Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Has Scientists Over To Congress To Dish About Exxon F*cking The Planet
In testimony before Congress last week, two former scientists for Exxon explained in some detail how the company had initially supported their research into climate change through the 1970s. But in the early 1980s, Exxon (it merged with Mobil in 1999) decided that instead of changing its business -- which was tentatively moving into cleaner forms of energy, like advanced battery research and CO2 reduction -- it would instead suppress its own scientists' work and heavily fund outfits that cast doubt on the science of global warming. It was the first time the scientists, geochemist Ed Garvey and physicist Martin Hoffert, had a chance to testify to Congress about what's already one of the greatest missed opportunities in human history.
If Exxon hadn't decided to divest its clean energy holdings, Hoffert said, the transition to clean energy that's needed to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change could have started 40 years ago, with lower costs and far less human tragedy than such a transition will now.
This would be a good place to add that even now, the cost will still be far lower than the economic disruption, health risks, widespread migration as some parts of the planet become unlivable, and -- just maybe -- some form of civilizational collapse that could result from doing nothing. (And then idiot fact-checkers can jump in and add that at least humanity won't go extinct.)
ExxonMobil's suppression of what its own scientists knew about the connections between burning fossil fuels and climate was detailed in a 2015 investigative series by Inside Climate News, the Columbia Journalism School, and the Los Angeles Times. What with Republicans controlling Congress after the 2014 elections until this year, it was damn well time to have Garvey and Hoffert informing Congress about how we got here. The hearing was held last Wednesday, a day after the beginning of a trial in New York's lawsuit accusing ExxonMobil of misleading investors about the business risks of ignoring climate change. New York argues the company knew it would face high costs from regulators, but covered that risk up. On the same day, Massachusetts announced it too would sue ExxonMobil over the same deception.
Here's a small taste of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's questioning of the former Exxon scientists, but please ignore the dopey Twitter description: She's not "grilling" Hoffert or Garvey. Rather, the three of them are joining in exposing the oil company skulduggery.
After establishing some basic facts about the links between carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and global warming, Ocasio-Cortez displayed this chart from a 1982 Exxon report, projecting atmospheric CO2 concentrations and increasing global temperatures.
Weird! Not a word in there about "global cooling"!
Ocasio-Cortez: In 1982, seven years before I was even born, Exxon accurately predicted that by this year, 2019, the Earth would hit a carbon dioxide concentration of 415 parts per million and a temperature increase of one degree Celsius. Dr Hoffert, is that correct?
Hoffert: We were excellent scientists. [laughter from audience]
AOC: Yes you were, yes you were. So they knew.
AOC: They knew, and I presume they knew what some of the consequences of that one degree Celsius change would be -- some of them, not all.
Hoffert: Absolutely. I would like to have the opportunity to discuss that, if someone asks me.
The frustration in his voice is palpable. We knew so much of what has since been confirmed again and again, and instead of shifting toward cleaner energy sources, Exxon focused on efforts to create doubt about climate science, funding groups created to paste a veneer of scientific respectability on outright denial of the reality. In further testimony not seen in the clip, Hoffert expanded on his view that Exxon had acted immorally:
Whatever its intent—willful ignorance, stymieing an effective response to preserve quarterly profits, or simply an incomprehensible refusal to incorporate their own world-class research and results into their business plans [...] what they did was wrong. They deliberately created doubt when their internal research confirmed how serious a threat it was.
The whole thing can be viewed here.
Examining the Oil Industry’s Efforts to Suppress the Truth about Climate Change youtu.be
Ocasio-Cortez underlined that point by reading from a 1998 American Petroleum Institute document that said "Victory will be achieved when average citizens understand uncertainties in climate science." Exxon was among the oil companies that contributed to that "Action Plan," and darned if it doesn't look like it became the official Republican/Fox News agenda for talking about science.
For comment on that, Garvey turned to his fellow panelist, Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes, although the clip cuts off before getting into her answer. But that gives us an excellent excuse to remind you all that her invaluable book, Merchants of Doubt, coauthored with Erik M. Conway, is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand how rightwing, pro-industry groups have ratfucked virtually all discussions of science policy in America for decades, from lead and tobacco through climate. Oreskes noted during the hearing that fossil fuel companies "didn't just pollute the air. They also polluted the information landscape."
And wouldn't you know it, the sole witness invited by the Republicans on the subcommittee, Mandy Gunasekera, was a former Trump EPA appointee and a consultant for one of those climate-denial outfits, the "CO2 coalition." That's the outfit run by William Happer, Trump's choice to spearhead the dismantling of federal climate policy, and the guy who argues we need to pump more carbon into the atmosphere because it's what plants crave. You may remember him from news clips like his 2014 pronouncement that "the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler." And if you don't remember, why, it's in that link right above!
Gunasekera testified that the wonderful people in the fossil fuel industry should be "celebrated" for making modern life possible, and for -- we shit you not -- producing all the wealth that "is why we lead the world in environmental progress." Hooray! If the industry pumped the environment full of toxic shit, we never could have done so well at cleaning it up.
Ocasio-Cortez got straight to the witness's Merchants of Doubt connections, asking Gunasekara if she knew the CO2 Coalition was funded by rightwing industrial cranks like the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer.
"I don't know the financing behind the CO2 coalition, but I'll say my engagement with them is not unwitting," Gunasekera said. "It is active and inspired and educated, because a lot of these folks are scientists who have long been diminished and ignored."
"Thank you for testimony that you are not unwittingly working for the Koch brothers," Ocasio-Cortez said, provoking laughter in the hearing room.
On the other hand, we must note that it snowed some in Chicago this morning, so perhaps we should delay taking any action on climate for another 40 years.
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