I saw the piece in the Guardian in July 2018 and must admit I was stunned by it. It wasn't that, on the issue of climate change, I hadn't already read plenty of bad news about what was to come for humanity. Somehow, though, this story got to me -- maybe because, once upon a time in another universe, I was a China-scholar-to-be. The headline read: "Unsurvivable heatwaves could strike heart of China by end of century." As a result, the Guardian reported, parts of the heavily populated North China plain -- populated by 400 million people today -- could become "uninhabitable" by 2100 or even earlier.
I mean, tell me that isn't shocking. Or to jump to the present, what about the recent study that recalibrated what sea-level rise would mean for coastal communities and found, according to the New York Times, that "some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury." That's just 30 years from now! Look at the accompanying maps in that piece and, as you'll see, southern Vietnam "could all but disappear." Talk about "uninhabitable." The same obviously applies, for example, to parts of Florida (where the president is now moving his residence to escape taxes). That state, after all, has five of the 20 urban areas in this country expected to suffer the most from rising sea levels: Miami, Miami Beach, Panama City, St. Petersburg, and Tampa.
Back in 2013, I coined the term "terrarists" to describe the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell, and to capture what they were doing to the rest of us. Today, Naomi Oreskes, author of the new book Why Trust Science?, offers a genuinely shocking account of how those companies invested significant sums from the money they made broiling this planet and much effort into the promotion of misinformation and disinformation about the harm fossil fuels are doing -- and how effective they've been at it. Just look at the Republican Party, once considered the party of the environment and now a party of pyromaniacs. It's truly a tale from hell, one that threatens the wellbeing of all our children and grandchildren. Tom
The Greatest Scam in History
How the Energy Companies Took Us All
By Naomi Oreskes
It's a tale for all time. What might be the greatest scam in history or, at least, the one that threatens to take history down with it. Think of it as the climate-change scam that beat science, big time.
Scientists have been seriously investigating the subject of human-made climate change since the late 1950s and political leaders have been discussing it for nearly as long. In 1961, Alvin Weinberg, the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, called carbon dioxide one of the "big problems" of the world "on whose solution the entire future of the human race depends." Fast-forward nearly 30 years and, in 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), promising "concrete action to protect the planet."
Today, with Puerto Rico still recovering from Hurricane Maria and fires burning across California, we know that did not happen. Despite hundreds of scientific reports and assessments, tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, and countless conferences on the issue, man-made climate change is now a living crisis on this planet. Universities, foundations, churches, and individuals have indeed divested from fossil fuel companies and, led by a 16-year-old Swedish girl, citizens across the globe have taken to the streets to express their outrage. Children have refused to go to school on Fridays to protest the potential loss of their future. And if you need a measure of how long some of us have been at this, in December, the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC will meet for the 25th time.
Scientists working on the issue have often told me that, once upon a time, they assumed, if they did their jobs, politicians would act upon the information. That, of course, hasn't happened. Anything but, across much of the planet. Worse yet, science failed to have the necessary impact in significant part because of disinformation promoted by the major fossil-fuel companies, which have succeeded in diverting attention from climate change and successfully blocking meaningful action.
Making Climate Change Go Away
Much focus has been put on ExxonMobil's history of disseminating disinformation, partly because of the documented discrepancies between what that company said in public about climate change and what its officials said (and funded) in private. Recently, a trial began in New York City accusing the company of misleading its investors, while Massachusetts is prosecuting ExxonMobil for misleading consumers as well.
If only it had just been that one company, but for more than 30 years, the fossil-fuel industry and its allies have denied the truth about anthropogenic global warming. They have systematically misled the American people and so purposely contributed to endless delays in dealing with the issue by, among other things, discounting and disparaging climate science, mispresenting scientific findings, and attempting to discredit climate scientists. These activities are documented in great detail in How Americans Were Deliberately Misled about Climate Change, a report I recently co-authored , as well as in my 2010 book and 2014 film, Merchants of Doubt.
A key aspect of the fossil-fuel industry's disinformation campaign was the mobilization of "third-party allies": organizations and groups with which it would collaborate and that, in some cases, it would be responsible for creating.
In the 1990s, these allied outfits included the Global Climate Coalition, the Cooler Heads Coalition, Informed Citizens for the Environment, and the Greening Earth Society. Like ExxonMobil, such groups endlessly promoted a public message of denial and doubt: that we weren't really sure if climate change was happening; that the science wasn't settled; that humanity could, in any case, readily adapt at a later date to any changes that did occur; and that addressing climate change directly would wreck the American economy. Two of these groups -- Informed Citizens for the Environment and the Greening Earth Society -- were, in fact, AstroTurf organizations, created and funded by a coal industry trade association but dressed up to look like grass-roots citizens' action organizations.
Similar messaging was pursued by a network of think tanks promoting free market solutions to social problems, many with ties to the fossil-fuel industry. These included the George C. Marshall Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heartland Institute. Often their politically motivated contrarian claims were presented in formats that make them look like the scientific reports whose findings they were contradicting.
In 2009, for instance, the Cato Institute issued a report that precisely mimicked the format, layout, and structure of the government's U.S. National Climate Assessment. Of course, it made claims thoroughly at odds with the actual report's science. The industry also promoted disinformation through its trade associations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers.