The “Real” Climate Hoax Is Not the One Claimed by Big Business

Nancy Cole, campaign director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, discusses the latest and revealing research into the false claims of major corporate polluters.

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Story Transcript

JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

The industrial revolution may have been initiated more than 250 years ago, but more than 50 percent of all industrial carbon emissions have been released into the atmosphere just since 1988. And according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, for nearly three decades many of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies have knowingly worked to deceive the public about the realities and risks of climate change.

So what exactly did fossil fuel companies know and when did they know it? Here to discuss the report, the Climate Deception Dossiers, based on the internal fossil fuel industry memos and how they revealed decades of corporate disinformation, is Nancy Cole. Cole is the campaign director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She is one of the authors of the Climate Deception Dossiers and is a corporate campaigning veteran.

Nancy Cole, welcome to the Real News Network.

NANCY COLE, CAMPAIGN DIR. CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: Thanks a lot.

BALL: So as I know, your work is in, largely in response to those who are denying climate change. What is it, as you’ve said in this report, the real climate hoax?

COLE: Well, the real climate hoax is actually the lies and deceptions that the fossil fuel industry has been playing on the American public and our policymakers.

And what I mean by that is that the big oil and gas companies, all household names that you would know, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, and then a lot of the big coal companies in this country including Peabody Energy, have for decades in a sort of concentrated campaign, worked to sow doubt. And what I mean by that is to convince the public and policymakers that climate science is uncertain, or it’s not real and that we shouldn’t take steps to reduce our carbon emissions, which is the primary heat trapping gas, in order to slow down climate change. So we have been hoodwinked.

BALL: And what are some of the ways that you detail in your report that this has been carried out? I know you talked a little bit about scientists literally being paid off. And perhaps there’s I believe also a great impact on the way legislation in this country is developed. Could you tell us a little bit about how this deception is carried out?

COLE: Absolutely. Now, the fossil fuel industry really just took their lead from the tobacco industry and used many of the same techniques or strategies that were successful for tobacco. So one thing they did is they basically identified so-called independent scientists who could carry their message. I mean, who would listen to a fossil fuel company scientist that they said climate change wasn’t real, or CO2 wasn’t harmful. But they would listen to more independent science voices.

So one of the Dossier’s documents, payments to a scientist at the Harvard Smithsonian Institute, has been paid by ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel interests for many years.

BALL: At $1.2 million, right?

COLE: Yes. A lot of–in fact, all his research has been funded by fossil fuel interests for the past several years.

So you know, it carries a lot of weight when a scientists from the Harvard Smithsonian Institute says that really the reason the globe is heating up is because of the sun, not because of the emissions from cars and power plants. So that’s one of their tactics.

Another one of their very common tactics is to fund lobbying or front groups in order to do their dirty work. So for example there’s, one of the Dossiers is a memo from the American Petroleum Institute, which is a trade association that all the big oil and gas companies are part of. That basically lays out this whole plan about how they are going to help slow down any progress on climate and energy policy by sowing doubt about climate science. And that memo is dated 1988.

Another tactic more recently, today, the Western States Fuel Association, also an industry association of the oil and gas companies, basically funds a lot of front groups so that it looks like there’s grassroots opposition to California’s really trendsetting efforts to reduce carbon emissions. And there’s a bill in front of the California Senate right now that seeks to cut California’s use of oil by about 50 percent. And sure enough, right on cue, this petroleum association, this trade association started tweeting out a bunch of absolutely false infographics all around California suggesting that if this bill passed gas would be rationed in the state, and that is just a lie.

BALL: Yeah, unfortunately we’ve seen a lot of this in a lot of different areas. The astroturfing of grassroots campaigns.

You also talk a little bit about an internal Exxon memo that you all discovered. Could you tell us briefly what you discovered in that, maybe as a teaser for those who haven’t read your full report yet.

COLE: Absolutely. This was interesting. One of our researchers kind of stumbled upon an email that was sent from a former ExxonMobil scientist, basically saying, basically acknowledging that ExxonMobil knew about the dangers of CO2, carbon dioxide, and was making business decisions based on that information as far back as 1981.

So that means that for over three decades, for 34 years, we know for sure that Exxon has known about the dangers of CO2, knew that their products were dangerous and harmful, and were making business decisions based on that information. And yet what they did publicly, outwardly, to people like us and to policymakers was basically deny, deny the truth about climate change and keep producing a product that they knew was harmful.

BALL: Nancy Cole, thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News Network to talk about your report, the Climate Deception Dossiers. We really appreciate you taking the time.

COLE: Thanks. I mean, if people want to see more about the report they should check out our website at UCSUSA.org.

BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News Network. And for all involved, I’m Jared Ball. And as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.

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