Last week a joint session of two Congressional oversight committees held their third hearing about how the fossil fuel companies have hidden how much they really knew about the climate crisis and their companies' role in causing it.
Proof is building that the fossil fuel companies unequivocally have known that their products are the principal cause of the climate crisis, and that they used that information secretly for their own future planning and engineering guidance. The Trans-Alaska pipeline shown here is one example; it was built with supports which allowed for it to move and flex as permafrost melted in the five decades since it was originally constructed. Photo: Alaska Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
This time the hearing focus was on how the profit motive guided the companies' every move, regardless of the impact on the planet and the American people.
The September 15 hearing, held by the Committee on Oversight and Reform, was the third session in a year-long examination of oil and gas companies’ propaganda onslaught over six decades to convince the American people there is little to worry about from fossil fuel emissions, even as they understood probably better than almost anyone that they were destroying the planet.
The hearing also explored the extensive suffering those companies have caused for those exposed to the escalating dangers of heatwaves, the life-threatening drought which has overtaken most of the western United States, widespread flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Each of those events can be directly tied to humanity's continued burning of oil and gas, without a care as to the human and economic damage the fossil fuel companies caused, as long as the energy companies kept raking in growing piles of money.
The Committee is chaired by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. For last Wednesday's hearing, she was joined by Representative Ro Khanna, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment as a co-chair of the event.
Among those presenting at last week’s hearing were Kara Boyd, Thomas Joseph, Roishetta Ozane, Mary Cromer, and Jasmin Sanchez, each speaking on their own behalf about how the climate crisis has impacted them personally. Also testifying were Isabella M. Weber, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst; Raya Salter, Esq., Founder and Executive Director of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center and Member of the New York State Climate Action Council; and J. Mijin Cha, Ph.D., J.D., Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy at Occidental College and Fellow at the Cornell University Worker Institute.
Among the comments from the legal scholars and climate experts was something rarely brought up, even by environmental activists, about the damage the fossil fuel companies are causing. It came in a statement Dr. Cha gave in response to a question about harm to those employed in the fossil fuel industry.
“The fossil fuel industry is, in general, very dangerous work,” she said. “So even when we burn fossil fuels, it’s not just carbon dioxide that are released but there are other air pollutants that are released that are dangerous to communities and to workers. And to increase profits, fossil fuel companies often cut safety measures so that they can increase their profits, but at the expense of workers.”
The testimony also supported an ongoing theme that the industry is there only to secure profits, not protect either the public or their workers.
“We have seen in the present crisis that profits are the ultimate and only goal of Big Oil corporations,” said Dr. Weber of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In response to a question about the oil companies using the excuse of the Ukraine war to jack up their prices, even when there was no added cost to either the products they sell or the process by which they produce them, Dr. Weber reminded the committee that the current manipulation of prices is just another game from the oil companies.
“It’s important to notice that the energy crisis long preceded the war in Ukraine,” she said.
In the just-completed session, individuals also shared their experiences of having to fend for themselves as extreme weather events driven by the climate crisis left them without help from either the government or the fossil fuel companies which were responsible for what happened to them. They also showed how the impacts of extreme weather are disproportionately affecting the poor and, in the opinions of some who spoke, the racially isolated.
One example was given by Jasmin Sanchez, a public housing resident who spoke of what happened to her during and after Hurricane Sandy slashed across the U.S. East Coast in 2012. Energized by a superheated ocean, the storm caused $70 billion in damage and killed 233 people across eight countries.
“Climate justice is a racial justice issue,” she said to the Congressional representatives.
“Sandy showed the inequities in our city,” she continued. “If you didn’t have a car, you couldn’t leave. If you didn’t have financial means, you couldn’t relocate. If you weren’t financially stable, you still had to work, and if you didn’t have cash on hand, you couldn’t buy the basic necessities. I, along with many of my neighbors, were in survival mode.”
Her point was backed up further by Dr. Weber’s comments about how fossil fuel companies’ abusive price manipulation practices have hurt the poor hardest, as oil and gas prices have soared during the Ukraine war and long before that, despite that there was no economic reason for raising them other than just to make a lot more money.
“Low-income households are clearly the ones that are hit hardest by the energy price explosion,” she said. “They are the ones that have least means to weatherize their homes. Black and Brown communities face, on top of this, discrimination in the housing market, which means that they typically end up living in homes that are less well insulated or less energy efficient.”
“And that is pushing millions of households in these communities over the tipping point into energy insecurity or for those that were already energy insecure before the crisis, into straight-out poverty,” she continued.
Ms. Raya Slater of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center concurred.
“The same people—the same frontline communities—that are suffering the most health and other negative impacts from fossil fuels, are also the same ones who are facing extraordinarily high energy burdens, and of course struggling with the cost of basic food and utilities,” she testified. “So, we need to phase out fossil fuels to alleviate fossil fuel racism and alleviate the burden on frontline communities.”
