The World Is Now a Chaotic Mess
October 24, 2015 5:02 PM   Subscribe

This week, in an article for The Nation, Bill McKibben reports the story of how two separate teams of reporters at Inside Climate News and The Los Angeles Times have, “reached the same bombshell conclusion: ExxonMobil, the world’s largest and most powerful oil company, knew everything there was to know about climate change by the mid-1980s, and then spent the next few decades systematically funding climate denial and lying about the state of the science.”
posted by ob1quixote (70 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
posted by johnnydummkopf at 5:09 PM on October 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not surprised? What is the appropriate response to this type of thing. Anger? Apathy? Despair? It's true that no one will be punished. So honestly, what then?
posted by triage_lazarus at 5:10 PM on October 24, 2015




Not surprised? What is the appropriate response to this type of thing. Anger? Apathy? Despair? It's true that no one will be punished. So honestly, what then?

From the article:
 A few observers, especially on the professionally jaded left, have treated the story as old news—as something that even if we didn’t know, we knew. “Of course they lied,” someone told me. That cynicism, however, serves as the most effective kind of cover for Exxon (right alongside the tired argument that it’s “not the fault of the companies—they’re just meeting demand from all of us”).
What you can do is not despair. Change your own actions first: Opt to drive less, eat locally, eat less meat, buy less plastic bullshit, recycle, reduce, and reuse more. Then advocate for others to do the same. Call your local representative, call your state rep, call your Congressional rep. Tell people that you expect change, that you expect prosecution of these guilty parties (and anyone else who would brush away the dangers of climate change).
posted by carsonb at 5:18 PM on October 24, 2015 [32 favorites]


"Exxon knew carbon dioxide was increasing in the atmosphere, that combustion of fossil fuels was driving it, and that this posed a threat to Exxon."

You know what else poses a threat to Exxon? Having your houses flooded from rising sea levels, and losing your company anyway as the whole economy plummets from failing to adapt to higher global temperatures.

It's scary when the best-case scenario is that the decision-makers at Exxon were "merely" sociopathic, expecting global warming to only harm people other than themselves. Because the alternative is that they just don't want to live. "In the long run we're all dead," the thought goes, "so don't even bother avoiding it."
posted by Rangi at 5:19 PM on October 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


The great thing about having a large company is that you don't have to do the dirty work of denying climate change (or whatever it is that threatens your company's position). You just have to make it a company priority, and then an army of people way smarter and more qualified than you will set to work on it. You don't even have to leave a dirty paper trail back to yourself, because of course self-preservation should be the company's top priority.

Reminds me of the story that's bubbling up on facebook right now, about the WHO being poised to link red/processed meat consumption with cancer. In the face of the news that their products may be destroying people's health and lives, you see spokespeople from the industry handwringing about the effect the news will have on their products' images. And surely this is another case of the industry trying to keep the lid on the story, for longer than most of its employees have even been alive, let alone working. I'd like to think this would be the day I'd stand up and walk out of a job like that...
posted by mantecol at 5:36 PM on October 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Corporate Planning is rarely "long term" as in "ten years", let alone "when your grandchildren have grandchildren". Any CEO who tries to plan that far ahead WILL be tarred and feathered by 'the market'.
But I'd say there is another possible explanation: Since realizing that there is an oncoming crisis, MAKE PLANS TO PROFIT FROM IT. "There are no crises, just future opportunities." If the only way most of us can continue to exist is in climate-controlled domes, well, the most important part of the economy will be POWERING THE AIR COOLERS.
To paraphrase a Seinfeld punchline: "Climate Change. It's Real, and It's Spectacular."
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:37 PM on October 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I tried for a long time to take a more measured, open-minded view of things, but capitalism, at least as it is practiced in the industrial west, is inescapably a death culture.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:44 PM on October 24, 2015 [57 favorites]


Corporate personhood always bends towards sociopathy.

We're destroying the only habitat that our species can live in. Oh well, I guess. I used to think that this was terrible, but now I lean towards saying "yup, we should go extinct."

