ExxonMobil warns of catastrophic global warming without government action


exxon-mobil-with-logoLast month I posted about New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman investigating ExxonMobil for lying about its research data to shareholders and the public demonstrating the adverse effects of climate change, in the same way that the tobacco companies lied about research data demonstrating the harmful health effects of smoking. Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies Lies by New York Attorney General.

ExxonMobil now publicly concedes the adverse effects of climate change and its scientists are making its research publicly available (sort of) on its web site. Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post writes, Even ExxonMobil says climate change is real. So why won’t the GOP?

To understand how dangerously extreme the Republican Party has become on climate change, compare its stance to that of ExxonMobil.

No one would confuse the oil and gas giant with the Sierra Club. But if you visit Exxon’s website, you will find that the company believes climate change is real, that governments should take action to combat it and that the most sensible action would be a revenue-neutral tax on carbon — in other words, a tax on oil, gas and coal, with the proceeds returned to taxpayers for them to spend as they choose.

With no government action, Exxon experts told us during a visit to The Post last week, average temperatures are likely to rise by a catastrophic (my word, not theirs) 5 degrees Celsius, with rises of 6, 7 or even more quite possible.

“A properly designed carbon tax can be predictable, transparent, and comparatively simple to understand and implement,” Exxon says in a position paper titled “Engaging on climate change.”

None of this is radical. Officials negotiating a climate agreement right now in Paris would take it as self-evident. Republican leaders in the 1980s and 1990s would have raised no objection.

But to today’s Republicans, ExxonMobil’s moderate, self-evident views are akin to heresy. Donald Trump, the leading GOP presidential candidate, says, “I don’t believe in climate change.” Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) says, “Climate change is not science, it’s religion.” Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) at the moment seems to acknowledge that climate change might be real but opposes any action to deal with it.

Well, you may say, Trump revels in his stupidities, and most of the presidential candidates are appealing to the rightmost wing of their primary electorate at the moment. What about the grownups in the party, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.)?

Glad you asked.

In an op-ed for The Post published as President Obama traveled to Paris for the opening of the climate talks, McConnell slammed Obama’s policy for harming the middle class without measurably affecting climate change.

Does that mean, I asked the majority leader’s press secretary, that he believes climate change is real, and are there policies he would favor to mitigate the risk?

The spokesman answered: “While the Leader has spoken often on energy and the President’s policies, I don’t believe he’ll have anything new today. And as to the President’s policies, the President says he’s for ‘all of the above.’ He got that line from us. But as to his climate proposal and the Paris proposals, I think he’s spoken clearly on that in his op-ed. I hope that helps.”

I tried once more: “So as to whether he believes climate change is real, or would favor any policies to mitigate it, I should just say, declined to answer?”

I didn’t hear back.

A genuine conservative, as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state George P. Shultz has written, would acknowledge uncertainties in climate science but look for rational, market-based policies to lessen the risk without slowing economic growth. A revenue-neutral carbon tax, as in a bill Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has introduced, fits the description precisely.

What then explains the know-nothingism of today’s Republicans? Some of them see scientists as part of a left-wing cabal; many of them doubt government’s ability to do anything, let alone something as big as redirecting the economy’s energy use. Almost all of them, along with quite a few Democrats, would rather not tell voters that energy prices need to rise for the sake of the environment.

Their donors in the oil and gas industry encourage their prejudices. Three years ago, Grover Norquist, the Republicans’ anti-tax enforcer, said that a carbon tax wouldn’t violate his no-tax-increase pledge if the proceeds were returned by lowering the income tax, though he made clear he didn’t like the idea.

The next morning, the lobbying arm of the oil and gas industry swung into action. “Grover, just butch it up and oppose this lousy idea directly,” the American Energy Alliance said. “This word-smithing is giving us all headaches.”

For most of us, the reaction to this would have been: Butch it up? But Norquist got the message and within hours issued a clarification: Only a constitutional amendment banning the income tax could justify a carbon tax.

So the industry deserves its share of blame, and that includes ExxonMobil, which hardly trumpets its views on the advantages of a carbon tax. (Its most alarming slide, on the 5-degree temperature rise, can’t be found on its public site.)

But blaming it all on Big Oil lets the politicians off too easily. Yes, McConnell represents a coal state, and, yes, he wants to preserve his Senate majority. If those considerations are more important to him than saving the planet, let him say so to our children and grandchildren. Let’s not blame the oil companies for the pusillanimity of people who are supposed to lead.

Think Progress has more on Fred Hiatt’s opinion. ExxonMobil Warns of ‘Catastrophic’ 7°F to 12°F Global Warming Without Government Action:

It’s a Through-The-Looking-Glass world. The Washington Post reports Sunday that ExxonMobil has a far saner view of global warming than the national Republican party.