As to the continuing distortion of the truth about fossil fuels being the principal cause of the climate crisis, their role in hiding that truth, and the disingenuous claims that they will do something positive to alleviate the climate crisis, those who testified were unanimous in their disgust and lack of trust in anything the companies are saying.
They do so, Ms. Salter said, by coming up with solutions to the crisis that even the experts in the field regard as implausible at best and outright lies at the worst.
“[The oil and gas companies] are absolutely insincere,” she told the committee. “They have no intention of wavering from selling their core product which is fossil fuels. They are pushing carbon capture and sequestration, which they know will not work, to pushing so-called solutions like ‘renewable natural gas.’ Their modus is to continue to produce throughout whatever transition may happen and continue to push states like New York, which is trying to move away from fossil fuels, to include these false solutions in our energy plans.”
As to whether new public commitments being made by the fossil fuel companies to help out with the climate crisis are truthful, Salter was tough and to the point.
“Unfortunately, the fossil fuel company commitments are just frankly disingenuous,” she said. “The fossil fuel lobby combats climate action on every single level—global, national, state, and regional.”
Dr. Cha further condemned the fossil fuel companies for using their financial power to extend their lies to mass disinformation campaigns about all the good they claim they are doing to address the climate crisis, when all they are really doing is continuing to sow doubt in the public about the reality of the crisis.
“I think [the increased advertising in political newsletters by the oil lobby has] direct influence [on those in Congress considering doing anything to pressure the companies to change their ways],” Dr. Cha said.
That influence is effective, Cha continued, “because one thing [the oil lobby does] is that they mainstream their talking points, so they become very normal, even though what they are saying is quite extreme; they regularly do full page ads in the New York Times to make it seem like they are doing what the need to be doing to meet their climate targets, when in fact we know that it is the exact opposite.”
The manipulation of the truth about the fossil fuel industry being the overwhelming cause of the climate crisis was explored first by this Committee in October 2021.
When challenged about their propaganda assaults to convince the public of their sincerity about assisting with the crisis, at that time ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods told the congressional representatives that his company “has long acknowledged the reality and risks of climate change, and it has devoted significant resources to addressing those risks”.
Woods said further that his company’s public comments about global heating “are and have always been truthful, fact-based ... and consistent” with what he referred to as mainstream representations of climate science.
He uttered these lies despite that former ExxonMobil CEO and the Trump team’s first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated as recently as 2013 at a shareholders’ meeting that the “last ten years’ temperatures had been relatively flat”, despite that those temperatures had in fact jumped by at least 0.2° C overall from 2003 to 2013, and highest at the Arctic.
It was just one of many bald-faced lies Tillerson and other fossil fuel executives which came both before and after him continued to inject into the mainstream news cycles. They all did so to evade responsibility, avoid regulation, continue to secure billions of dollars in government subsidies, and dodge any attempt at reining in their obscene profits at the cost of all life on the planet.
His company also paid for — while Tillerson was in charge — lobbying efforts by the American Enterprise institute, whose spokesperson and fellow, Jonah Goldberg, said on Fox News that it was “utterly fraudulent” the claim that 97 percent of climate scientists believe in the “theory” that global heating is caused primarily by human activity and more specifically from fossil fuel use.
During Tillerson’s term as CEO, ExxonMobil never adopted a single goal for the company to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a formal corporate policy, even in a whitewashed form crafted to dupe the mass media and the American public.
This is despite that the company in parallel issued the seemingly conflicting statement that, as of 2015, it claimed to have published over 50 peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate research. The company also name-dropped that it had funded targeted research on the topic with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford. Notably, none of those papers seemed ever to point at the burning of fossil fuels as the principal cause, nor that this was even a crisis which the world needed to worry about. So while the number of papers may have been accurate, these were disinformation publications tailored to carry the message that climate change was not something to worry about and that the fossil fuel companies cared about all of us.
Chevron and ConocoPhillips, like ExxonMobil, constantly avoided making any public commitments to reducing such emissions, though they eventually caved to setting internal “targets” — not commitments — beginning in 2015. They too helped fund misinformation campaigns designed to confuse the public that they were jointly responsibility for a cycle of global heating which has already killed hundreds of thousands from flooding, heat waves, hurricanes and cyclones, and caused an estimated several trillion dollars in total damage to property and infrastructure on the planet.
Going back to 1996, Lee Raymond, the then CEO of Exxon Mobil, issued one of the most blunt rejections of the causes and possible damage to be caused by the climate crisis, when he testified for Congress in November of that year.
“Proponents of the global warming theory say that higher levels of greenhouse gases are causing world temperatures to rise, and that burning fossil fuels is the reason,” he said. “But scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activity affects the global climate.”