That's why I don't like the "save the planet" framing of climate change. Nah. The planet will be fine. In 500 million years, when humans and 90% of the other species currently living are long, long dead, there will be a completely new ecosystem on Earth. Maybe it'll even be better and have produced no intelligent life. Intelligent life might be a disease.
posted by Automocar at 5:49 PM on October 24, 2015 [29 favorites]




So if they had thrown their weight behind real climate science in the late eighties, we would have had better than 25 years of actually working on climate change instead of working on getting people to admit that it could possible happen.

They've kind of...killed us all, haven't they? That was an important twenty five years, now gone.

I've been doing some stuff that has involved a lot of reading about nuclear war in eighties pop culture and it struck me that the threat of full scale nuclear exchange is actually a pretty easy problem, because you really only need to persuade a few key actors, all of whom are in the public eye, not to launch a nuclear attack. All that worry about how Reagan was going to push the button in a fit of fundie christianity and it turns out that what kills us is a bunch of mid-level suits at ExxonMobil, and we didn't even notice it at the time.
posted by Frowner at 6:19 PM on October 24, 2015 [51 favorites]


These people keep really, really testing my "Don't advocate the death of others" rule. Well, more like guideline.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:20 PM on October 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I do think a reckoning will eventually happen. Won't be now though. It's not bad enough, consistantly enough for a mass of the same people experiencing it. As a culture we're still in the maybe all this weird stuff happening in the past few years is just coincidence hopeful denial stage. We're gonna have to go through more years of terribleness, like areas that experience crazy floods, for it to click in that terrible floods are now pretty much the norm every year. The same masses of people are going to have to have their lives and properties regularly damaged as a yearly thing for it to click. When this stage is reached people will look for something or someone to blame.

It just sucks that when that happens it will be really too late. I watched Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome last night and I couldn't help imagine companies like this being part of the kids storytelling as they pass on the story of the 'A-pocky-clipse'.
posted by Jalliah at 6:48 PM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jesus Christ. Global warming could cause the end of human industrial civilization, Hurricane Katrina/Superstorm Sandy everywhere, and Exxon sat on it for 25 years?!?! !!
posted by wuwei at 6:50 PM on October 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


For those who wonder, "what will people of the future look at us and shake their heads about, the way we look back at slave-holders and shake our heads," this will be it.
posted by rikschell at 6:55 PM on October 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


I would like these people to go to jail.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:57 PM on October 24, 2015 [59 favorites]


Jesus Christ. Global warming could cause the end of human industrial civilization, Hurricane Katrina/Superstorm Sandy everywhere, and Exxon sat on it for 25 years?!?! !!
You see, this is what you tree-huggers and liberals just don't get. The board of directors and the company is legally obligated to do whatever is most profitable. Anything less and they aren't getting the most profits for their shareholders.

</sarcasm>

An argument against the idea.
I would like these people to go to jail.
You've heard of the "If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics." line, right?

Similarly, it's illegal to kill one person. There probably isn't a law about systematically lying to the world about completely ruining the global ecosystem. Freedom of speech or something?

And there's the recent article that some crimes are too complex to prosecute (via HN).
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:06 PM on October 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Previously.
posted by homunculus at 7:06 PM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also don't think human-caused global warming will 'kill' the planet; I don't even think it will end humanity or civilization.

It will accelerate the extinction of many plant and animal species, and cause the migration or displacement of many more. Similarly, it will cause massive displacement of great swaths of humanity, causing hardship for many. Some countries might fail. The global economy might suffer a few blows, maybe a decade or a century of dark times, as people fight over the remaining good bits of land and resources, especially food.

But fear not. The right sort of people will prevail, they always do. Perhaps you understand better now why it's important that they be allowed to continue to accumulate wealth and power. You can't prepare enough for this sort of thing.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:17 PM on October 24, 2015 [22 favorites]


Not surprised? What is the appropriate response to this type of thing. Anger? Apathy? Despair?

Anger, yep, I'm going with ANGER.

It's true that no one will be punished. So honestly, what then?

