Climate Change was No Accident

| Educate!

Photo: Matthew Brown

Years ago, tobacco companies discovered the link between their products and lung cancer. Did they warn their customers? No — they denied the link entirely, misleading the public for decades while killing their customers.

Similarly, ExxonMobil scientists made startlingly accurate predictions about climate change as early as 1982 — and then spent millions of dollars on a misinformation campaign to sow public doubt about climate change.

They didn’t need to convince the public that the climate crisis wasn’t happening. They just had to muddy the waters enough to prevent us from doing anything.

They provoked uncertainty: Maybe the climate crisis isn’t happening. And even if it is, maybe it’s not caused by humans burning fossil fuels. (Of course, it is happening and it is caused by humans.)

The result was inaction.

If we aren’t even sure that a human-caused climate crisis is afoot, why should we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels? It would be highly inconvenient and very expensive to go to all of that trouble unless we’re absolutely certain that we need to.

After all, the argument went, “only” 97 percent of scientists believe that human are causing a climate crisis.

I’m a scientist. Let me tell you, when 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, the evidence must be overwhelming.

Scientists are trained to critique and argue with one another. We make our careers by pulling apart other scientists’ theories and exposing the flaws in them and then supplanting them with better theories of our own.

You couldn’t get 97 percent of scientists to agree that puppies are cute or chocolate is delicious.

What about other 3 percent? You can always find one or two nutty so-called scientists with inaccurate, fringy theories out there. There’s probably a scientist somewhere attempting to publish a study asserting that Bigfoot exists — or that climate change isn’t happening.

Science is a community endeavor in which we try to collectively discover and advance the truth. The goal is that the community as a whole achieves a consensus or near-consensus that is as accurate as possible.

If 97 out of 100 scientists agree that humans are causing catastrophic climate change, that’s a consensus.

The difference between lying about the deadliness of tobacco and lying about the deadliness of fossil fuels is who gets harmed by those lies.

Tobacco is deadly — I’ve lost two grandparents to its ill effects — but tobacco is most harmful to those who use it. The climate crisis is deadly to everyone, whether they are responsible for causing it or not. It will continue to hurt people for generations, even after humans stop polluting at such alarming levels as they do now.

The Exxon Mobil executives who’ve profited from fossil fuels did so while knowing that they were trading a few decades of profits for the entire future of the planet and all of the species on it.

We’re beyond the point where we tell ourselves that changing our light bulbs can help. The fix for the climate crisis must come from the highest levels. It requires large-scale systemic changes and not a few insufficient individual actions.

And it could start with consequences for the industry that caused the crisis on purpose.

  • Neville

    What is a scientist ?

  • For the tobacco companies, the fact that their product killed many of their customers was not a big problem. It took many years of a very slow and often painful death spiral for the deaths to occur, giving the company ample time to make huge profits from the sale of their products.

    In the meantime, the children of their customers often became addicted by the habit themselves, which provided a near never-ending supply of new victims, much in the way that the most successful parasites do not kill their victims before the parasite can reproduce numerous times before causing the eventual death of the victim. Bacterial and viral infections work in the same manner.

    The oil companies have used the same model quite successfully to act as a parasitic invader of the world’s economy. Even now, as their parasitic activities are becoming more common knowledge, they seek to extend the time in which they can extract profits from their dying customers by promoting carbon taxes that pay a rebate directly to their victims, in hopes of convincing them to continue to buy their deadly products, not realizing that the higher cost of the fossil fuel products is actually coming from their own pockets, not from the fossil fuel company’s profits.

  • What? Did you fail third grade English AND 8th grade science, too? If you don’t know how to use the dictionary, I recommend you enroll immediately in serious adult education classes.

  • Neville

    Why don’t you explain what a scientist is seeing that name is banded around a lot these days in the media ?
    Like for instance, what sort of scientist ?
    What qualifications does that person have in their field of expertise ?
    An 8th grade student could call themselves a scientist based on their scientific research into someone else’s scientific research that they had read from a book .

  • D Turgeon

    Sock puppet alert! Here we have a perfect example of the kind of obfuscation and doubt sowing the article refers to. Sickening.

  • Neville

    Are you warning us all that you are a sock puppet ?

  • Nope. A scientist is someone who knows and uses the scientific methodology. It has nothing to do with the field of knowledge being studied. In fact, you didn’t specify anything about the field of knowledge so you can go pound sand with your ridiculous quibbling. Don’t bother to try taunting me with an answer. I’ve stopped listening to your inane comments.

  • Neville

    We are discussing climate change .
    I had asked what a scientist is and you dribble me that answer ?
    You should be in your sand pit playing with your toys