By Brian Martel
The oil industry has been one of the most profitable in history and one of the most politically influential. Not only do oil companies, through their PACs, contribute directly to political campaigns, but they also affect our political discourse in more insidious ways. From the moment the public became aware of climate change, oil money has funded climate denialism. For decades, climate scientist James Hansen has been centrally involved in the discussion, and denialism is, for him, a personal matter.
According to publicly available data published on Open Secrets, the top political contributors in the oil and gas industry during the 2020 election cycle were Koch Industries ($9.3 million), and Chevron (about $4 million), coming to a total of over $50 million from the industry. This is business as usual in our political world.
Enter James Hansen
Dr. James Hansen was Director of the NASA Goddard Space Center from 1981 to 2013. He began work there in 1967 as a climate scientist and astrophysicist. His early work investigating Venus led him to research the effect of increasing greenhouse gasses on Earth.
In 1988, Hansen predicted the effects of climate change while testifying to the U.S. Senate — increasingly violent storms, expanding drought-prone regions, eroding ice sheets, rising sea levels.
Credible scientists no longer dispute the facts of the case. With the vast majority of the world’s population living in low-lying areas, and our food production systems subjected to repeated cycles of drought, climate change is an existential threat. In a 2012 TED talk, Hansen made the comparison with an asteroid targeting Earth: “Yet we dither, taking no action to divert the asteroid.”
However, the oil industry has indeed been taking action, spawning a well-funded propaganda machine to protect their profits at the expense of our planet. Oil corporations have known about climate change for over half a century. Exxon senior scientist James Black informed corporate leadership of the issue in July 1977, more than a decade before it became publicly known.
After Hansen’s testimony, Exxon got serious. They helped create the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) in 1989 which began a campaign questioning the science behind the climate debate. The GCC was instrumental in preventing the U.S., China, and India from signing the Kyoto Protocol to control greenhouse gases in 1998, and although the GCC no longer exists, the disinformation campaign from fossil-fuel friendly organizations continues. According to the National Academies of Science, Exxon provided over $31 million to think tanks and individuals in a disinformation campaign between Kyoto and 2005.
The urgency of the matter
A lot has happened since Hansen’s 1988 Senatorial testimony. Over half of our current greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere have been produced since that time. Since 1988, the world’s annual carbon emissions have been increasing over time. Take energy production as an example – the economic sector accounting for 25% of carbon emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, emissions related to energy production increased from 20.5 gigatons to 33.3 gigatons between 1990 and 2019.
In his 2012 TED talk, Hansen stressed the urgency of the matter.
“The longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes.” If we had started in 2005, it would have required emission reductions of 3% per year. If we had started in 2013, it would have been 6% per year. If we wait until 2022, it is 15% per year, “…extremely difficult and expensive, perhaps impossible.”
And, Hansen now has grandchildren. He uses the German nickname for grandpa, saying, “I decided that I did not want them in the future to say ‘Opa understood what was happening, but he didn’t make it clear.’”
Wolf-PAC and the solution
And this is where we are. The corrupting influence of fossil-fuel money in American politics has been a constant problem that continues to worsen. Wolf-PAC realizes this problem, and we refuse to “dither.” We have only one issue: fixing the problem of special interests buying elections.
Though this article highlights the effect of fossil-fuel money on climate change, we must point out that on any issue we might care about, we can’t address problems until we resolve the issue of corruption. With special interests controlling our government, our only remedy involves sidestepping Congress through a convention of the states, proposing a Constitutional amendment to end this corruption.
This is Wolf-PAC’s proven solution. We must not “dither,” but unite against big money controlling our government.
Wolf-PAC is driven by volunteers freely donating their time. This work is brought to you by the Communications Team.
- Research by David Leibowitz
- Editing by Brian Scandariato
- Graphics by Katie Schumack
- Legal editing by Sam Fieldman
- Banerjee, N.; Song, L.; and Hasemyer, D. (2015, September 16). Exxon: the Road not Taken – Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago. Inside Climate News. Retrieved July 21, 2020 from https://insideclimatenews.org/news/15092015/Exxons-own-research-confirmed-fossil-fuels-role-in-global-warming
- Center for Responsive Politics. Top Contributors in Oil and Gas Industry for 2020 Election Cycle. OpenSecrets.org. Retrieved July 06, 2020 from https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=e01
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