by Roz Paterson • You know what the worst thing is? They knew all along. Yes, they did! But then, you knew they knew, didn’t you? In your heart of hearts. In a sea of knowledge, they just couldn’t not know.
We’re talking Shell, Exxon, BP, all the companies collectively known as Big Oil, and whether they knew, or didn’t, about their part in the great, heartbreaking drama that is Climate Change, aka, the Beginning of the End of Life as We Have Lived It.
In courtrooms in Europe and America, we will hear that Exxon didn’t just hear from someone or other that the burning of fossil fuels was amplifying the Greenhouse Effect, they actually commissioned their scientific research teams to compile what turned out to be compelling data to that effect.
Heck, they even made a scary film—1991’s Climate of Concern—that wouldn’t be out of place at a local Transition group get-together. In this 28-minute short, it is acknowledged that although (man-made) global warming is not proven, “many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
And from Exxon’s 1988 internal report, The Greenhouse Effect, recently made public by Dutch journalist Jelmer Mommers, of De Correspondent: “By the time global warming becomes detectable, it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects, or even stabilise the situation.”
Shell were just as well-informed. No wonder, given that the company had been compiling data since 1981. By 1988, they were in a position to state (quietly, to themselves, like), “the main cause of increasing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) concentrations is considered to be fossil fuel burning.”
That these oil giants knew this, yet were never moved nor compelled to curb their promotion of the petrol-fuelled way of life, is all down to a spectacular piece of legerdemain.
On the one hand, as they head to the courts, they acknowledge that, yes, indeed, the climate scientists who warn of climate catastrophe are correct. But they can also point to the fact that, in the 1980s and ’90s, the scientific atmosphere was clouded by doubts.
We don’t just mean the rabid right-wing ‘journalists’ and politicians who insisted that global warming was a big ball of hot gas, designed by vegetarians to ruin other people’s fun, or something.
We also mean, or rather, we really mean, the seemingly credible, peer-reviewed climate change denial that was being published in respectable journals, promoted in sensible-sounding books, and spewing through the fax machines of upstanding newspapers.
Where did it all come from? Who are these eminent scientists who rubbished climate change? Hey! Come back! Yes, they’re thin on the ground now, as we approach near-100 per cent consensus on this issue—but when they were at large, they were funded, nay bankrolled, by… Big Oil.
Pretty clever stuff, which just goes to show that not all oil men are like that daft George W Bush fella. They get to seem all honest and hands-up, whilst undermining the very science they acknowledge is true.
Friends of the Earth Netherlands, known as Milieudefensie, are having none of it. They have given Shell eight weeks to comply with the Paris Accord, or meet them in court.
To be honest, it’s unlikely even a Dutch green group could bring Shell to its knees, but it can certainly humiliate them, besmirch their name, and amplify the issues that companies like this have worked so hard to ignore.
Meanwhile, the New York Attorney General is investigating ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy over claims that they misled the public, and the cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, ConnocoPhillips and BP, for the costs to cope with rising sea-levels caused by global warming.
That said, Big Oil have played another little blinder, consistently stating that it’s really down to governments to do something about this, not corporations.
Now, that’s real cute, especially since Big Oil have spent lots of money ensuring that they have US Republican governments firmly under control. Remember George W Bush’s actions on climate change? That’s right, there weren’t any. Obama made some strides, but these have since been binned by the Trump administration.
Which is why Our Children’s Trust, the US network of young people engaged in climate change action, are going for the jugular, and suing the US government for failing to protect their future.
Like the Gun Control advocates walking out of high schools across America, these young people are not going to let the fact that they’re too young to vote stand in their way.
Can a court ruling against an oil company really change anything? After all, it’s unlikely that anyone reading this actually thought Shell would funnel all its profits into helping Bangladesh flood-proof its farmland, if only they’d ask.
But if a court ruling puts Shell firmly in the wrong, other rulings will follow, making it harder for Republican senators to make the case for climate change denial, in turn making it harder for governments to stall on, or even cancel, climate change accords.
It’s a real round-the-houses job, that’s for sure, but if we remove the grounds for inaction…maybe, just maybe, we can trigger action.