Climate Denialism Was Literally Killing Us While Exxon Hid the Truth
September 11, 2017
Mark Hertsgaard / The Nation & Connor Gibson / EcoWatch
Multiply the death and destruction Hurricane Harvey a hundredfold to comprehend the scale of devastation in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, where a staggering 16 million children "are in urgent need of life-saving support" after "torrential monsoon rains and catastrophic flooding." Meanwhile, a breakthrough study from Harvard reveals how Exxon covered up its climate-disrupting pollution with an extensive propaganda campaign designed to destroy public trust in climate change science.
Climate Denialism Is Literally Killing Us
The victims of Hurricane Harvey have a murderer
-- and it's not the storm
Mark Hertsgaard / The Nation
(September 6, 2017) -- The horrors hurled at Houston and the Himalayan lowlands in late August were heartbreaking -- but also infuriating. How many times must we see this disaster movie -- titled Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, along with many lesser-
known foreign releases -- before we intervene and change the ending? And how long before we hold the ultimate authors of such climate catastrophes accountable for the miseries they inflict?
The tragedy of Harvey starts with the suffering of innocents like Jordyn Grace, the 3-year-old who survived the flood by clinging to the body of her drowned mother, who had prayed with her last breaths. At least 60 people died in Texas because of the storm, over 1 million people were displaced, and who knows how many survived but lost everything?
Multiply the death and destruction in Texas a hundredfold to comprehend the scale of devastation in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, where -- although the news coverage has been a fraction of Harvey's -- a staggering 16 million children "are in urgent need of life-saving support" after "torrential monsoon rains and catastrophic flooding," UNICEF reports.
What makes this so infuriating is that it shouldn't be happening. Experts have warned for decades that global warming would increase these sorts of weather extremes and that people would suffer and die if protective measures were not implemented.
In 2008, John Podesta, soon to be Obama's transition director, organized a war game to test the responses to projected climate disruptions. Eerily enough, the scenario chosen -- and vetted as scientifically accurate by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory -- envisioned a Category 4 hurricane striking Houston and extreme monsoons flooding India.
This is not to say that global warming "caused" Harvey -- a scientifically illiterate framing of the issue -- but it did make the rains bigger, more intense, and more destructive. Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of water -- "enough to cover all of Manhattan a mile deep," noted Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press -- and as much as 30 percent of it can be attributed to global warming, according to Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Many other experts have issued warnings, starting with NASA scientist James Hansen's landmark 1988 Senate testimony that global warming had begun and, if left unchecked, would threaten the future of human civilization. Recent years have also brought abundant evidence that shifting to wind power, less meat-heavy diets, and other climate-friendly alternatives would result in lasting economic and health benefits: more jobs, less inequality, cleaner air, stronger communities.
Yet Donald Trump and other powerful know-nothings in Washington seem perversely determined to ignore the lessons of Harvey, while doubling down on making things worse. Trump has crammed his administration full of climate-change deniers while pushing full steam ahead on more oil, gas, and coal production.
His EPA chief, incredibly, has urged governors to ignore the Clean Power Plan proposed by the Obama administration, aiding conservative efforts to gut the policy. Days before Harvey drenched Texas, Trump rescinded Obama's requirement that federal agencies take climate impacts into account before approving major infrastructure.
And in a stunning insult not only to climate preparedness but the legacy of US space exploration, Trump nominated a climate denier with no scientific training to run NASA.
When the president announced in June that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, I wrote in The Nation: "To refuse to act against global warming is to condemn thousands of people to death and suffering today and millions more tomorrow. This is murder, even if Trump's willful ignorance of climate science prevents him from seeing it."
That judgment grows more apt with each passing day we don't reverse course. Knowing what we know in 2017, expanding fossil-fuel production is like Big Tobacco continuing to addict people to its cancer sticks: technically legal but, in effect, premeditated murder.
It is past time to call out Trump and all climate deniers for this crime against humanity. No more treating climate denial like an honest difference of opinion. When top tobacco executives swore to Congress that nicotine wasn't addictive, their assertion, though laughable, did not make it true. Forty-six state attorneys general forced those companies to pay at least $206 billion for their wickedness.
Now, the individuals and institutions pushing climate denial must be called out with even greater vigor: in newspaper columns, on TV and radio talk shows, in town halls, at the ballot box, and by consumer boycotts, legal investigations, shareholder resolutions, street protests, and more.
Shedding tears for little Jordyn Grace in Houston and her counterparts in the Himalayan lowlands is only right, but it is far from sufficient. With Hurricane Irma churning toward Florida, the horrors and heartbreaks will only get worse until we change the game for their perpetrators.
The first step toward justice is to call things by their true names. Murder is murder, whether the murderers admit it or not. Punish it as such, or we encourage more of the same.
Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation's investigative editor at large, is the author of seven books, including On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency.
How Exxon Used the New York Times
To Make You Question Climate Science
Connor Gibson / EcoWatch
(September 3, 2017) -- A breakthrough study from Harvard unearths the extent Exxon has gone to in order to destroy the public's trust in climate change science.
Last week, Harvard University researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes (of Merchants of Doubt fame) published the first peer-reviewed study comparing ExxonMobil's internal and external communications on climate change.
The abstract of the Supran and Oreskes study shows that ExxonMobil's own scientists and executives had a much sharper understanding of climate science than the company told the public (emphasis added):
"Accounting for expressions of reasonable doubt, 83 percent of peer-reviewed papers and 80 percent of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, yet only 12 percent of advertorials do so, with 81 percent instead expressing doubt.
We conclude that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science -- by way of its scientists' academic publications -- but promoted doubt about it in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public."
As the Harvard authors credit, the advertorials came from a study published on PolluterWatch by our former colleague at Greenpeace, Cindy Baxter.
Cindy republished many of ExxonMobil's New York Times advertorials back in 2015. This was right as investigative reporters at InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed the extent of knowledge among Exxon's own scientists that burning fossil fuels caused unnatural global warming.
With these revelations in mind, Cindy recalled a peer-reviewed study in the journal Public Relations Review on "advertorials" or "op-ads" that Mobil Oil paid to have published in the New York Times. The authors of that study, Clyde Brown and Herbert Waltzer, reviewed 819 New York Times advertorials that Mobil placed "every Thursday" from 1985 to 2000.
Using a subscription database called ProQuest, Greenpeace found that Exxon and Mobil's op-ads went back at least as far as 1974, and continued until at least 2004. This was years after Exxon and Mobil merged to form the world's largest non-government oil corporation in 1999.
Combined with evidence published by reporters showing the degree to which Exxon and Mobil's own scientists understood the global warming phenomenon and its root in human fossil fuel combustion, the advertorials take on new meaning.
These oil companies were not as naive or uncertain as they long pretended to be, up until the point that denying the science was no longer possible. It turns out, they knew the entire time, and they appear to have intentionally deceived the public.
Here are some of the ExxonMobil advertorials that Greenpeace published in 2015:
Tomorrow's Energy Needs
Unsettled Science" -- From 2000, this advertorial clearly downplays ExxonMobil's internal understanding of climate change science:
Directions for Climate Research" -- From 2004, Exxon used the classic "we need more research" delay tactic.
This was eight years after thousands of scientists in the scientifically-conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released findings from its Second Assessment Report in 1995, which warned policymakers that humans pushed the climate beyond so far beyond its natural boundaries that we may not be able to reverse the trend. As the IPCC reports became more dire, Exxon engaged front groups, lobbyists and politicians to attack the science itself. More examples are available in our archive of ExxonMobil advertorials on PolluterWatch.
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