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Is the fossil fuel industry, like the tobacco industry, guilty of racketeering?

Posted on 29 September 2015 by dana1981

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 thatmany 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.

exxon temp projections

Exxon’s 1982 projections of how human carbon pollution would cause global temperatures to rise.

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 ruledthat 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 PlanThe 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. 

Click here to read the rest

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. This deserves a huge lawsuit against Exxon.

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  2. In 1987, about the time of the 'change of mind' of the leadership of Exxon, the UN published "Our Common Future". It presents in detail many of the ways that development had been headed in an ultimately unsustianable and increasingly damaging direction, including the problem of excess CO2 from burning fossil fuels.

    The following explanations of he unacceptable irresponsible developments are presented in the document: "We act as we do because we can get away with it." "Future generations do not vote; they have no political power or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions."

    The Exxon executives and investors may have felt threatened by the document and the actions towards reducing CO2 emissions which were mentioned as a needed change. Or they could have been encouraged by the awareness that they could get away with behaving less acceptably.

    Either way, those executives and those investors all those years ago would be the ones to remove wealth from and put in jail. Which is proof positive that deliberately irresponsible cheaters can and do prosper in the democratic free-market (and they also prospered in communist ruled nations and in dictatorships). Those people gamble that they will get away with what they want without being caught and penalized, and even if they are caught they could consider that they had a better time for several years that others will never ever get to have (in other words they may consider themselves to be the winners even if they are caught).


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  3. Add to the list the automotive industry.  It seems that since 2008 the fall in CO2 emissions from vehicles is about 50% less than has been claimed.  Scamming the numbers just adds more to the negative aspects of the climate change debate.  

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  4. Ryland - Note that CO2 emissions are directly tied to mileage, and that the deceptive VW software emphasized mileage over emissions when not being directly tested. They did find on mileage but are horrible polluters with other gases. 

    The software scamming resulted in greatly increased nitrous oxide and particulates, not increased CO2. You seem to (again) be misinterpreting in Bizzaro fashion.

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  5. Just because Exxon scientists describe their own climate research as "in accord with the scientific consensus" of the time, it doesn't mean that "the world's largest oil company accepted and concurred with the scientific consensus on human caused global warming". There needs to be evidence that indicates what the senior executives thought.

    Besides, the "scientific consensus" then wasn't as solid as it is now.

    The Exxon scientists summed things up like this:

    "a general consensus regarding the likelihood and implications of a CO2 induced greenhouse effect will not be reached until such time as a significant temperature increase can be detected".

    That this was true in 1982 was clearly shown by Hansen in 1988 when he made his big splash on front pages all over the world over his statement to Congress that he was 99% certain that the greenhouse was here.

    The debate in 1982 was far less potent than it is today.

    Consider this article.  Hansen himself has been circulating this recently, i.e. in a July 2015 communication.

    In the article it is made clear that there were a number of prominent climate scientists unwilling to back Hansen in public on this even as late as 1988.

    Its one thing to build a case that Exxon contributed heavily to the campaign to minimize public understanding of what climate scientists have discovered. But why claim Exxon knew what would happen way back when, when, way back then, a significant number of climate scientists themselves were reluctant to take a such a position in public?

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  6. There is no doubt that fosil fuel industry have employedsome mal practices to ensure their profitability  by maintaining demand. But the consuming public provide the demand so they can enjoy their materialistic life style. What will cause the masses to stop driving their cars and flying hither and thither? What wiil get them to turn off their TVs, airconditioning and heating?

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    Moderator Response:

    [Rob P] This is the logical fallacy known as a False Dichotomy, or Black or White fallacy.

    A technologically-advanced society requires energy, but there is no requirement that this be derived from fossil fuels. That a truly advanced society would eschew fossil fuels, given the ultimate consequences of burning them (global warming & ocean acidification), is a persuasive argument. 

    If you wish to engage in a genuine discussion, then please do so. Further trolling will likely result in your comment being moderated.

  7. You're quite correct KR I am misinterpreting (once again) in Bizzaro fashion by typing CO2 instead of NoX.  My error for not cxhecking what I had written.

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  8. David Lewis, while Exxon could certainly argue that they didn't know exactly what would happen (as there was indeed still scientific debate) they could not (truthfully) argue that they didn't know the disinformation they were funding was false. After all, the campaign wasn't just, 'We do not know how bad it will get'... there was outright denial that atmospheric CO2 levels were rising, that fossil fuels were causing it, that CO2 even CAN warm the atmosphere, et cetera. Countless claims that they knew from their research were blatantly and ridiculously false.

    Indeed, the uncertainty on the science just deepens the similarity to the tobacco industry. At the time they were doing their research, it wasn't known how smoking caused cancer or how many people who got cancer did so because of smoking... just that smoking significantly increased the likelihood of cancer. Which the tobacco companies then publicly lied about.

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  9. @ 6,

     Tobacco is regulated so that children don't have to breathe the smoke, for example. Commerical entities are given licence to participate in the economy and that licence can be taken away.

    Commerical entites aren't born with the right to do what they want: governments rule! It's called mixed-market economies and commerical entities are employed to provide goods and services to the people: they are granted licence to do this with profit the incentive but that licence can be revoked.

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