He said this despite his own company not only having funded decades of seminal research proving conclusively that, the burning of fossil fuels by humans is the principal cause of global heating. His company also knew it was not just a theory and was in point of fact taking actions in anticipation of the many consequences of greenhouse gas emissions increases and temperature rises to come. Those consequences included sea level rise as glaciers and ice at both poles, Greenland, and in the Himalayas all melted to increase sea levels over time. They also anticipated more powerful cyclones and hurricanes as those weather formations gained energy from oceans hotter than before because of heat trapped close to the surface.
The Long History of Oil and Gas Companies’ Misinformation about the Climate Crisis
There is an over 70-year history of the fossil fuel industry continuing simultaneously funding some of the most groundbreaking research on the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on global temperatures, while also hiding the truth from the public.
The conspiracy effectively began in 1919, when the oil and gas companies formed the American Petroleum Institute (API), a lobbying and special interest group for the industry.
As outlined in Trillions’ 2016 article, “Big Oil’s Big Lies”, by the 1930s it was already becoming apparent in some of the most-traveled urban corridors in the U.S. that pollution was building up in the atmosphere. There was no question as to the primary source; it was because of emissions from increasing numbers of cars and trucks belching their exhaust into the atmosphere. It was also known to be a health hazard, though at the time there was little understanding of greenhouse gases’ potential impact in trapping solar energy close to the planet’s surface and heating it up.
After World War II was over, soldiers came home from the war to work and industrial and power plants accelerated their work. Coal-burning for the power plants and many industrial facilities dumped large quantities of carbon into the air. But it was the auto and truck exhaust which at this point principally concerned the industry. It had contributed to multiple health conditions, including emphysema, asthma, and other damage to the lungs. Even then the contribution to cancer was unknown. And global heating was still not on the radar for most, though it had been hinted at in popular scientific articles as early as the 1910s.
It became apparent to the fossil fuel companies that they were in danger of having emissions controls imposed on them by government forces. So they invested their own money in a unique multi-decade investigatory/research body known as the Smoke and Fumes Committee, under the auspices of the Smoke and Fumes committee. It was founded in 1946.
It was managed under the guidance of Esso Oil (now part of ExxonMobil), Shell, Union Oil and Standard Oil of California. Union Oil and Standard Oil are now part of Chevron.
Among the many research papers and studies the Smoke and Fumes group uncovered during its existence were:
“The Petroleum Industry Sponsors Air Pollution Research,” by Vance Jenkins, published in February 1954. It set the stage for many research projects to come, by setting up the paradox of realizing the truth about the damage fossil fuels were causing while also doing everything possible to keep regulators out. In this first paper it spoke of the heavy smog was already evident in the skies above Los Angeles and the Houston Ship Channel, and declaring that “air pollution in those sections of the United States has become a problem of utmost importance.”
It then added a conclusion clearly directed at the funders for this study. “Passing a law is… the wrong way to start about solving an air pollution problem,” the author said.
Only a few years later the Smoke and Fumes committee hit on the first hard evidence of how carbon dioxide emissions might build up in the atmosphere. Despite past scientists’ theorizing that excess carbon emissions would be absorbed en masse by the oceans, in 1957 a new paper showed that we were quickly reaching a point at which the oceans’ ability to swallow up any more CO2 was reaching a peak. The rest would stay in the atmosphere, with disastrous polluting effects, if nothing else. That was in the paper entitled, “Carbon Dioxide Exchange Between Atmosphere and Ocean and the Question of an Increase of Atmospheric CO2 During the Past Decades.”
In that paper, the researchers concluded that, “In contemplating the probably large increase in CO2 production by fossil-fuel combustion in the coming decades, we conclude that a total increase of 20 to 40% in atmospheric CO2 can be anticipated.”
In other words, even without yet understanding the implications of that increased pollution on the planet as a whole, the industry even then realized emissions were about to rise quickly. Those projections have been proven to be upheld by atmospheric studies at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. In 1960, total CO2 concentrations measured there were around 310 parts per million. In May 2022, they had risen to over 420 ppm, a 34% increase.
In 1959, the esteemed physicist Edward Teller, informed the API members at their annual meeting precisely what the future outcome would be from burning fossil fuels.
In the 1960s the Smoke and Fumes group published what was to become one of the most important early papers on the climate crisis. In that one, researchers evaluated past geologic eras in which CO2 concentrations were much higher than in the present. The article concluded that in similar times of very high concentrations of CO2, over a period of time lasting between 15,000 and 7,000 years ago, there was a combined “rapid rise of sea level and warming of climate” and that this could happen again if warming were to go past a certain point.
Multiple papers and studies followed, each attempting to understand the reasons for the correlation between CO2 emissions, increased air temperatures, and dramatic sea level rise.
