Petroleum Industry Climate Deceit Started Even Earlier Than We Thought

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Last week, the Washington-based Center for International Environmental Law released a raft of public documents showing that the toxic oil and gas/carbon dioxide relationship was known decades earlier than the previously documents revealed.

Producing oil (Flickr/Johnny Choura)

The first news about the massive coverup surfaced last year, when InsideClimate News put out a special report that top executives at Exxon had known about the role of fossil fuels in global warming as early as 1977. InsideClimate News found that instead of working to combat the risks their products presented, the petroleum industry leaders responded by covering up and obscuring evidence from their own scientists about climate change. They even lobbied against efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Facts then surfaced that in 1968, two scientists from Stanford Research Institute had warned the American Petroleum Institute—the US trade association for the oil and natural gas industry—that “man is now engaged in a vast geophysical experiment with his environment, the earth”—an experience that “may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental changes.”

“If the Earth’s temperature increases significantly, a number of events might be expected to occur, including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans, and an increase in photosynthesis.”

As we now know, they were right. In January 2016, New York’s attorney general and top lawyers in three other states started an investigation into ExxonMobil over the mounting allegations that it had lied to the public and its investors about climate change. But the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit legal organization, has now shown that the story is even older and bigger than that 48-year-old Stanford report.

According to Carroll Muffett, the center’s president, the newly released documents show that the industry, including ExxonMobil (then Humble Oil), was “clearly on notice” about fossil fuels and CO2 emissions by 1957, 20 years before ICN had revealed. Also, they clearly show that it had been “shaping science to shape public opinion” even earlier, in the 1940s.

CIEL says that by combing through scientific articles, industry histories, and other documents, it traced the industry’s coordinated, decades-long deception back to a 1946 meeting in Los Angeles.

During that meeting, oil execs decided to form a group—“the Smoke and Fumes Committee.” Its purpose was to “fund scientific research into smog and other air pollution issues and, significantly, use that research to inform and shape public opinion about environmental issues,” CIEL says. Those fudged “scientific” results have been used to “promote public skepticism of environmental science and environmental regulations the industry considered hasty, costly, and potentially unnecessary”—despite the clear but suppressed evidence to the contrary.

Muffett’s view: the new documents “add to the growing body of evidence that the oil industry worked to actively undermine public confidence in climate science and in the need for climate action even as its own knowledge of climate risks was growing.” The industry group had no response to The Huffington Post‘s requests for comment.

Says Jeremy Funk, Communications Director of Americans United for Change:

“Big Oil [has] spent decades orchestrating a deception campaign that undermined our public health…. After similarly damning internal tobacco industry memos surfaced of a coordinated cover-up of their products’ dangers, states and consumers’ families were rewarded billions of dollars in damages, and tough new regulations were put in place by the court system and Congress.”

Continuing to hammer away at the petroleum industry, Funk also implicates the Republican Congress for putting campaign contributors ahead of the health of the public and the environment. He condemns the GOP for insisting that taxpayers continue shelling out billions a year in century-old oil subsidies, “in effect forcing Americans to help pay for the Big Oil propaganda being used against them.”

Muffett adds that any document viewed alone has a plausible element of deniability.

“But when you put all of the pieces to the story out there and see how they link, the zone of plausible deniability shrinks, and it shrinks substantially…. Once the companies learned this information, once they were aware of it, they [could not] unlearn it. This becomes the baseline.” 

CIEL plans to reveal additional documents in the near future. Muffett concludes:

“Oil companies had an early opportunity to acknowledge climate science and climate risks, and to enable consumers to make informed choices. They chose a different path. The public deserves to know why.”

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50 thoughts on “Petroleum Industry Climate Deceit Started Even Earlier Than We Thought

  • Criminal.

  • “The public deserves to know why” oh come on. Greed. And let’s face it. We like our cars. That was an inconvenient truth. There was no Model 3 then, or even now. Go Tesla go! No wind and solar like there is now either.

    • But there was an EV1 in the 90s. The disinformation campaign has been successful in slowing progress to a crawl.

    • Yes. Greed. Thats like the look of confusion on the game show contestants face when they realize they have just been given the easiest question in the world. The corporations are the ones that want everyone to believe that the reasons are complicated. While they enjoy their riches LOL!

      • It’s capitalism. Didn’t anyone play monopoly? Capitalism inspires growth like no other and is self-regulating to a point, but once the balance of power, money and influence start to accumulate, it snowballs into a two class system controlled by the greediest or most ‘successful’. But our surroundings change too: Technology is enabling new iterations of capitalism but the inevitable will still prevail, probably worse. Richer, wealthier people controlling masses of poor and uneducated. That is the model for America that the Republicans are pursuing. The model of their masters. Most Americans have already bought into it.

        • Yes. Monopoly. Surprising how few people get it even after playing the game. Only one winner and they take all.
          The compound interest banking is the underpinning of it all. Drives exponential growth, greed, cultural values, all of that.
          Its what 1% is all about. All the wealth with the few. They know the game.

