Hundreds of pages of recovered documents suggest that even with detailed knowledge of the link between carbon emissions and climate change, the fossil fuels industry has lied for decades and spent hundreds of millions to deceive and defraud the public.
Detailed reports released by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, and Inside Climate News claim that fossil fuel companies have lied continuously about climate science, paid phony scientists, created phony front organizations, forged phony documents, and recruited the Bush Administration and members of Congress, all in efforts to mislead the public and halt progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This article is a compression of the research and reporting performed by those named organizations.
What they knew and when they knew it
According to the reports, fossil fuel companies have known for nearly 40 years that CO2 emissions are harming the Earth. In 1977, representatives from BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and Peabody Energy attended dozens of congressional hearings that discussed the effects of CO2 on climate. In the late 1970s and early 80s, Exxon’s own senior scientist, James F. Black warned Exxon’s senior management that the burning of fossil fuels was influencing global climate, that increases in CO2 would cause global warming, that rainfall might increase in some areas while other areas turn to desert. He warned that the human race had only five to ten years before the need to make “hard decisions” about CO2 emissions might become “critical” (emphasis added).
By 1988 the then CEO of Mobil Oil, Richard Tucker stated in a speech to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers that the growing greenhouse effect might require a “dramatic reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels.” That year, Jim Hansen of NASA testified before Congress that the burning of fossil fuels was harming the climate. Also in 1988, the UN formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the US Congress introduced the National Energy Policy Act of 1988, all in efforts to begin to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The scientific community was fully aware that CO2 was causing global warming. One of Exxon’s staff scientists even served as an expert reviewer to the IPCC’s first report on climate change. Industry scientists were secretly warning each other of the risks of CO2 emissions on the climate.
In 1995, a secret report titled Predicting the Future of Climate Change: A Primer was released by a team of scientists at Mobil Oil and distributed to the Global Climate Coalition, an industry group whose members included most of the largest fossil fuel companies. This “primer” from Mobil made several warnings over human-caused climate change, including this statement: “The scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.” This document was revealed in 2009 after surfacing during a lawsuit filed by the auto industry against California. A preliminary version of this document addressed and dismissed the most common arguments denying human-caused climate change, arguments that are still being promoted by the fossil fuel industry today.
By 1988, with obviously abundant knowledge of the growing harm their products are causing to the climate, what did the fossil fuels companies do? They produced much more product and CO2 emissions skyrocketed. The industrial revolution began over 200 years ago, but half of all industrial carbon emissions have occurred since 1988. And according to documents, they embarked on an all-out campaign to deceive that continues to this day.
The Coal Industry and ICE
In 1991, major players in the coal industry, including the National Coal Association, Edison Electric, and others formed a group called the Information Council on the Environment. Internal documents show that ICE’s strategy was to “reposition global warming as a theory (not fact)” and to “use a spokesman from the scientific community” since “technical sources have the highest credibility ratings.” This, in spite of the fact that ICE was fully aware of the science showing a long-term warming trend was (and is) underway.
ICE’s approach, supported by a $500,000 campaign budget and revealed by internal documents, showed that the group planned to target “older, less-educated males from larger households who are not typically active information seekers” and “lower-income women… who are more likely to soften their support for federal legislation…” Propaganda typical of ICE included this advertisement aired during a Rush Limbaugh program, spoken by Mr. Limbaugh: “Stop panicking! I’m here to tell you that the facts simply don’t jibe with the theory that catastrophic global warming is taking place! Try this fact on for size: Minneapolis has actually gotten colder! So has Albany, New York!”
ICE was disbanded in 1991 when the press learned that ICE’s “science advisory panel” consisted principally of three people who were well-known climate science contrarians with no legitimate experience in the field, and that their primary message, that global warming could not be occurring because a few named cities had recently recorded warmer temperatures, was junk science.
