Climate Corner: Corporate disinformation
Aug 14, 2021
On Aug. 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body that assesses the science related to climate change, issued its most recent and most comprehensive assessment report with the opening sentence, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” The fact that our planet is warming due to human activity is “settled” science just as much as gravity exists and vaccinations prevent communicable diseases. Although the IPCC report says we are not yet doomed, it makes it clear we must change the path we are on before it’s too late. The report also warns that the consequences of this climate crisis will reshape life on Earth in the coming decades even if fossil fuel emissions are curbed. In a July Climate Corner article titled “Warning Signs,” Aaron Dunbar dramatically described the urgency of the climate crisis.
Unlike the average American, the executives of fossil fuel companies were made aware of the harm burning fossil fuels would cause the globe by their own research and scientists decades ago! In 1958, a Shell executive presented a paper to the American Petroleum Institute (API) that warned about increased carbon emissions. An Exxon study, done in 1979, said that burning fossil fuels “will cause dramatic environmental effects in the coming decades.” It concluded, “The potential problem is great and urgent.” A team headed by a Mobil Corporation scientist warned, in 1995, that burning the company’s products was causing climate change and that the relevant science “is well established and cannot be denied.” API’s own reports noted “significant temperature changes” by the end of the 20th Century.
All fossil fuel companies responded to these warnings by knowingly denying this harm and intentionally spreading climate “disinformation.” The industry downplayed evidence of climate change, promoted misleading information related to the benefits of gas and oil and spent millions on lobbyists to block actions that would curb emissions. And, of course, these tactics continue today as evidenced by a recently taped video of Exxon senior lobbyist Keith McCoy, which aired on a British channel, admitting that they “aggressively fight” the science. Even though fossil fuel company executives know their products are harmful to people and the planet, they continue to choose to ignore scientific facts and deliberately obscure the truth.
The tactic of deception is not an uncommon one for multi-billion dollar corporations. It also was used by tobacco companies in the past and pharmaceutical companies are now facing similar accusations. However, the fossil fuel companies’ disinformation campaigns should be considered the most horrific because their consequences effect ALL living species across the globe. It angers me to think how much more relaxing my retirement years would be if this industry had felt it important to listen to the science. And, it terrifies me to think what life may be like for my young granddaughters when they are senior citizens.
Because a global transition to sustainable alternatives for a clean energy grid and transportation seems to be underway, the fossil fuel industry is making an effort to protect its profits by focusing on petrochemicals. The industry is planning a massive build-out of petrochemical plants primarily in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian regions including right here in our own Mid-Ohio Valley backyard. Petrochemicals are toxic chemicals made from oil and gas that are used to make plastics, industrial chemicals and agricultural pesticides. These materials harm human health and the environment not only during production but throughout their life cycle. Fossil fuel corporations, who still believe profits come before people and the planet, are utilizing intentional disinformation to promote this development while overlooking environmental and public health concerns. They want you to believe that modern society cannot function without petrochemical products and there are no sustainable alternatives. They have even made the flimsy argument that petrochemicals advance and enable renewable energy technologies.
In order to rein in this destructive industry, many environmental organizations concerned with the future of the planet are attempting to take on the power structures surrounding petrochemicals and plastics by funding projects in front line communities. This past spring, Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action received “Direct Support Funds” to run a campaign in our area in opposition to the proposed petrochemical build-out on the Ohio River. The Direct Support Fund is made possible by the Heinz Endowments, the 11th Hour Project and The Plastic Solutions Fund and is a project of the Mountain Watershed Association (for more information or to apply visit www.mtwatershed.com). These funds are awarded to small grassroots groups that, among other related activities, “…seek to organize, inform or educate community members about the impacts of shale gas and petrochemical development.” MOVCA’s anti-petrochemical campaign is underway this summer. Funds are being used to air anti-petro radio and TV PSAs on local stations during July and August and anti-petro billboards have been installed on State Route 7 and Interstate 77. MOVCA wants to demonstrate, especially to those in political positions, that not all people in the local area are in agreement with or support the proposed petrochemical development. Hopefully, these messages are being noticed. Hopefully, our region and the world will take action to address this climate crisis before it’s too late to save the grandchildren.
Giulia Mannarino, of Belleville, is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.