  • Most unfortunate that I’m not the least bit surprised. The “tiger in your tank” died of heat stroke a few years after the commercial ran. Stsndard Oil destroyed eastern Ohio, Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, & now the planet we depend on. They had help, but their complicity is undeniable. They made lots of money…can they pay the bill coming due?

    • They made lots of money, put people into high level government postilions, influenced how billions of dollars of transit funds were prioritized and spent, influenced governments in deciding regime changes, helped shape the weather, smog, habitats and the climate…busy fellas.

    • Could they? Sure. Will they? Never. Not their plan. Profits, man. Profits.

    • Ever use gasoline (or any petro product) to kill plants or weeds? Treat wood? It not only causes plants to wilt immediately but it poisons the ground pretty much forever. I left a message on our vice-principal’s front lawn once when I was younger, it’s probably still there unless they dug out the toxic ground. Everyone has always known how toxic fuel is.

  • Over 80% of power utility investment in the USA in 2015 was green source energy, that’s why petrol demand goes down and prices fallen so i think fossil fuel death is starting earlier than we think and than Bloomberg expert expect.

    • Hey Omar. Petrol is mostly used for transport not utility power production in the USA.
      Most utility power in the US is from burning Coal and Natural Gas. Hydro power has been stable. Wind power and Solar power are starting to become a factor in electricity production but only provides below 10% of US electricity production. In Denmark where I come from, wind power is supplying 40% of the electricity production and comsumption.
      It is right that Petroleum still supply around 27% of the total energy consumption if you put in transportation in the equation.

      • your 40% wind enegry contributes even more to the death of petrol demand then price

        • No, because in Europe petrol is used almost exclusively for transportation. It’s fuel for cars, trucks, ships, and some trains. Wind power produces electricity. Electric powered cars are still rare, and electric trucks and ships are nearly nonexistent. The only form of transportation that commonly uses electric power is trains.

  • Next comes the lawsuit from Schneiderman.

    • Apropos lawsuit.. does the momentum build up for one?
      Similar to the tobacco industry back then?
      Is that possible?
      It’s one thing to have cheaper RE than FF, but it’s a completely different game when the incumbent ones are in the wrong.

    • Yes! Yes! Yes!

  • Why nobody thinks of switching to hydrogen in airoplanes. The first hydrogen powered airoplane flew almost 30! years ago. Russia Tu-155 – a passenger liner flew on hydrogen and on LNG. It flew Moscow – Bratislava – Nice and Moscow – Hannover, set 14 worlds records. This project was abandoned because of the demise of Soviet Union. The plane still sits there on an aerodrome. Hydrogen is expensive now, but it can change in the future.

    • Hydrogen is a pain to store as fuel. Jet fuel is especially stable. It would be crazy to use hydrogen in commercial aviation right now.

      • They could do it 30 years ago with current tecnologies storing hydrogen is not an issue anymore. Besides, hydrogen burns with little thermal radiation, even an airoplane body could withstand it. It tends to dissipate rapidly. see pictures of cars in hydrogen and gasolin flames. You would not want to be in a car with gasolin burning under it.

        • Storing hydrogen is still an issue for aircraft and even cars. For cars its expensive.

          Hydrogen energy density is too low compared to av fuel. The extra equipment to compress it is too heavy and expensive yet.
          Dirigibles with hydrogen is something quite different from jets.

        • Hydrogen is only suitable as a fuel if it is stored under extremely high pressure. Jet fuel is stored at ambient pressure. That’s a huge difference in terms of engineering complexity at every level of distribution and use. If hydrogen were so easy to store, as you claim, we would have switched many, many years ago.

          There are plenty of interesting technologies that could dramatically change the energy paradigm; if we could get cheap, safe hydrogen storage, that would be one. Cheap, scalable cellulosic ethanol would be another. Right now, neither is commercially viable.

    • Hydrogen packs very little energy per volume. Compressed hydrogen takes 10x as much space to store as does jet fuel. Run a passenger jet on compressed hydrogen and there wouldn’t be any room for passengers.

      There’s no known route for making hydrogen cheaper. Natural gas isn’t likely to stay as cheap as it is right now. And making hydrogen with renewable energy is more expensive.

      • It is liquid hydrogen. It has 4 times higher volume, but also 4 times lighter, which is also important for planes. It is just a trade off of increased surface (about 15%) and weight.

        • Want to fly with liquid hydrogen? OK, use 4x the volume of jet fuel. Actually even more when you add the tank/insulation requirements for liquid hydrogen. And the extra tank weight offsets some of the weight advantage of hydrogen.

          Right now fuel fits in wing tanks. Liquid hydrogen would eat up a lot of space and drive up the cost of flying.

        • Agree with Bob. Liquid hydrogen also evaporates. When Santa Barbara tried liquid hydrogen as bus fuel, about 60% of it evaporated!

  • Exxon knew their product when used correctly had adverse environmental effects. So what? Nearly all manufacturing has adverse environmental effects. That’s why we have an EPA, environmental regulations, and tort law. That Exxon manipulates these correctives with lobbying, lawyers, and lucre is – to our shame – legal. Corporations were not allowed to do these sorts of things for the first 100 years of our nation.