Fred Hiatt, the paper’s centrist editorial page editor, drops this bombshell:

With no government action, Exxon experts told us during a visit to The Post last week, average temperatures are likely to rise by a catastrophic (my word, not theirs) 5 degrees Celsius, with rises of 6, 7 or even more quite possible.

This is indeed basic climate science.

Of course, thanks to excellent reporting by InsideClimate News, we now know ExxonMobil had been told by its own scientists in the 1970s and 1980s that climate change was human-caused and would reach catastrophic levels without reductions in carbon emissions. Yes, this is same ExxonMobil that then became the largest funder of disinformation on climate science and attacks on climate scientists until they were surpassed by the Koch Brothers in recent years — but that is a different (tragic) story.

Hiatt’s point is to show “how dangerously extreme the Republican Party has become on climate change,” and that that “Republicans’ ideologically based denial is dangerous and cowardly.” After all, the oil giant ain’t Greenpeace.

Yet unlike the national GOP leadership and its presidential candidates, “the company believes climate change is real, that governments should take action to combat it and that the most sensible action would be a revenue-neutral tax on carbon,” that taxes fossil fuels like coal and oil and returns the money to taxpayers.

What is the reason for “the know-nothingism of today’s Republicans”? Hiatt offers a partial explanation: “Some of them see scientists as part of a left-wing cabal; many of them doubt government’s ability to do anything, let alone something as big as redirecting the economy’s energy use.”

But he misses a key element — namely the deafening echo chamber of the right wing’s media and think tanks. As David Brooks — who is often, but not always, part of that echo chamber — explained last week, on the climate change issue:

[T]he G.O.P. has come to resemble a Soviet dictatorship — a vast majority of Republican politicians can’t publicly say what they know about the truth of climate change because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation.

Yes, the GOP’s science denial is so extreme that a major conservative columnist has called out the right wing’s “thought police.” Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman used Brooks’ line — and the Paris climate talks — as a launching point for a must-read piece, “Republicans’ Climate Change Denial Denial” Friday.

krugman.pngAs Krugman explains,”the talks could mark a turning point” toward “the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe.” But he adds: “Then again, they might not; we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party.”

Krugman’s statement appears “partisan … but what I said is, in fact, the obvious truth. And the inability of our news media, our pundits and our political establishment in general to face up to that truth is an important contributing factor to the danger we face.”

Krugman links to an important journal article from August, “More than Markets: A Comparative Study of Nine Conservative Parties on Climate Change.” This study found that “Although conservative parties are portrayed as skeptical toward adopting climate measures or even supposed to ignore climate change … most of them support climate measures, even in the form of state interventions in the market economy.” Two core conclusions: “A clear finding is that available fossil reserves seem to have an influence on conservative climate politics. The U.S. Republican Party is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change.”

Because of the unique nature of GOP climate change denial, Krugman warns of “the denial inherent in the conventions of political journalism, which say that you must always portray the parties as symmetric — that any report on extreme positions taken by one side must be framed in a way that makes it sound as if both sides do it.”

While this is commonplace on issues like the budget, where it ends up hurting the U.S. economy, the stakes are much higher on the climate issue:

I’d urge everyone outside the climate-denial bubble to frankly acknowledge the awesome, terrifying reality. We’re looking at a party that has turned its back on science at a time when doing so puts the very future of civilization at risk. That’s the truth, and it needs to be faced head-on.

Hear! Hear!


  1. “ExxonMobil warns of catastrophic global warming without government action”

    What a surprise. After being threatened with massive lawsuits and criminal prosecutions, a company decides to parrot the bureaucratic party line. And 100% of the people voted for Saddam Hussien. People and Companies are not stupid…they can figure out which battles to fight and which are futile. Fighting the full power of an activist government is not a fight to start. That still does not make the government correct.

    • Give it up, Steve, Exxon got caught with the goods in the seventies. Your objection really has nothing to do with science, if it did you wiuld have changed your mind a long time ago. You just can’t accept that pollution matters. … Either that or you work for the fossil fuel industry …

      • I suppose I have been off a little bit lately. It could be a side effect of having to fight a particularly aggressive form of cancer. The treatments tend to take a lot out of me. However don’t even develop a hope I will lose this battle and stop trolling your blog. You don’t get rid of me that easy. ;o)

        I promise I will try and sharpen up my wit and wisdom I share here.

  2. Knowing as early as the 1970s what impact the fossil fuel industry would have on the climate, deliberately conducting a disinformation campaign that denies climate change, and knowing the effect inflicted on the world’s population, all in the name of investor profit…seems that would qualify as crimes against humanity. Not that the guilty will pay any price.

  3. I feel like I’m an unwilling actor in one of those B movies on the SyFy Channel where the mayor is determined to go ahead with the big public event even though he has been told that there’s a monster that could attack at any second. We see it happening in slow-speed and there’s nothing we can do to make the idiot politician see the light.

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