I choose to bottle it up inside until someday I explode. By the way, I am currently a balloon eighteen feet across.
posted by JHarris at 7:19 PM on October 24, 2015 [26 favorites]


But fear not. The right sort of people will prevail, they always do. Perhaps you understand better now why it's important that they be allowed to continue to accumulate wealth and power.

I can't tell if this is arch sarcasm or you're just getting at something I can't even fathom. Bravo, I guess.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:23 PM on October 24, 2015


I would like these people to go to jail.

So would Bernie Sanders.
posted by scalefree at 7:24 PM on October 24, 2015 [17 favorites]


Artful Codger: The 1910-1950 era of war and then war again destroyed the then-current world order and inflated, blew up, killed, stole and distributed, redistributed or rendered defunct by bankruptcy most of the world's wealth. Karl Wittgenstein built up a fortune nearing Rockefeller's (much of it by war profiteering, given) but his kids gave nearly all of it up to Hitler in exchange for official recognition as Not Jews. This was the grand period that Piketty claimed created the aberration where r < g for that period in time, because capital was so busy getting blown up and such.
posted by curuinor at 7:28 PM on October 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


But fear not. The right sort of people will prevail, they always do. Perhaps you understand better now why it's important that they be allowed to continue to accumulate wealth and power.
posted by homunculus at 7:29 PM on October 24, 2015


Exxon -> Jail.
posted by Jernau at 8:06 PM on October 24, 2015


Yes I'm beyond cynical about our inaction in the face of global warning, and the vanishing likelihood of serious premptive response. Exxon, like bankers in 2008, won't be punished.

The 1910-1950 era of war and then war again destroyed the then-current world order and inflated, blew up, killed, stole and distributed, redistributed or rendered defunct by bankruptcy most of the world's wealth.

Compared to the catastrophes in the 1910-1950 era, the future changes from global warming will come on gradually, as they are now, and being inevitable by that point, will be borne with varying degrees of resignation. I don't foresee a global Road Warrior scenario, though there might be a few more Iraqs, Afghanistans and Syrias. And a few Bangladeshes will be flooded. Perhaps a famine or two. Is there any doubt that the wealthy won't weather all of this successfully?
posted by Artful Codger at 8:12 PM on October 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not surprised? What is the appropriate response to this type of thing. Anger? Apathy? Despair? It's true that no one will be punished. So honestly, what then?

Although the track isn't about climate change or Exxon, I believe that nevertheless Boots Riley's response to similar questions applies here.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:16 PM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


homunculus: “Previously.
My fault for not clicking through on the tags I guess. I even clicked around on Inside Climate News but I didn't see that particular article. If I had, I probably would have linked it and then would have known. Apologies, y'all.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:42 PM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The old thread is closed, the links in this one are good and a new discussion is underway. There's nothing to be sorry for, imo.
posted by homunculus at 8:52 PM on October 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Folks, let's not ignore the evidence on the other side of the debate. For instance, I have it on good authority that Al Gore is fat.

In all seriousness, I don't know that jail is good enough for these fuckwits. I want anyone who participated in this or knew about it to spend the rest of their lives doing grunt work for climate scientists. Let them collect ice samples in Antarctica for six twelve hour days a week and pay their debt to society by helping us study how much they fucked it up.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:32 PM on October 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


Well, usually, when an individual methodically starts a process that will kill millions, we do imprison them, and in some states, execute them for mass murder.

We could dig up John D. Rockefeller and execute him for his crimes (after a fair trial, of course). I think he started it.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:27 PM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a theory as to what's been going on.
posted by MrVisible at 11:41 PM on October 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't think only ExxonMobile knew. I remember being taught about the "Greenhouse Effect" and the depletion of the Ozone layer, and the carbon problem and fossil fuels, in primary school, in Grade 3 and 4 for me, which was 1983 and 1984. We had class discussions about it, did homework assignments about it and even watched video (yes, video as in VHS tapes) about it. I was taught Climate Change was inevitable, also that the idea was controversial but that the science was pretty solid, and that noticeable effects would kick in around 2020 to 2030. Which seemed a long way in the future to 9 and 10 year old me but here we are.
posted by esto-again at 2:51 AM on October 25, 2015 [22 favorites]


I went to government schools in the ACT in Australia. My teachers were regular suburbanites. What conspiracy?
posted by esto-again at 2:54 AM on October 25, 2015


I tried for a long time to take a more measured, open-minded view of things, but capitalism, at least as it is practiced in the industrial west, is inescapably a death culture.

