Is the fossil fuel industry, like the tobacco industry, guilty of racketeering?
Journalists investigated Exxon’s rejection of its own science to deceive the public. Scientists call for the Justice Department to investigate
ExxonMobil has become infamous for its secretive anti-climate science campaign, having spent $30 million funding groups denying the scientific evidence and consensus on human-caused global warming.
Last week, after an eight-month investigation, InsideClimate News revealed that from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s, scientists at Exxon were in fact at the cutting edge of climate science research.
"Exxon documents show that top corporate managers were aware of their scientists’ early conclusions about carbon dioxide’s impact on the climate. They reveal that scientists warned management that policy changes to address climate change might affect profitability. After a decade of frank internal discussions on global warming and conducting unbiased studies on it, Exxon changed direction in 1989 and spent more than 20 years discrediting the research its own scientists had once confirmed."
In an internal September 1982 document, Exxon scientists summarized the expert consensus on human-caused global warming, and the consistency of their own research with that expert consensus.
"The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in an average global temperature rise of (3.0 ± 1.5)°C … There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere … the results of our research are in accord with the scientific consensus on the effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on climate."
It’s ironic that 33 years ago, the world’s largest oil company accepted and concurred with the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming that many people continue to deny to this day.
In another internal company document in November 1982, Exxon scientists illustrated the rapid global warming they expected to occur over the following century due to rising carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels. A year earlier, Exxon scientists were discussing the distinct possibility that the consequences of climate change could become catastrophic in the near future.
Climate scientists call for investigation of the fossil fuel industry
Coinciding with the InsideClimate News revelations, a group of climate scientists sent a letter to President Obama, his science advisor John Holdren, and Attorney General Lynch, calling for an investigation “of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change.”
In 1999, the Justice Department filed a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit against the major tobacco companies and their associated industry groups. In 2006, US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the tobacco industry’s campaign to “maximize industry profits by preserving and expanding the market for cigarettes through a scheme to deceive the public” about the health hazards of smoking amounted to a racketeering enterprise.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has noted that the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to cast doubt on climate science closely mirror those by the tobacco industry. As Senator Whitehouse said in May 2015,
Imagine what a little discovery into the beast would reveal about the schemes and mischief of the climate denial apparatus—about what they’re telling each other in private while they scheme to deceive the public. The truth will eventually come to light. It always does.
Indeed, as the InsideClimate News investigation subsequently revealed, Exxon’s own scientists were warning of the dangers of human-caused climate change nearly 40 years ago. The parallels to the tobacco industry’s public deception are striking. It appears that many climate scientists have become fed up, and are encouraging the government to embark on a similar RICO investigation into fossil fuel industry efforts to mislead the public.
Senator Whitehouse and 11 colleagues also sent a letter to 108 CEOs of all member companies of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors asking about their positions on the Chamber’s efforts to undermine the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. The New York Times reported that the Chamber of Commerce was holding meetings with a group of about 30 corporate lawyers, coal lobbyists and Republican political strategists to devise a plan to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, months before it was even introduced.
Some Republicans are showing climate leadership
There is also some good news in recent American reactions to climate change. Pope Francis spoke on the south lawn of the White House last week and called for urgent action on climate change. The pope hailed the Clean Power Plan as “encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution” at a “crucial moment in history.” An increasing number of Republican thought leaders are calling for the party to lead on climate change through a free market carbon pollution pricing solution.
Recently, 11 House Republicans broke ranks with their party leadership to call for action against climate change. Thus far, dependency on fossil fuel industry campaign donations has played a major role in the Republican Party’s efforts to obstruct national and international climate policies. However, with these investigations into the fossil fuel industry efforts to mislead the public, mirroring those of the tobacco industry, perhaps its grip over Republican lawmakers will weaken.
- The Guardian
- Published on:
- September 29, 2015
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