One of the most prescient of those came in 1979, authored by Dr. Jule Gregory Charney of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In that paper, “Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment”, what are now some of the most terrifying words ever written in early climate science research were published.
“We estimate the most probable global warming for a doubling of CO2 to be near 3°C with a probable error of ± 1.5°C,” the authors wrote.
In many parts of the world, that has already been exceeded on an annual basis.
In the 1980s, institutions known as the Global Climate Coalition and the George C. Marshall Institute, funded by the fossil fuel companies, not only continued to bury the truth about the climate crisis as previously uncovered in those papers. They also took on the charter to spread doubt as the real depth of the climate crisis. It also continued to protect the fossil fuel industry by publishing targeted papers, placing advertisements in popular publications to spread the industry’s lies, and providing talking points for the oil companies, elected members of Congress whose backing for supporting the industry was paid for in political contributions, and other targeted spokespeople to continue to cloud the public’s understanding of the horrors of the climate crisis that were yet to come.
Those lies became the principal methodology of communications to the public on the climate crisis, so that when former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson could in 2013 say with a straight face to the public that global temperatures had not risen from 2003 to 2013, his own corporation had hard evidence to the contrary via the API, the Smoke and Fumes committee funded papers, and further research by the corporation itself between the 1980s and present day.
Further, as recently outlined in a 2017 documentary entitled, “Smoke and Fumes: The Climate Change Cover-Up”, directed by Johan von Mirbach, there is further hard evidence that, even as the fossil fuel companies claimed there was nothing to worry about regarding the climate crisis, their strategy teams and engineering groups were taking action to anticipate the climate crisis and make use of it.
Those actions included Shell Oil having built an Arctic oil drilling rig off the coast of Alaska as lighter than normal because it anticipated there being less sea ice in the future. It did so based on studies of how sea ice would be diminished as global heating increased in the decades to come.
The documentary said the evidence “seemed to suggest that oil companies were adapting to climate change while publicly denying its existence.”
Further evidence of that outlined in the documentary were that, “the Trans-Alaska pipelines were designed were permafrost melt, oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico were reinforced to withstand stronger storms.”
“In the 1990s,” the documentary continued, “oil facilities in Eastern Canada were designed to sit higher, in anticipation of rising sea level.”
“In 1989,” it further revealed, “the Sea Troll platform in Norway was also built two meters higher. And a gas pipeline between Germany and Norway was strengthened.”
According to the documentary, the early actions by the oil companies anticipating the implications of the climate crisis included a 1969 unique retrofit of a 300 meter (984 feet) long oil tanker. The ship, named the Manhattan, was converted into an icebreaker, then sent on a practice run across the southern Arctic Ocean during the polar summer. The purpose was to see if a future sea passage might be feasible for bringing oil from Alaska by sea rather than by pipeline.
The experiment was a success. But what happened there, like many of the other examples fossil fuel companies took to adapt their projects and strategies for the future, were kept secret.
Unfortunately for the fossil fuel companies, the evidence from these actions, piled atop the many research studies already carried out by their surrogates over the years, along with the multi-billion-dollar propaganda campaigns to fool the public into doubting the reality of the climate crisis, paint a damaging portrait of an industry which has been lying to us for years while condemning the planet to an ecological catastrophe of monumental proportions.
Will the hearings of the Congressional Committees that completed round three of their investigations last week lead to anything actionable against the fossil fuel companies? That is yet to be determined. It also may not even matter in the long run, since much of the damage is already done, the tipping points have been triggered and we are now in the midst of catastrophic runaway climate change.
And with much of the Senate and Congress firmly in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry anyway, with billions of dollars in subsidies granted to the industry annually, it is hard to imagine anyone in industry or government ever being brought to justice for destroying a large portion of life on Earth and possibly causing the collapse of human civilization.
But, we can't just blame greedy corporations and corrupt politicians. We all share blame for wasting energy, not supporting solutions and voting for corrupt politicians who are narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths to represent us. At the same time most people have few options and are trapped in a system designed to trash the planet.
The only solution is a new civilization, designed from the ground up to be climate-proof and truly sustainable, which empowers individuals to transform from a parasitic species to Earth's caretakers. Such a civilization is possible and is being developed by a small group of scientists and engineers under the umbrella of Climate Survival Solutions (CSS).
One of the foundational technologies being developed by CSS is a circular system that converts organic waste into energy, then into nutrients to feed algae then into clean water to support aquatic eco-systems, which then produce more nutrients for plants to feed humans and then pure water to drink and recycle back into the system. Combined with an intelligently designed low-energy, carbon-neutral habitat using natural building materials, people can live, work, learn and play in the same place without destroying the planet.
One of the proposed communities is New Paititi, to be be constructed in South America.