The fossil fuels industry builds a disinformation machine
In their initial report in 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that, in spite of extensive warnings within the industry regarding the danger of carbon emissions, ExxonMobil secretly spent $16 million from 1998 to 2005 on 43 separate “grass roots” organizations with the explicit purpose of spreading lies about the causes of global warming. ExxonMobil also used its access to a fully-complicit Bush administration, which itself had strong ties to the oil industry, to block federal policies and to shape the administration’s position on global warming. And a withering Greenpeace report reveals that from 1997 to 2010, the Koch brothers spent over $61 million on the same front groups, with the same purpose of using bogus “science” on climate change to deceive and create confusion.
From there, the industry’s deception has only grown. The biggest carbon polluters, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, Peabody Energy and Koch Industries and others have worked for decades spending hundreds of millions of dollars to spread falsehoods and deceive the public regarding carbon emissions and global warming.
The American Petroleum Institute’s plan to kill Kyoto
In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute created a detailed strategy and planning document titled the Global Climate Science Communications Plan. The API is the most powerful US trade association for the oil and gas industry, representing all of the big players, including ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhilips, etc. The API’s 1998 communications plan is essentially a propaganda manifesto that is still in use. It spells out a diverse misinformation strategy to be carried out by fossil fuel companies, their PR firms, and phony front organizations to reach the public, the US Senate, and policy makers with messaging attacking the links between greenhouse gases and climate change. This plan was initially created for the purpose of derailing the US Senate’s approval of the Kyoto Protocol Agreement. It specifically instructs that “victory” would be achieved when “average citizens” believed there were too many “uncertainties” in climate science to attribute the cause of climate change to CO2, and that promoting the Kyoto treaty “would appear to be out of touch with reality.” This, despite nearly unanimous agreement by the worldwide scientific community even then, that CO2 emissions are causing global warming.
The API’s plan recognizes that independent scientists have the public’s trust, and so the API sought to recruit and train a team of five “independent scientists” as propaganda mouthpieces to generate “peer-reviewed papers” to undercut the “conventional wisdom on climate science.” These phony papers would be “peer-reviewed” −by their own scientists. The API plan even warns that the fact that these chosen scientists will be employed by the fossil fuels industry, paid for their “independent analysis,” can never be revealed.
Executing to the API’s propaganda plan
The API’s propaganda plan was concerned about future “Kyoto-like” efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. To manipulate the thinking of today’s students (tomorrow’s voters), it called for targeting the National Science Teachers Association and individual elementary school teachers with bogus study materials to directly counter the pervasive scientific evidence regarding CO2 and climate change. The propaganda plan states that emphasizing “uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect a barrier against efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future”. This reveals the far-reaching planning of fossil fuel companies to lie to the public for as long as they can get away with it. By the way, the original API propaganda plan assumed that Kyoto Protocol, signed by President Clinton, would be killed in the US Senate, and it ultimately was.
In 2009, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 was approved by the US House of Representatives. This bill would have established a carbon emissions trading plan, in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. In response, the API staged rallies in 20 states that were designed to appear as spontaneous public opposition to the act. An API memo leaked to Greenpeace reveals that the API urged executives of all the major fossil fuel companies to send their employees to those staged rallies. Ultimately, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 was passed by the House, but never taken up by the US Senate.
Documents released in 2015 resulting from FOIA requests by Greenpeace show that ExxonMobil, Southern Company (the top carbon emitter among all US utility companies), and other major players in the industry, secretly employed an aerospace engineer named Wei-Hock Soon (among others) from 2001 to 2012. Mr. Soon’s job was to masquerade as a climate scientist and fabricate numerous misleading and baseless claims and theories about the causes of global warming. Mr. Soon had connections to the Smithsonian Institution, which routinely published his propaganda and agreed to not reveal the source of his funding. Soon’s work was presented as independent research and has been often quoted by Republican politicians who receive generous campaign contributions from the fossil fuels industry. However, Soon’s work was also repeatedly challenged by actual climate scientists.
