As fossil fuel executives join the rest of us currently choking on the ash of old growth forests being consumed in the apocalyptic conflagrations directly linked to their actions, we must never forget: THEY KNEW.
THEY KNEW in 1959, when famed physicist Edward Teller told a symposium of petroleum industry executives of the coming catastrophe:
“Whenever you burn conventional fuel,” Teller explained, “you create carbon dioxide. … Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect.” If the world kept using fossil fuels, the ice caps would begin to melt, raising sea levels. Eventually, “all the coastal cities would be covered,” he warned.
THEY KNEW in 1968, when a report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute concluded:
Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000, and these could bring about climatic changes. [...] there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe. [...] pollutants which we generally ignore because they have little local effect, CO2 and submicron particles, may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental changes.
THEY KNEW in 1977 and 1978 when Exxon senior scientist Jack Black informed executives:
“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels." ... A year later he warned Exxon that doubling CO2 gases in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two or three degrees—a number that is consistent with the scientific consensus today. He continued to warn that “present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical."
THEY KNEW in 1981, when
Exxon scientists were no longer questioning whether the buildup of CO2 would cause the world to heat up. Through their own studies and their participation in government-sponsored conferences, company researchers had concluded that rising CO2 levels could create catastrophic impacts within the first half of the 21st century if the burning of oil, gas and coal wasn’t contained.
THEY KNEW in 1991 when Shell Oil produced a film called Climate of Concern to be shown in schools and universities:
It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted. “If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
THEY KNEW the earth would burn and they let it. The air you’re choking on, the floods that Pakistani children died in, the heat waves and wildfires and drought and hurricanes all the rest of it was first suspected, then known, then known with certainty by the fossil fuel companies — and they just let it happen. Worse, they actively misinformed the world about the emergency.
Surely, when the extent of the destruction they have knowingly wrought on our planet is fully accounted for, we will conclude there is no crime in human history (and yes, I am familiar with the catalog of horrific crimes of human history) greater than what has been perpetrated by these executives — banal in conduct, evil in effect — just to make a buck.
THEY KNEW — and surely we must demand — when the smoke clears — that these criminals be brought to justice? Because while in our current legal system, it may be the case that destroying the planet in the name of profit is not a chargeable offense; nevertheless an organized campaign to hold the occupants of these executive suites accountable — criminally accountable — for what they’re doing and what they have done would be...let’s say clarifying to their minds.
But whether this happens or not, we must never forget that this unfolding catastrophe is not an unfortunate accident — it was a deliberate act. That THEY KNEW.