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Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 12:01 am

Exxon’s weapons of mass confusion

Jim Hightower
PHOTO BY LARRY D. MOORE
InsideClimate News revealed in an investigative series released this fall that the oil superpower Exxon was briefly a paragon of scientific integrity. From 1978 through the ‘80s the corporation’s research headquarters were a buzzing hive of farsighted inquiry into the “greenhouse effect,” as the process of climate change was then called.

But in 1988, the elegant space inhabited by principle was suddenly invaded by the indelicate demands of profit. Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s renowned climate expert, testified to Congress that fossil pollution of Earth’s atmosphere had already surpassed the crisis point. “Global warming has begun,” Hansen concluded.

Then the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel on climate change issued an authoritative study in 1990 concluding that the warming was happening and the cause was emissions from fossil fuels.

With that, Exxon dismantled and defunded its research team. Ever since then, it’s been the shameful, self-serving leader of a voodoo “science” campaign to keep the world hooked on the fossil fuels that provide its profits.

Their strategy was to create an incessant noise machine, fueled with hundreds of millions of industry dollars, to spread the false narrative that scientists are “uncertain” about climate change. In a confidential 1998 memo, ExxonMobil’s senior environmental lobbyist stated the Orwellian goal of this corporate campaign: “Victory will be achieved when ... average citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science,” and when “recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’“

Their many tactics included forming a lobbying combine in 1989 to sow doubt among public officials about the need for government action; placing a very costly, decade-long series of essays in newspapers denigrating the very scientists it previously nurtured and the science reports that it published; and trying to get the government’s chief global warming official to decry the uncertainty of climate research. They also made their CEOs into hucksters of bunkum, with such lines as “the earth is cooler today than it was 20 years ago” and “it is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now” and “what if it turns out that our (climate) models are lousy, and we don’t get the (rising temperatures) we predict?”

If these denials of reality sound familiar, that’s because they’re exactly the same ones we’re now hearing from such Einsteins as The Donald (who recently tweeted, “I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax”), The Cruzer (who claimed that climate change is a liberal plot for “massive government control of the economy ... and every aspect of our lives”) and Jeb (who said, “It’s convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant”).

 The deniers are not only on the wrong side of science and history, but also on the wrong side of most voters. A New York Times poll taken last January found that only 13 percent of our people (and only 24 percent of Repubs) said they would be more likely to vote for 2016 presidential candidates who contend that climate change is a hoax and America should keep burning oil and coal. A September poll by three GOP firms found that 56 percent of Republicans agree that the climate is changing and 72 percent support accelerating the use of renewable fuels.

The real power, and our great hope, is in the People’s rebellion: marches, civil disobedience, trainings, teach-ins and other actions to pressure leaders to put people and the planet over corporate profiteering, while also raising global public awareness about the crucial need to get off of fossil fuels and into renewable energy. As http://350.org puts it, “Politicians aren’t the only ones with power.” So the coalition will be in the global streets, on the Internet, in schools, churches and all other available forums to rally you and me to save ourselves.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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