Senator Inhofe invites a phony climate scientist to Congress
Soon’s fraud went on for over ten years, with him even testifying before Congress at the invitation of Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, a boldfaced shill for Big Oil and Big Coal. It was eventually found that Soon was paid over $1.2 million by the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, and others for his years of propaganda, and that Soon had no other source of income during that time. These revelations killed Soon’s credibility with everyone, except of course, the fake “grass roots” organizations that still act as conduits for Soon’s fabrications, and for blatant political sellouts like Senator Inhofe, who even today continues to quote his sham work. In what appears to be a perfect storm of greed and contempt for humanity, the Republicans appointed Senator Inhofe as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Among other displays of mental disorder, Inhofe has stated that “God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” He has also stated that the EPA is comparable to the “Gestapo”, and that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change resembles “a Soviet-style trial, in which ideological purity trumps technical and scientific rigor.”
Tragically, the Republican science committee on the environment cares nothing about science or the environment. What motivates Senator Inhofe? Money. The oil and gas industry has made the largest campaign contributions to Inhofe, $1.7 million over his career as a senator. Inhofe has even published a book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, which presents the fantastical conspiracy theory that thousands of scientists worldwide have for decades been fabricating a giant hoax with mountains of fraudulent science for what purpose, no one really knows. Inhofe tries to support his claims with broken logic and Mr. Soon’s trash science, along with attacks on the Ph. D level professionals who are actual climate scientists. Mr. Inhofe will happily sell his book to you, as he promotes it in his public appearances.
The Coal Industry attempts to manipulate Congress with forgery
As stated above, in mid-2009 Congress was debating the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This bill would have instituted a carbon emissions reduction plan at the federal level. A coal industry lobbying firm named Bonner and Associates mailed out thirteen letters to three House members who were known to be leaning in favor of the act, but whose votes was vulnerable. However, all of the letters were forgeries, written on the letterhead of organizations including the American Legion, the NAACP, and the American Association of University Women. As an example, and an excerpt from one letter read: “We ask you to use your important position to help protect minorities and other consumers in your district from higher electricity bills. Please don’t vote to force costs increases on us…”
An investigation into the forgeries by the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming found that Bonner and Associates has been hired by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which itself is another front group funded directly by representatives of the coal industry. Note that Bonner and Associates has extensive experience in propagating lies, having worked for years for the tobacco industry.
It is worth noting here that currently, the wholesale price of wind energy, per kilowatt-hour, is as low as half the price of electricity produced by coal-fired power plants, even without federal subsidies.
The Western States Petroleum Association’s propaganda campaign
The Western States Petroleum Association, headquartered in Sacramento, represents BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and other major petroleum companies. These are many of the same players in the American Petroleum Institute, and the WSPA is the primary opponent of California’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. From 2009 to 2014, the WSPA spent $27 million to manipulate public and legislator opinion. To do so, the WSPA and its allies created and funded 16 utterly fake “grass roots” groups and campaigns that they used to broadcast messages intended to appear as public backlash against the state’s carbon reduction efforts. In a secret presentation to business allies, WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd explained that the WSPA’s plan is to “activate a significant number of campaigns and coalitions.” Her presentation slide explains that the WSPA “has invested in several coalitions that are best suited to drive consumer and grassroots messages to regulators and policy makers.” These phony “citizen’s coalitions” were given names such as Fed Up at the Pump, the California Drivers Alliance, and Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy. At least two of these phony groups spent large sums on radio ads and billboards attacking California’s carbon regulation efforts. Thankfully, these efforts failed, but the WSPA is still actively working in California, Oregon, and Washington to misrepresent public opinion to state legislators and thwart carbon reduction efforts.
Corruption sanctified: the American Legislative Exchange Council
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a sham. ALEC was founded by Reagan-era Republican politicians to create a direct, private forum that member corporations (those willing to pay) can use to directly access and influence state legislators. ALEC proclaims itself to be “the nation’s largest nonpartisan, individual membership association of state legislators.” However, every one of the 30 board members and officers is a Republican politician; there are no Democrats. And although they say that it’s an “association of state legislators”, 98% of ALEC’s roughly $8 million in annual operating cash comes in the form of “gifts” from corporations, trade associations, and conservative foundations.
A large portion of ALEC’s corporate cash is handed out in August of each year to pay for lavish vacations for each legislative member and their families. These are the annual ALEC meetings where the corporations and their lobbyists work to set the following year’s conservative legislative agenda in each state. ALEC members (legislators and corporate interests) meet three times a year, but the summer meeting is the largest.
