Big oil’s own scientists knew the industry threatened the globe at least as far back as the early 1980s, and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Cal) knows that demonstrative evidence might help mitigate that threat.
Oil industry executives were surely aware of the fact that this week was one of the most consequential in years, perhaps decades. The industry faced direct confrontations with Congress, courts, and a global summit.
CEOs of companies that lead the largest economic sector on the planet faced withering questions from Congress that had political veterans comparing the “atmosphere” (no pun intended) on Capitol Hill to the grilling Big Tobacco faced in 1994. The tobacco industry’s hearings helped build momentum that resulted in a $206 Billion dollar settlement, significantly changing its reach and power.
The CEOs of the world’s largest oil companies would happily write a $206 billion check and new limitations today to avoid what they face in the near future.
Much of the focus in the committee hearings centered around internal industry documents demonstrating that the companies knew that their product posed severe threats to the Earth’s climate as far back as the late 1970s and earlier ’80s. As but one example, the committee pointed to a 1982 internal memo that predicted a future that proved frighteningly accurate:
[Exxon’s own report states], “our best estimate is that doubling of the current concentration could increase average global temperature by about 1.3 degrees celsius to 3.1 degrees celsius.” Glaser acknowledges that there is “considerable uncertainty” about the impact this warming will have on society and that there is “currently no unambiguous scientific evidence that the earth is warming.” Glaser writes that greenhouse effect could be detected by 1995 or 2020 if the climate models are exaggerating.
The devastating memo led to some devastating inquiries aimed directly at the CEOs of Exxon and Shell, while sending a message to all involved. But it was Katie Porter, whose demonstrative questions posed to Shell and Exxon, using rice and M&Ms, that dominated the news coming out of the hearing.
Porter’s rice put industry land use into perspective:
Were that not enough, she then used M&Ms to mock self-important claims that companies invest heavily in renewable energy:
The questions come during a week in which global leaders, including President Joe Biden, will meet in Glasgow, Scotland to discuss cooperative emission limits by dates certain.
But those internal documents themselves may pose a bigger threat to the industry than Congress and even world leaders. The documents unequivocally prove that the industry’s companies’ forty years of denial, lobbying, and falsifiable scientific studies, were all meant to fraudulently prove that climate change is a fraud in an effort to protect profits.
Lawsuits have already been filed (some will be filed directly by governments) based upon the intentional fraud and resulting damage. Monetary judgments in cases with this type, the type with “intentional misbehavior” are not limited just to the economic value of the damage caused but can include punitive damages, damages meant solely to punish such blatant greed-based fraud. One cannot “punish” companies such as these without digging deep into their profits. It is entirely possible that the oil industry now faces judgments consisting of trillions of dollars and court-ordered changes to its business model.
The world always knew that rice and M&Ms were invaluable, but no one ever thought they might play a small role in saving that same world. It is now on the oil industry to play a big role.
Jason Miciak is a political writer, features writer, author, and attorney. He is originally from Canada but grew up in the Pacific Northwest as a dual Canadian-American citizen, which he grows increasingly thankful for every day. He now enjoys life as a single dad, writing from the beaches of the Gulf Coast, getting advice from his beloved daughter and teammate. He is very much the dreamy mystic that cannot add and loves dogs more than most people. He also likes studying cooking, theoretical physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. He likes pizza.
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