    As far as I can tell, Exxon and the Koch brothers et al, are also not breaking any U.S. laws by funding a disinformation campaign. The interesting question is whether they are guilty of Crimes against Humanity for these efforts which are killing millions and perhaps billions in slow motion. The ICC definition of C.A.H. would seem to cover their perfidy. Let the ICC decide. Frog march these S.O.B.’s, along with all the other S.O.B.’s who get paid to spread disinformation about AGW, in leg irons to the Hague.

    • The defence “we were only acting within the laws” fails morally when the corporation lobbies to keep the laws in its favour.

    • Roger, your views seem interesting, but it’s difficult to judge with that many acronyms 😉

    • I think it is called Negligent, Racketeering, Conspiracy To En devour, ect. .

    • Quite like the idea of leg irons, makes me think of walking the plank.

    • Thats why you are not a lawyer. You can’t see any laws broken. DAs around the country beg to differ with you. They see securities laws broken, fraud, and RICO violations.
      Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies …
      There is only so much lies even a bought and paid for government will tolerate before they have to at least make a show of fake fairness.

      • And good luck to DA’s.

        Every (immoral) thing Exxon did raised, not lowered, shareholder value. They defrauded not a single investor. Their propaganda made all their investors more money for a longer time than if they crowed to the world that AGW was real and their product was significantly responsible. Such crowing, of course, they were under no obligation to do.

        They are allowed to believe or not believe their own internal advisors on AGW, because it is the opinions of peer-reviewed independent climate scientists that determines consensus, not a few in-house corporate reports.

        The case for securities fraud seems incredibly weak to me. I think it is just posturing, but I hope you are right that it is strong.

        Meanwhile, I DO think they are guilty of Crimes against Humanity, and I would like to see more discussion about that. Propagandist Joseph Goebbels never physically injured anyone, but he was to be tried for C.A.H. because his propaganda injured millions.

        • I think your right, but if I where a share holder it would be time to divest. stranded assets.

        • The facts of whether Exxon gets away with this have nothing to do with whether they committed the act. I prefer to wait until the investigators find out more about how they mislead investors before judging whether Exxon lowered or raised shareholder value. IMO, they raised value in the past at the expense of greatly reduced value in the future. And dumped their waste cost on everyone else while piling their riches. Moral and legal laissez faire speaks volumes about the credo of “shareholder value” taking precedence over all else.
          As I said. Your sense of whether a legal case is weak or strong is probably not definitive. Some might prefer a legal mind for that.
          IMO, Exxon and other oilcos have gotten away with plenty enough already as they paid off governments for their intransigence. Just the cost of doing business to them.

          • Is this any different than an oil spill in the gulf ? Accept on a global scale.

          • Its all part of the same attitude and excuses by oilcos. Shareholder value and profits above everything else.

          • “As I said. Your sense of whether a legal case is weak or strong is probably not definitive. Some might prefer a legal mind for that. ”

            Truer words were never spoken. 😀

          • Good sense of humor. Like your mileage may vary. I bet a lawyer slaved to come up with that one. 🙂

        • Yeah I don’t think this argument necessarily holds vs. RICO, though you would need to base the case on collusion around fraud, one assumes. For fraud you need to have someone defrauded, which presumably would be the general public as injured party being asked to bear the cost of the negative externalities, one assumes. But it’s an interesting legal question.

          If the situation is just that they didn’t believe the evidence, then it seems unlikely RICO (or fraud) applies. So the government would need evidence that they accepted one thing but said another.

    • I view this like an oil spill in the gulf, accept on a global scale. Is Air any different than water when it comes from pollution? And when the DA’s put this climate issue to bed, should/will the environmental clean up actions be as swift with AIR as it is for Water? How match did it cost BP, in the gulf?

      • CO2 is not considered a pollutant by the EPA. Crude oil spilled into the ocean by accident is. And, Exxon did not burn that gasoline – customers did.

        And why should Exxon be expected to “warn” its customers about CO2? They don’t make CO2, they make gasoline. And there is a government agency whose job is to regulate pollution. It is the EPA, and, to this day, it doesn’t consider CO2 a pollutant. It surely thought no such thing in the 20th century.

        Which is why this idea to sue them for investor fraud is, to me, ridiculous. We are ALL guilty of polluting this planet.

        But what we are NOT guilty of is what Exxon et al. did – wage a surreptitious campaign of lies, deceit, and influence to subvert the scientific consensus and understanding of legislators. This was – and still is, as it is on-going, perhaps the most heinous Crime against Humanity ever perpetrated.

        Screw investor fraud. That is not their real crime. And everybody knows it.

        • Is Flint any different than Exxon.

        • “CO2 is not considered a pollutant by the EPA.”

          I believe you are mistaken on this point. In fact, I think the EPA actually has a Supreme Court decision agreeing that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

          • Not as far as cars or Exxon is concerned, just a few power plants and huge factories, unfortunately.

          • The EPA is just getting started on reducing carbon dioxide. They are tackling the larger and easier to control sources first.

  • No surprises here. Money will prevail over truth in most business models.

Comments are closed.