(Eventually published in October 1980, the AAAS report offered more sobering forecasts than Campion had expected, describing risks to nearly every facet of life on Earth and concluding catastrophes could be avoided only if timely steps were taken to address climate change.)
Other writings by Campion from 1979 unearthed by the ICN investigation document him predicting that real-world effects of climate change would begin to manifest themselves after the year 2000:
He estimated that the effects would be felt after 2000, after a cyclical cooling period had passed. Because a cyclical warming trend was then expected post 2000, it would intensify climate change, "worsening the effect," he wrote.
Of course we know the end result of Exxon’s and the API’s efforts, begun all those 35 years ago. We’re seeing them on the East Coast as we watch in benumbed silence while the warmest Christmas season in recorded memory unfolds around us, closing out the hottest year in recorded history, and brought on by the most severe EL Nino ever observed. Meanwhile, their efforts to delay action on reduction of C02 emissions continue to find support in a Republican Party thoroughly beholden to the industry for its very existence. The few oil and gas company scientists who were willing to talk to ICN about their participation in the API’s task force ( including API’s President who now claims he doesn’t even remember it) continue to insist that there is still doubt about the “consensus” of the scientific community:
Charles DiBona served as president of API from 1979 to 1997, when the organization shifted its approach on climate change from following the science to intense lobbying to discredit it. DiBona said in a phone interview that he did not remember the climate task force. Like Nelson, he does not accept the prevailing scientific consensus that climate change is being driven by fossil fuel combustion. "I think there is some question about the broader scientific community. There's not much evidence that there is real consensus," DiBona said.
DiBona, Nelson and the American Petroleum Institute only have to live with themselves and whatever passes for their sense of conscience. The rest of us, unfortunately, will have to live with the results of their decisions for the remainder of our lives.