The Utilities Knew, Exxon Knew, Shell Knew, They All Knew

08/09/2017 07:17 am ET Updated Aug 09, 2017
Jim Young / Reuters

Climate deniers are fast running out of deception and lies.

Just a few days ago, an exhaustive report by the Energy and Policy Institute revealed that public utilities have been aware of the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions and the use of coal as an energy fuel since the 1960s.

According to the study, in the 1970s, members of the Electric Power Research Institute, a group financed by the utility industry, testified before Congress that their own investigations have led them to believe that “the fossil fuels combustion will be essentially unacceptable, an important justification for expanding (...) solar energy options.” And by 1988, the same institute stated that, “There is growing consensus in the scientific community that the greenhouse effect is real.”

Frustratingly, regardless of its strong awareness of what today is humanity’s most pressing challenge, this same industry years later launched a national campaign to deny the climate crisis, and undermine any national and international efforts to fight it. Several of these companies joined forces with the fossil fuel industry in a successful push for the U.S. to renounce the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.

And today, Southern Company, the country’s third largest utility, persists on denying CO2 emissions are the main culprit in the climate crisis. Moreover, an important sector of this industry funds front groups that oppose any CO2 limits on coal-burning plants.

This story of planetary sabotage is practically identical to the behavior of the fossil fuel industry in the past four decades. Two years ago, Inside Climate News revealed Exxon, the world’s largest oil and gas company, was aware of the climate science since the late ’70s. And what did it do with that knowledge crucial for the future of humanity? It hid it. And in the following years Exxon invested millions in clouding up the public debate and discrediting the overwhelming scientific consensus that reached the same conclusions.

In 2015, the Union of Concerned Scientists published its landmark exposé “The Climate Deception Dossiers,” which show that not only Exxon, but also Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and coal giant Peabody Energy were aware of the climate change reality since the 70s. Even so, through special interest groups, they invested tens of millions “to sow doubt and promote contrarian arguments they knew to be wrong.”

The fuel that powers this planetary sabotage is called greed. The fossil fuel industry worldwide has accumulated stratospheric levels of wealth over the decades. Moreover, according to a report just published by World Development, in 2015, fossil fuels received a staggering $5.3 trillion in subsidies around the world. This includes not only taxpayer money but also the costs of deaths caused by pollution and these fuels’ contribution to the climate crisis.

Even so, the advance of solar, wind and other forms of clean energy and the exponential progress in energy efficiency are unstoppable. Clean energy and better batteries will be more competitive than fossil fuels by 2020. After a decade of immense progress, clean energy has boomed in the U.S., already providing electricity to more than 25 million homes. And on Wall Street, an index of 40 clean energy companies so far has grown by 20 percent in 2017 in the era of Trump.

This clean energy revolution is what we need to wash away the dirty energy industry’s deception and lies.

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