Opinion: Do We Understand The Problem?


Santaquin, Utah. Photo: Amy Vernon-Jones

Love, Justice, and Climate Change

Russ Vernon-Jones

How do you feel when you find out someone has lied to you? How do you feel when you find out someone claiming to be doing something good is actually doing something else–something truly harmful?

While the election lies in the U.S. have been getting a lot of attention (as they should), the lies and deceit of the big oil and gas companies are much less well-known and remembered, but are every bit as disastrous for the health of our society.

Gas And Oil Executives Put On The Spot
A new report last week from the House of Representatives Oversight Committee details what they learned in their investigation into the big oil and gas companies. Their key finding was that while these fossil fuel corporations are falsely portraying themselves to the public as committed to going green, they are continuing to seek to expand drilling and sales of climate-destroying fossil fuels. The committee actually got the big oil CEOs to appear (from ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron and Shell), put them on the spot, and got a great many previously hidden documents released.

Plans To Pump More Dirty Fuels For Decades
The committee report says, “Big Oil has doubled down on long-term reliance on fossil fuels with no intention of taking concrete actions to transition to clean energy.” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the Chair of the Committee said, “Even though Big Oil CEOs admitted to my committee that their products are causing a climate emergency, today’s documents reveal that the industry has no real plans to clean up its act and is barreling ahead with plans to pump more dirty fuels for decades to come.”

Not only do they intend to keep drilling, they also intend to continue to deceive the public about their intentions and to continue lobbying against legislative efforts to address the climate crisis. The committee reported that, “The fossil fuel executives did not dispute that man-made climate change is a “code red for humanity,” but refused to take responsibility for decades of disinformation and would not pledge to end spending to block climate action,” even when requested to by the committee.

IEA Says No More New Coal, Oil, Or Gas Development
In May 2021 the International Energy Agency, which traditionally had been quite friendly to the fossil fuel industry, released a landmark report. It shows how the world can transition to a global net zero energy system by 2050, “while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth.” They make it clear that it can be done, but can only be done by getting off fossil fuels rapidly. They unequivocally stated that there can be no new oil, gas, or coal development if the world is to meet net zero by 2050.

But new development–new wells, new pipelines, new export terminals, new power plants–is exactly what the fossil fuel industry is planning and implementing. This is a recipe for global disaster much worse than what we are already seeing around the world.

A History Of Lies And Deceit
The background for all of this is that Exxon, now the largest oil and gas company in the world, understood the science of climate change and the disaster their business was creating as far back as 1977. As reported in Scientific American in 2015, they then spent millions to promote disinformation, deceive the public, and support climate denialism. They lied to the world then and are still lying.

This is not just in the U.S. that the fossil fuel industry is a major obstacle The April 2022 report from the IPCC–the UN panel of climate scientists–throughout its 3,000 pages, is full of information about the role of the fossil fuel industry worldwide as a “vested interest” working actively against effective climate policy.

Power And Wealth Of The Fossil Fuel Industry
One of the problems, of course, is the tremendous wealth, power, and influence of the industry. They pay an army of lobbyists to protect their interests; they give millions of dollars to politicians to do their will; they spend millions on public relations campaigns to hide their destructive policies; and they selfishly pursue outrageous profits at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of millions and millions of people around the world.

In the U.S. their lobbying prevented the recent climate bill from including any significant limitations on endless harmful fossil fuel expansion. The incentives in that bill for renewable energy are great, but without regulating the oil and gas industry, we can’t achieve the energy transition that the climate crisis demands. At COP27 the fossil fuel industry lobbyists (636 of them) outnumbered every national delegation but one, and they frustrated all attempts to get agreement on limiting the use of coal, oil, and gas.

The coal, oil, and gas companies are one of the greatest obstacles, perhaps the greatest, to humanity succeeding in solving the climate crisis.

We Need A Big Increase In Public Understanding
Ro Kannah, who co-chaired the investigation into the big gas and oil companies by the Oversight Committee, says we need a big increase in public understanding that these companies have been lying to the public for decades and are relentlessly pursuing expanding their climate-destroying industry, while continuing to lie to the public and powerfully oppose good climate policy. Public opinion must shift, just as it did against Big Tobacco in the 1990’s, before we can thwart these companies deadly plans.

Let’s all help spread the word by asking people if they’ve heard about the Oversight Committee’s hearings, and then sharing this post or even just a sentence or two of the information above.

Let’s Remember For Ourselves
While there is plenty to be upset about here, let’s remember to keep grounding our climate action in love–love for the earth and all its people and other creatures. Let’s remember, with gratitude, that we are united with people all over the world in a global movement for a livable world and for justice everywhere.

Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.

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