In 1977, at a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black delivered his message to an audience of powerful oilmen: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.
He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius, and as much as 10 degrees Celsius at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.
“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed.”
“Present thinking,” he wrote in 1978, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”
Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.
One manager at Exxon Research, Harold N. Weinberg, shared his “grandiose thoughts” about Exxon’s potential role in climate research in a March 1978 internal company memorandum that read: “This may be the kind of opportunity that we are looking for to have Exxon technology, management and leadership resources put into the context of a project aimed at benefitting mankind.”
His sentiment was echoed by Henry Shaw, the scientist leading the company’s nascent carbon dioxide research effort.
“Exxon must develop a credible scientific team that can critically evaluate the information generated on the subject and be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation,” Shaw wrote to his boss Edward E. David, the president of Exxon Research and Engineering in 1978. “This team must be recognized for its excellence in the scientific community, the government, and internally by Exxon management.”
Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.
This shameful history has been extensively researched and written about at InsideClimate News which details the deliberate misinformation campaign despite their full knowledge of the damage they were doing.
This type of behaviour is not isolated.
Pharmaceutical company Amgen is a significant sponsor of Tony Abbott’s pollie pedal ride. Amgen promoted the use of the drug Aranesp to treat anemia in cancer patients who were not undergoing chemotherapy, even though the drug’s approval was only for patients receiving chemotherapy. A subsequent study sponsored by Amgen showed that use of Aranesp by those nonchemotherapy cancer patients had actually increased the risk of death. In 2012 they were convicted of “pursuing profits at the risk of patient safety,” and forced to pay $762 million in criminal penalties and settlements of whistle-blower lawsuits.
These examples of deliberate duplicity, similar to that of the tobacco industry, shows why deregulation and small government are a bad idea. Governments are the only organisations that can protect us against the harm caused by those who put greed in front of the welfare of the planet and its inhabitants.
The Coalition seems to think that, if business is given a free rein, all will be well, but this is patently not the case.
In his haste to claim some sort of an achievement for the Abbott government, Andrew Robb was willing to sign away the right for us to make laws in our best interests. Instead, he agreed to protections for business profits despite the repeated examples of industries deliberately lying about the harm they are causing.
Can we really expect businesses to be ethical when their sole purpose is to make profit for their shareholders?
Why is it that every policy proposed by the Coalition is to protect and promote the very people who have been proven liars?
Why are we giving the fossil fuel industry subsidies when they, themselves, knew 40 years ago that their business was unsustainable?
Why are we reducing taxes for companies that not only do everything they can to avoid paying tax, but also falsify research knowing the potential damage they are causing?
Could it be because our government is more interested in investors’ profits than the wellbeing of its citizens?
On August 18th, the Australian Financial Review published a list of Malcolm Turnbull’s investments; they include the SPDR S&P 500 Fund, whose 3rd largest holding is Exxon Mobil, who have also been significant donors to the right wing Institute of Public Affairs who have effectively been paid to continue the misinformation about climate change.
Understand Australia, if you vote for the Liberal Party you are voting for people who not only facilitate this behaviour, they personally profit from it. It’s time to stand up and say enough is enough!