It pairs well with our main religions, which view the world as a vile place, a cesspit where you await your real life. There's not much damage you can do to a cesspit.
posted by maxwelton at 3:04 AM on October 25, 2015 [17 favorites]


Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. - Psalm 69
posted by fairmettle at 3:17 AM on October 25, 2015


esto-again: yeah, me too.
posted by ead at 4:42 AM on October 25, 2015


Question since McKibben didn't actually address it in his article, from what I could see -- did the teams at ICN and the LA Times know about the work the others were doing?

It was curious to me to see the story at the LA Times pop up several weeks after ICN started running their series. I haven't read the entire stories at each outlet yet, just skimming, so I don't know if the journalists addressed that question yet.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:36 AM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Such nonsense. Exxon didn’t "know" anything that wasn’t already known. All of this had been previously published and was available to the public.
posted by republican at 5:42 AM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think only ExxonMobile knew

Such nonsense. Exxon didn’t "know" anything that wasn’t already known. All of this had been previously published and was available to the public.

Yep, by 1979 global warming was already taken for granted.

Don't forget this is the Reagan era we're talking about.
posted by Bangaioh at 6:02 AM on October 25, 2015


It's silly to think that if not for the suppression of this research (though actually, considering the previously link, Exxon researchers actually participated and contributed to early public conferences), we would have had meaningful action on climate change decades ago. The LA Times article actually points out that the geotechnical work conducted by Exxon's subsidiary exploring the in the Canadian arctic cited published work and results from GCM models developed at Goddard and others. There was no shocking data or modeling result that the company developed or found that, suppressed, changed a thing about the development of the field. Now, their political lobbying or funding of denialist organizations had effects on policy, certainly, but the effects on the science or our current knowledge or understanding of the issue are / were vanishingly small.

It's also a weird and overly-dramatised narrative to say that this was a deadly secret kept carefully suppressed. For one thing, there is no suppression: declining sea ice, longer drilling seasons, and the impact on permafrost are all well known internally and externally. They have been explicitly discussed in their public filings to the Canadian regulator with respect to the Mackenzie valley pipeline, facilities and development plans for the Taglu gas field on the Mackenzie delta, and submissions for exploration in offshore Beaufort sea.

Again, this isn not to minimize or try to wave away the companies' political lobbying, but it seems that some people are way over-inflating the effects of the very, very limited climate science and modeling the company conducted. (And the Imperial work hardly counts, as it amounted to internal powerpoint level discussion of public / external science, not original research).

To be clear, we have known very well for over two decades (well, longer than that, but the 1992 Rio conference marks a point where the threat and the mechanism was established beyond all 'plausible denial') that warming and changing climate is a consequence of our burning of carbon based energy sources. Exxon has not kept us ignorant of this (I, for one, was taught this in middle school in the 80s). As tempting as it is to want to put this all on the evil megacorps and absolve ourselves of blame, we are all complicit every time we fuel a car, eat food fertilized via the Haber-Bosch process, step into a steel reinforced concrete building, put on a polyester jacket, switch on a light bulb...
posted by bumpkin at 6:11 AM on October 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


I've been doing some stuff that has involved a lot of reading about nuclear war in eighties pop culture and it struck me that the threat of full scale nuclear exchange is actually a pretty easy problem, because you really only need to persuade a few key actors, all of whom are in the public eye, not to launch a nuclear attack. All that worry about how Reagan was going to push the button in a fit of fundie christianity and it turns out that what kills us is a bunch of mid-level suits at ExxonMobil, and we didn't even notice it at the time.

