Climate change is real. KB Advancing Green covers real people who are working on climate change solutions to cool our planet.
Steve Coll writes for The New Yorker. He used to be managing editor at the Washington Post. He is Dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He won a couple of Pulitzer Prizes.
He wrote a book called “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power,” published in 2012. That year, he was interviewed about his book by Frontline. Here is a summary of what he said.
A lot of American companies objected to the 1997 Kyoto Accords (an international agreement organized by the U.N. to stop climate change).
Most of them said it was not fair and would not be good for our economy.
Exxon, however, went after the science.
Exxon does oil and gas. Gas would have done well under climate change regulation. They could have survived Kyoto. In fact, such regulation might have been good for the company’s bottom line.
But Exxon’s then CEO Lee Raymond did not personally believe in the science of climate change, so he decided to go after it.
Exxon (sometimes secretly) funded nonscientific groups (often free market ideologues) to attack the science of climate change. Multimillions of dollars were spent. The American Petroleum Institute was very busy. While other companies participated, Exxon led the way.
The purpose of these lobbying campaigns was to raise doubts about climate change in the public mind. A number of these climate change doubt lobbyists used to lobby for the tobacco industry.
Their messaging did not stop at “warming temperatures are not caused by human activity.” It said global temperatures were not actually warming at all (a topic most scientists had stopped debating about by that time).
Meanwhile, there is evidence that Exxon’s own scientists were doing internal studies to see how climate change could affect oil discovery.
Environmental groups, scientists, and eventually some in Congress became aware of the doubt campaign.
Investigations began. Activists started to activate. Even some of the Rockefellers (Exxon descended from Standard Oil) argued against the company’s approach.
There was a movement by climate change activists to identify victims of global warming. An island community under water. A corn farmer in the Midwest who lost his farm to drought.
The Exxon Board got nervous.
The tobacco industry had been sued and held accountable for killing people through intentional public misinformation.
Were there internal Exxon records that would show the company intentionally misled the public? Also, Exxon had traditionally been a very moralist company (up to the 1970s it was not unusual for employees there to pray together during a meeting). Would Exxon scientists come forward the way their counterparts had against big tobacco?
In 2005, Lee Raymond retired.
New CEO Rex Tillerson cut Exxon funding to many of the more radical lobbying groups it had supported.
Exxon lawyers were nervous. They did not want the company to admit liability. So the new messaging was “we were not wrong, we were misunderstood. What we meant to say is global warming is a serious matter. Let’s talk about it.”
In 2009, Obama took office and the Democrats held both houses of Congress. Exxon decided to admit that it was time to support a carbon tax (just not the one Congress was considering that year).
But the 12 year campaign had done its damage – while 97 % of climate scientists are in agreement that climate change is real and is human caused, public perception still hasn’t recovered from doubt.
Since World War II, Americans have been willing to tax themselves to protect current generations from pollution. But they have not been willing to do so for future generations. It seems to take an immediate threat to spark real action.
That threat is here, in the shape of super storms, severe drought, raging fires, and a melting Arctic.
Recently, after experiencing the worst drought in recorded history, Australia (who felt every bit as doubtful about climate change as we did) enacted a price on carbon.
Perhaps Americans will reconsider, too.
Are you taking action to prevent climate change and would like me to write about you, or are you looking for ways to get involved? Contact KB Advancing Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.