Predictably, many of the same fossil fuel companies that belong to API and WSPA pay thousands in membership dues to join ALEC, and then may pay sums sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars as “gifts” to ALEC to be able to “vote” on “model legislation”, authored by ALEC’s corporate members. If approved by ALEC’s voting members, its Republican legislators then carry this “model legislation” home to their state legislators and lobby hard for its passage, with the financial assistance of ALEC. Some companies give large sums to ALEC. Through their various foundations, the billionaire Koch brothers gave ALEC over $200,000 in gifts in 2009 and at least $600,000 in gifts over the period from 2001 to 2011. And Koch Industries has contributed an undisclosed amount of money to ALEC, probably much more because it is hidden. Incredibly, ALEC is registered as a 501c corporation, so that the roughly $8 million in corporate and foundation “gifts” are tax-exempt.
In ALEC, Republican state legislators have effectively created a tax-free shell entity within which they promise to sell (exchange?) their legislative allegiance to corporations in return for free junkets and vacations for themselves and their families. Any state limits on gifts from lobbyists to legislators are flagrantly blown apart by ALEC, and the concept of quid-pro-quo is perfected and immortalized in gold-plated greed. In a normal world, ALEC legislators would be charged with multiple crimes, including influence peddling, accepting bribes, and operating a criminal enterprise.
Of course, many of ALEC’s largest contributors are fossil fuel companies and organizations. At ALEC’s 2014 annual meeting, an ALEC member and president of the Heartland Institute, Joseph Bast claimed that “there is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change,” which is a blatant lie. Bast went on to attack the IPCC, which is the world’s largest and most respected scientific body concerned with climate change, with recognized experts from over 130 countries. One of Bast’s slides stated: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a project of the United Nations, is not a credible source of science or economics” (emphasis added). Such a claim is beyond arrogance. Bast, who has no relevant education, claims that he knows more about climate science than the international community of doctorate-level professionals working in the field.
ALEC’s diet of lies is breathtaking. At the same 2014 ALEC meeting, David Rothbard, previously a contributor to the API’s Global Climate Science Communications Plan, stated in his presentation titled Climate Science Talking Points 2014, that “the scientific reality is that on virtually every claim – from A to Z – the claims of promoters of manmade climate fears are falling short or going in the opposite direction” (emphasis added). So according to ALEC, the Earth is cooling. These lies are frequently retold in various forms at each ALEC convention.
At this same 2014 ALEC conference, legislators and fossil fuel representatives gathered to craft sample state resolution against the EPA’s then-pending carbon emissions standard for electric power plants. And ALEC is currently pushing legislation in nine states in the northeastern US to kill the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the northeast and parts of Canada. Between 2013 and July of 2015, ALEC’s Republican state legislators introduced 65 (yes, sixty-five) bills designed to repeal or dilute state laws requiring increased utility power generation from renewable energy. ALEC’s efforts to deceive the public on climate change and to buy legislation to undercut greenhouse gas reduction efforts are ongoing, nationwide.
A déjà vu of deception
So what does this effort by the fossil fuels industry, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and carried out over decades to defraud and deceive the American public, what does this resemble? A conspiracy? Definitely. The tobacco industry? Indeed. Big Tobacco spent many millions over decades, spreading lies about how their products didn’t cause cancer and other deadly diseases, even though they knew early on from their own research that their addictive products kill. And just like Big Oil and Big Coal, the Republicans defended Big Tobacco for decades. Republicans fought warning labels on cigarettes, tried to defund government research on tobacco, attacked the evidence showing links between cigarettes and cancer, etc. The Republicans defended the Big Tobacco at every opportunity, because many Republicans received their largest campaign contributions from Big Tobacco and enjoyed the wealth guaranteed by the revolving door between government, Big Tobacco, and the lobbyist industry. The states finally sued Big Tobacco for damages and ultimately won a total of $206 billion from the industry. Big Tobacco got off easy.
Given Big Tobacco’s liability, one can only wonder: What is the liability for Big Oil and Big Coal, when the victims are the entire human race?