It's not accurate to assert that but for the persuasion of a few publicly visible actors, there would have been zero chance of nuclear war in the 1980s. To acknowledge this is not in any way to minimize the impact of climate change or the obscenity of mid-level suits at ExxonMobil during the same era.
posted by blucevalo at 7:46 AM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Such nonsense. Exxon didn’t "know" anything that wasn’t already known. All of this had been previously published and was available to the public.
posted by republican at 5:42 AM on October 25 [1 favorite +] [!]


but establishing that they did know it is part of establishing the record that they willfully disregarded the consequences. Which is important for the criminal charges in the court case.

Controversial science is usually not that consequential until a judge sees it. That's why the oil industry has spent millions suppressing public litigation of their violations of land use and pollution laws in Louisiana.

In this case, the companies knew, everyone knew. You yourself can look at the thousands of ongoing violations of state and federal law via Google.

Louisiana has an entire state Authority dedicated to fixing the problem with federal tax money, rather than corporate coffers. But the law still goes unenforced, because these memos can't get in front of a judge.

Building court cases is important, because you often have to bulid the public case side by side. Building the publc case can result in agencies and officials acting to enforce the law, or elections where officials enforce the laws being broken.

It's perhaps, too late for us. But learn from us, please.

Shell::

Shell, October 12, 1979.


This memo detailed problems at some of the company’s Louisiana sites and acknowledged that some Shell waste pits were “either out of compliance with state regulations or deteriorating in a manner that threatens environmental damage.”

“Industry waste handling has become careless,” the author added, “as any and all types of wastes are dumped into these pits. Some of these pits have become ‘eyesores’ because there is no economic incentive to maintain them.”

Unfortunately, the EPA was considering new regulations on oil-waste disposal that the American Petroleum Institute had estimated would cost industry $34.7 billion nationally. “Negatively speaking, the future use of pits in Coastal Division looks economically undesirable when assessing proposed regulations. . . . Positively speaking, these regulations could be mitigated through congressional action to reduce their economic impact.”

Translation: We can get our friends in Washington to gut or kill the new regulations. Which was precisely what happened.

posted by eustatic at 7:52 AM on October 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's not accurate to assert that but for the persuasion of a few publicly visible actors, there would have been zero chance of nuclear war in the 1980s. To acknowledge this is not in any way to minimize the impact of climate change or the obscenity of mid-level suits at ExxonMobil during the same era.

I think you're slightly misreading me. What I was trying to say was that relatively few individual people could actually, literally, start a nuclear war. While the higher ups were influenced by many things and people, it wasn't like, say, some right-wing state governor could just push the button one morning in a fit of pique, or the CEO of ExxonMobil could decide that a tactical nuclear strike would be a great way to open up Arctic territory. The people who could actually give the final orders were relatively few, and at least in the US, relatively in the public eye. Whereas with climate change, the people who are making big, bad decisions are far more numerous and out of the public eye, and their decisions are cumulative.

f you read Reagan's diaries, for instance, The Day After substantially influenced his thinking on nuclear war, and probably was part of what led to the signing of the 1987 missile treaty. A television movie had a big effect on the possibility of nuclear war. Show me the television movie that's going to sway a critical mass of corporate executives.

Plenty of people believed that nuclear war was survivable; few people had the actual ability to launch missiles.
posted by Frowner at 8:47 AM on October 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yep, by 1979 global warming was already taken for granted.

This is false, or at the very least massively overstated, and certainly not provable by linking to a single paper.

Even if we interpret this "taken for granted" as "taken for granted by a majority of climate scientists" rather than "taken for granted by policymakers" or "taken for granted by the publc" (neither of which are true even today), I don't think this can be definitively stated until well after the formation of the IPCC in 1990. Throughout the 80s and 90s many influential papers did come to the conclusion that AGW was likely, but I'm not aware of any influential scientists coming to the conclusion that it was already happening before Hansen's 1988 paper.

