Oil industry smoke and fumes

Shades of Green with Ray Grigg

A sample of the audacious deviousness and nefarious schemes to which corporations will go to protect their interests is clearly illustrated by information unearthed and publicized by the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

Its revelations expose the efforts that oil companies have used to mislead, deceive and manipulate public opinion while obstructing environmental legislation on climate change.

“This is a story,” CIEL writes, “about how the world’s most powerful industry used science, communications, and consumer psychology to shape public debate over climate change. And it begins earlier — decades earlier — than anyone suspected.”

CIEL’s evidence reveals that as early as 1919, at the formation of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry was already concerned about the possibility of air pollution. When evidence of smog problems began to develop in Los Angeles during the 1940’s, the industry was able to use its newly formed Smoke and Fumes Committee to plot how public concern could be directed away from the oil industry.

CIEL has documented how, in the 1950s, oil executives of this committee were already debating the effects of climate change, and “by 1958 at the latest, the Committee was funding research into the role of fossil fuels in rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

And, as CIEL reveals, “By the 1960s, oil companies were sponsoring research at the forefront of atmospheric science and using high-powered electric computers to develop complex climate models for use in storm forecasting.”

Their climate science was so sophisticated by 1968 that the industry was skewing the focus of studies to minimize the risks of carbon dioxide emissions while maximizing the uncertainties about the damaging effects of burning fossil fuels. By the 1980s the industry had developed technologies that could cut CO2 emissions by half but chose not to use them because the costs would have reduced petroleum consumption and profits. Instead, it  considered methods to increase oil consumption. By this time their climate science was sophisticated enough to fund studies that “explored and actively promoted the use of petroleum-based carbon black to modify weather under an array of other circumstances, including altering rainfall patterns, shifting winds, blowing away smog, and potentially shaping the course of hurricanes.” These options were being coupled with methods of exploiting a warming Arctic.

The oil industry had by now done enough research on the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to know essentially what the environment effects would be: higher sea levels, extreme weather, floods and droughts. It also knew what strategies would be effective in directing public concern away from this issue. Its chosen strategy was to organize and fund multiple organizations to promote climate change denial, and to pay contrarian scientists lavish fees to promote this deception. Alternate explanations were knowingly and deceptively introduced to explain higher global temperatures — increased sun activity was part of this campaign of deliberate misinformation.

As CIEL writes in summary, “… oil companies had a sophisticated command of climate science by the 1980s, at the latest. More importantly, that evidence suggests that oil companies used climate science to inform and shape their own business decisions even as they promoted scientific uncertainty and climate skepticism among consumers, regulators and the broader public.”

See www.smokeandfumes.org for more.


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