In case anyone is unaware based on the extreme heat waves we are experiencing across the Northern Hemisphere currently: We have a climate crisis. There are many factors that influenced how we arrived here, and big oil is certainly one of the most influential. A recent PBS three-part documentary reported by The Guardian shows just how big oil lied to America 30 years ago, which has contributed to the danger we are in today. (1)
Surprise Surprise: Big Oil Lied To Us
Oil releases a massive amount of carbon when we burn it. In fact, burning oil contributes to approximately one-third of the world’s total carbon emissions. On top of that, the number of oil spills in recent years has also had a devastating impact on our ocean’s ecosystems, and consequently, our climate as a whole. (2)
Back in 1997, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change created the Kyoto Protocol. This treaty meant that the countries who signed it were committing to transitioning from burning fossil fuels for energy to sustainable and environmentally friendly sources. Certain American politicians, namely former Republican senator Chuck Hagel and Democratic senator Robert Byrd joined together to oppose it. They promoted it as “unfair” to Americans and it ultimately led to America pulling out of the Kyoto accord. (3)
Why did they do this? Well, Hagel explains in the documentary that big oil companies essentially lied and manipulated them. Big oil companies such as Exxon and Shell already knew the truth about climate change and their part in it. Caring more about their bottom line than their planet, however, they lied.
“What we now know about some of these large oil companies’ positions … they lied. And yes, I was misled. Others were misled when they had evidence in their own institutions that countered what they were saying publicly. I mean they, lied,” Hagel said in the documentary.
It Made A Big Difference
So, for the last 30 years, instead of the United States being an active participant in the Kyoto Treaty, big oil has continued polluting. That’s three decades worth of greenhouse gasses being pumped into the atmosphere. That’s three decades that we can’t take back. Hagel says that it absolutely has made a difference in where we are today versus where we could have been.
“It would have created a whole different climate, a whole different political environment. I think it would have changed everything,” he said, referring to what would have happened if we’d transitioned to sustainable energy.
Scientists Said Otherwise
Despite the lies big oil has been spewing for decades, climate scientists were unwavering. They have been saying for decades that we have a problem and that big oil is a huge part of it. Many still have not said that, despite this obvious science, they allowed big oil companies to sway them. It seems, however, like it isn’t really something that needs to be said. We all know, money talks, and big oil has traditionally had a lot of it.
To counteract the obvious science that burning fossil fuels causes climate change, they began leveraging the economy. They went about successfully convincing people that big oil was important for the economy. It was important for jobs, and the Kyoto agreement was a threat to American jobs and the American way of life.
The industry ran advertisements telling homeowners that the carbon tax, which governments across the country were going to implement, was going to cost them hundreds of dollars in additional taxes each year. People began calling up their local senators to complain, and it worked. They successfully killed the carbon tax. Jeff Nesbit, who was the communications director for Citizens for A Sound Economy, was in charge of trying to kill the carbon tax in the state of Oklahoma.
“It’s like, wow, this can really work. We can pick our targets strategically and win, even when we’re not in political power,” he said.
Money, Money, Money
This is what happens when politicians try to tackle climate change, and why they have put off trying to actively do something about it. When they do so, they face backlash saying that they are making citizens poorer. The problem is that the longer we wait, the harder it will be. What people don’t (or refuse to) acknowledge is that the effects of climate change on the economy will be far more personally damaging than what we need to do to put a stop to it.