This is not to say Exxon's modeling was unique, or that there weren't climate scientists banging the drum in the Reagan era. There was absolutely scientific inquiry into what was at the time called global warming, but there was a lot more uncertainty around it than there is now, and while Exxon had no duty to continue funding their investigations, doing so could have gone a long way to establishing a consensus much sooner.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:59 AM on October 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I also don't think human-caused global warming will 'kill' the planet; I don't even think it will end humanity or civilization.

It will accelerate the extinction of many plant and animal species, and cause the migration or displacement of many more. Similarly, it will cause massive displacement of great swaths of humanity, causing hardship for many. Some countries might fail. The global economy might suffer a few blows, maybe a decade or a century of dark times, as people fight over the remaining good bits of land and resources, especially food.


As I understand it, if we don't manage to cut carbon emissions by 90% by 2100, about the only place humans will be able to survive in 500 years is at the poles. I believe that would count as the end of civilization.
posted by Automocar at 9:35 AM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a theory as to what's been going on.
posted by MrVisible at 7:41 AM on October 25 [3 favorites +] [!]


Ben Elton wrote a couple of novels along those lines in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Everyone was hearing about the Greenhouse Effect in the 1980s. Bill McKibben's seminal book about it was published in 1989. The trouble is that this growing awareness, and the unease it could usefully have created (useful, because it could have driven efforts to do something), were undermined by a concerted disinformation campaign.
posted by rory at 9:59 AM on October 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of those Bell Telephone science movies from the late 50's with Dr Frank Baxter was about weather. They talked about greenhouse gases and global warming. This is the 50's. We knew about it then.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:10 AM on October 25, 2015


Srsly though, I think the analysis in that reddit thread about how the ultrarich aim for the sort of orderly dieoff that will let them survive/thrive in the depopulated world is wrong, since it doesn't take into account the fact that what the market really wants is hookers and blow and bottle service and expensive cars and downtown lofts, because that's what the 20something boys who ultimately make decisions for the market want. No one is allowed to make plans that don't serve these aims, because no one can meaningfully contradict market power. Even if it means the end of the world.

But, if they're aiming for an orderly dieoff that they get to survive, we have a moral responsibility to destroy their shelters and leave the monsters to die with us.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:15 AM on October 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


I, for one, was taught this in middle school in the 80s

Same here. But I didn't think much of it at the time, being in middle school. Around 1989 there was a lot of talk about it, but much uncertainty as well. Intrigued by this apparently simple question that the adults all disagreed with each other on, and not being able to just check the Internet for the latest research, I went down to an actual Environment Canada office to ask the closest nearby thing to an expert. I've no idea who the guy there I talked to might have been, but he said officially this global warming thing was for real. Unofficially, something to the effect that it's a bunch of alarmist nonsense, don't worry about it.
posted by sfenders at 10:15 AM on October 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


To add to the anecdata, the last science class I took in college was in the summer of 1990. It was called "Human Impact on the Environment." My very disengaged, very depressed professor spent every class reviewing hsitorical examples of humans destroying regional biomes, in each case causing first famine, then war, and finally large-scale migrations (which occurred in tandem with more warfare) and large-scale human mortality. The event chains only ended after the human population was sufficiently reduced to end the resource-driven conflicts.

He would end every class by citing an example from then-current research on longterm climate change, and the end of the class term itself was largely devoted to examining the issues already known and identified associated with the increase of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere over the past two hundred years.

It was alarming as hell. In class, students repeatedly asked what we could do, what changes to the economy could be made, how could the effects be ameliorated, and so forth. His answer never varied. "There's nothing we can do," he'd sigh. "It's already too late."

It was somewhat difficult to separate the science from his depressed demeanor, but he was trying to get us to engage with the data and think about it, and that's what I got out of the class in the end, and have understood to be the future of human society since then.

So I certainly read the framing of this which implies that somehow Big Oil suppressed research or kept data secret in a way which prevented the facts from being known or recognized with puzzlement. Obviously they've known. That's part of the reason so much time and money was invested in conclusively establishing a transnational oligarchic power structure in the West since 1980. Is this criminal? Well, maybe, in a larger sense. Is spending money to win legislative changes that benefit your organization's power and wealth illegal? No, not really.

