Going after Exxon in the court of public opinion– UPDATED

Image from DailyKos article on what the oil companies knew and when they knew it. In this case the illustration shows temperature anomalies for the last week of December 2015.

(Scroll to bottom for important update).

Peter Sinclair, the blogger behind Climate Change Crock of the Week, put the highlighted text as the title of his year-end post. The title says most of what you need to know about the article (though you should read it and watch the accompanying video anyway).

“2015’s most under-reported story: What Exxon knew”

Mr. Sinclair isn’t the only one asking why this story isn’t getting traction. After I blogged about the story  in early August, I kept waiting for a sea-change in the denialist bromides being thrown up on discussion boards and FaceBook postings after the news hit. After all, if there’s proof that Exxon knew its products were going to contribute to catastrophic climate warming, what do the ruminations of people like Lord Monckton or James Inhofe matter?

The evidence is compelling. Exxon knew. And so did other big oil companies. From a recent article in the LA Times about Big Oil’s calculations, Mobil oil’s engineers were calculating for climate warming sea-level rises in Canadian drilling sites in 1996One year earlier, though, engineers at Mobil Oil were concerned enough about climate change to design and build a collection of exploration and production facilities along the Nova Scotia coast that made structural allowances for rising temperatures and sea levels.“An estimated rise in water level, due to global warming, of 0.5 meters may be assumed” for the 25-year life of the Sable gas field project, Mobil engineers wrote in their design specifications. The project, owned jointly by Mobil, Shell and Imperial Oil (a Canadian subsidiary of Exxon), went online in 1999; it is expected to close in 2017.

And Mobil isn’t alone, either. Documents leaked from Royal Dutch Shell indicate that they’re planning for a 4-6c temperature increase in the near future. A recent post from Dartagnan on DailyKos lists all the people who knew for decades that we were cooking the planet, including (especially) the American Petroleum Institute. His post is dependent on reporting from Inside Climate News… New reporting by Neela Banerjee for ICN (Inside Climate News) now reveals that it wasn’t just Exxon, but the entire oil and gas industry through its mouthpiece, the American Petroleum Institute, that collaborated to perpetuate the denial and “uncertainty” charade.

In other words, pretty much everyone in the petroleum industry and their suppliers and contractors, were (and still are) factoring in sea level rise and temperature anomalies into everything they do, even while they funded the denialist PR industry. And their CEO’s repeatedly told their stockholders that there was no proof of carbon-driven climate change even as their contractors were building platforms for off-shore drilling that assumed sea level increases up to 20″ over the 25 year life of said platforms. 

But most of the ‘Murican people don’t know this.

Unless you’re reading blogs from crazy people like me, you are blissfully unaware of just how disastrous Big Oil’s mendacity will prove to be for the rest of us. Exxon alone has launched a ‘feel good’ campaign on television and the internet, telling how they’re the future. I even found this ad on YouTube, linked to the video of the 350 dot org Exxon Tribunal.  The Valhalla Movement has gotten a cool  125 views on this video as of this AM. 

Exxon purchases ad space on YouTube's file of 350.org's People's action against Exxon.

Exxon purchases ad space on YouTube’s file of 350.org’s People’s action against Exxon.

Which brings me to the Eric Schneiderman case. NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is trying to see what laws Exxon broke and whether they can be brought to trial for it. The laws on what constitutes lying to one’s investors are arcane and weighted in favor of the miscreant. And there’s always that messy Statute of Limitations issue, which is why it’s too late to prosecute most of the banksters who crashed the economy in 2008 (don’t get me started on THAT). To me, the largely successful attempt to mislead Americans about climate has multiple moving parts and should constitute a RICO case, starting with the American Petroleum Institute and working its way through the individual oil companies that contributed to the disinformation campaign. 

But let’s be realistic here. The Wall Street meltdown cost the US economy over $22 Trillion dollars. That’s according to the CBO, which had to figure out the cost of the new regulations for Wall Street and what the lack of regulation cost the United States. That’s simple dollars. What is the value of human life on this planet? If American courts won’t touch the people who destroyed a third of all US wealth, what makes anybody think they’ll go after the purveyors of near term human extinction? 

So again, I bring up plan B. The model for this is the German Green Party’s  Nuremberg tribunal for the nuclear powers in 1982.  I suspect this is what Bill McKibben and friends were trying to do in Paris. But they are fighting a battle against an industry that rakes in hundred billion dollar profits every year. And the corruption of the world from the oil giants is at absurd levels–when Denier billionaire David Koch sits on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who else in the media world can go after Oil?

It’s past time for a people’s tribunal for the oil companies. But for this to begin to take off, those of us on the fringe of media need to make a case for the urgency of the problem. Breaking up the oil companies, like breaking up the banks, is nigh-impossible without the focus of angry people who (rightly) feel that their future has been compromised for a few extra dollars in the hands of the plutocrats. We could argue that the stakes are too high and the urgency too immediate to fight this battle, But we have to start somewhere.

And though mainstream media largely ignored (or denigrated) the Greens’ trial, it did have some effect. Speakers like Daniel Ellsberg and other activists came forward and talked about the deadly potential cost of the missiles going off. It is amazing that we’ve come to a point in our mass extinction-level slaughter that it can be set off by simply maintaining the status quo. But what happens when we hit runaway warming? Shouldn’t there be some accounting from the people who knew we were on the way? The men at the Nuremberg trial in 1945 were found guilty of the deaths of some twelve million souls. How should we address the perfidies of an industry that has set the stage for billions of deaths and the destruction of human habitat?

Petra Kelly, Fighting For Hope

Petra Kelly of Die Grunen, one of t he principal organizers for the Nuremberg trial of the Nuclear powers.

UPDATED 1/12/2016: Marjorie Cohn, an attorney who has been specializing in cases of international law, has presented a way through for punishing Exxon /Mobil. She presents a compelling argument that Exxon’s mendacity deserves revocation of their corporate charter. She makes the case here. Read it


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