And, anyway, as my professor taught me: it's too late.
posted by mwhybark at 10:59 AM on October 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


See, I didn't read this as "big oil kept a GIANT SECRET", I read it as "big oil worked against what they knew to be true, meaning that we all had to spend our effort convincing people instead of dealing with the problem". That's the issue.

Anecdotally: climate change was not widely discussed in pop environmentalist [like, kids' environmentalist clubs at school, the Greenpeace newsletters I used to get when I was a member, etc] circles in the eighties that I recall. Again, that's not the same as "it was this giant secret"; it's more "it was not at the forefront of people's minds".

I surmise that the absence of the internet was a factor - certainly, when I was a teen, I got all my environmental issues information from paper newsletters that I only even got because I was a paid-up member of a bunch of groups. [And from Jim Jarvis, my fantastic global studies teacher.] Global warming is on everyone's minds now partly because it's really starting to hit and partly because information is simply fantastically more accessible now than it was. When I was a teen, I read everything I could find about GATT and NAFTA (then in negotiations) and it wasn't much. I tried to be an expert on that stuff, and it was difficult. Now, I can be a lazy-ass internet reader and know more than hours of effort gave me then.
posted by Frowner at 11:46 AM on October 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


esto-again: "depletion of the Ozone layer"

This was a different issue, one that has largely been solved long term.
posted by Mitheral at 12:18 PM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Folks, let's not ignore the evidence on the other side of the debate. For instance, I have it on good authority that Al Gore is fat.

Not only that but MANBEARPIG.

(Manbearpig was the straw that broke the camel's back and turned me against South Park. And do NOT ask me why I'm so serial.)
posted by JHarris at 1:40 PM on October 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


JHarris: "Folks, let's not ignore the evidence on the other side of the debate. For instance, I have it on good authority that Al Gore is fat.

Not only that but MANBEARPIG.

(Manbearpig was the straw that broke the camel's back and turned me against South Park. And do NOT ask me why I'm so serial.)
"

My ex girlfriend's ex girlfriend was enough to drive me insane with that crap.
posted by Samizdata at 2:32 PM on October 25, 2015


I surmise that the absence of the internet was a factor

It's a pretty good thing to have on a Sunday afternoon when someone suggests that "we knew" all about global warming in the 1950's and you want to go find out whether there's any truth in that. The Influence of Mauna Loa Observatory on the Development of Atmospheric CO2 Research gives a great account of what it was like at that time. By the 60's they had demonstrated how carbon dioxide concentrations were rising. In the late 70's I suspect there was a rough consensus forming that it was reasonable to expect that warming would likely be the effect, but Keeling writes in 1978 that whether or not a large CO2 increase would occur and persist "cannot be answered from present knowledge".

So no, practically nobody really knew about it much before Exxon.
posted by sfenders at 2:55 PM on October 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Change your own actions first: Opt to drive less, eat locally, eat less meat, buy less plastic bullshit, recycle, reduce, and reuse more. Then advocate for others to do the same.

Is there a point to this though? I almost never fly anywhere, and yet the emissions from planes are far worse than the car i borrow once or twice a week(or the carshare i occasionally use), or as far as i know hundreds of cars. Ditto for say, commercial trucks. I eat local when i can, but it's expensive. I don't eat meat continuously, but i know from working in foodservice how much of that is ordered and then thrown out every day in every business around my house. I buy as many things as i can used, but the market for new products hasn't dired up in any way.

Pretty much, despite feeling like i try to make a difference... Am i? Are these sorts of actions about anything but making yourself feel better and straining your own arm as you pat yourself on the back? The older i get, the more pointless and smug they seem despite the fact that consciously i know any difference is still a difference.
posted by emptythought at 4:23 PM on October 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


So no, practically nobody really knew about it much before Exxon.

The history of climate science goes back much farther, but interest in CO2 emissions and global warming as a policy issue goes back at least to the 60's.
posted by sneebler at 6:12 PM on October 25, 2015


I parsed that sentence as claiming that even climate scientists didn't know that much more than Exxon knew, not as claiming that Exxon's knowledge was actually ahead of climate science and nobody was aware of global warming before them (which would be preposterous).

Global warming timeline.
posted by Bangaioh at 6:31 PM on October 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Change your own actions first: Opt to drive less, eat locally, eat less meat, buy less plastic bullshit, recycle, reduce, and reuse more. Then advocate for others to do the same.

Laudable... but this is a trap, one that's particularly loved by deniers. Best example: "Al Gore preaching AGW makes him a hypocrite because he doesn't travel everywhere on bike, or light his mansion with fireflies".

Not that taking individual responsibility isn't a noble goal in itself, or that positive changes in the behaviour of most people wouldn't make a dent in the problem.

But, the magnitude of change required is pretty much beyond the influence of individual action. You can drive a little or a lot; only policy change will bring in the city planning and mass transport that makes driving unnecessary. And so on.

Advocacy for policy change is more important than individual acts, when it comes to climate change.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:38 PM on October 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


interest in CO2 emissions and global warming as a policy issue goes back at least to the 60's.

Interest in it goes back to the 19th century. It was in large part the work of Keeling that greatly renewed that interest in the 60's as described in that thing I linked to. Understanding it well enough to make sensible policy prescriptions goes back to circa 1980, as your wikipedia summary link seems to agree, saying of the 1970's that "scientific panels from this time period concluded that more research was needed to determine whether warming or cooling was likely." Some people had the right idea in 1896, of course.
posted by sfenders at 8:28 PM on October 25, 2015


But, the magnitude of change required is pretty much beyond the influence of individual action. You can drive a little or a lot; only policy change will bring in the city planning and mass transport that makes driving unnecessary. And so on.

Advocacy for policy change is more important than individual acts, when it comes to climate change.


Repeated for emphasis.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 8:33 AM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Saying that knowledge of climate change due to CO2 emissions originated in the 19th century is disingenuous. Some of the science it is built on stems from that, but it's like saying quantum mechanics was originated by Leibnitz.

Even pointing out all the work in the 50's and sixties is a bit ... iffy. These things take time to bubble up through the scientific consensus.

However, this consensus was being reached by the time Exxon had their research. Hiding it and actively denying it? Well, that has fucked us and allowed idiots to not just take an opposite stance as if they had a point, but actively make the situation worse.

Will those who did the most damage ever see a reckoning? No. Just look at the bankers or the tobacco industry.

And that, tl;dr: is how we know karma doesn't exist in this lifetime.
posted by MacD at 2:23 PM on October 26, 2015


Speaking of 1989, After the Warming has James Burke reporting from the future of the past. It gets all the more trippy in part 2. Some of the imagined future is almost plausible, like tropical storms wrecking things, New Orleans being evacuated, food riots across the world, a war starting in the middle east in 1998, a global refugee crisis in 2010. Don't worry though, the Planetary Management Authority is on the job.
posted by sfenders at 5:27 PM on October 26, 2015 [3 favorites]




Meanwhile, in Indonesia...
posted by Bangaioh at 6:16 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


That Indonesia story - unbelievable. I googled around a bit and it seems like while there are regular problem fire outbreaks and have been for many years (due to poorly managed peat harvesting, I think) this year's is much, much worse. Which seems right in line with global warming - things that were occasional and not great thirty years ago are frequent and terrible now.

And Indonesia just seems like the Writ Large version of everywhere else - corrupt government that's not interested in making changes, backed by fascist supporters and coming off of a long history of violence, plus no real political channels for regular people. Just like here, only written much larger, more violently and worse by colonialism.
posted by Frowner at 7:21 AM on October 30, 2015


That was actually the moment I knew despair, when I was watching Years of Living Dangerously and Harrison Ford was flying over what used to be tropical rain forest in Indonesia.

Meanwhile the Usual Suspects on my Facebook are crowing about how a solar energy plant in California actually uses natural gas when the sun isn't shining.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:10 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]






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