Saturday, March 14, 2009

ExxonMobil Smokes Crack: exploring motives behind funding of the misinformation campaign regarding global warming

It may come as a bit of a surprise to some, that the most profitable company in the world would smoke crack. Many of us fuel up there every day, obliviously. You know, you just never know.

Given an understanding of the actions of the corporation, and the consequences resulting from these actions, it is clear that some impairment of judgment has been demonstrated.

Although few are aware, ExxonMobil is behind a massive misinformation campaign intended to mislead the public about the most important issue in the history of mankind – global warming. (I believe this is the point where the reader is supposed to scoff “global warming!” - as if someone just said NASA faked the moon shot.)

Initially launched as an attempt to defeat the Kyoto Protocol, since 1998 ExxonMobil has spent somewhere between $17 and $23 million to fund front groups which attempt to discredit real scientists and obfuscate the issue. As was made public by the New York Times in 1998, an ExxonMobil memo laid out a plan to "identify, recruit and train" a small team of unknown scientists and declared that: "Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom" for "average citizens" and "the media."

As science is a process in which people objectively search for answers, the people representing these front groups are not scientists, by definition. Real scientists do not get paid money by an oil or coal company and then literally just make some stuff up. So these front groups funded by ExxonMobil, such as The Heartland Institute, are not deniers, they are liars. Professional, paid liars. They are very good at what they do. And junk science is not science at all.

As this campaign has been modeled on the wildly successful campaign by the tobacco companies to mislead the public and Congress about the known dangers of tobacco use, the coal companies and ExxonMobil have waged an equally effective campaign to muddy the waters regarding this issue.

In the case of tobacco, those companies delayed by four decades a financial accounting for the additional health care costs incurred by states as a result of tobacco use. This delay was achieved by questioning the link between smoking and cancer.

As with the tobacco campaign, this misinformation campaign has been remarkable effective. The effectiveness is in part due to the average citizen's apparent difficulty in discerning the impostor from the real scientist, and the media's myopic, erratic focus. By ExxonMobil's own criteria, they have achieved “victory.”

As it is a complex web of front groups and pseudo-scientists and politicians, the campaign is best understood displayed graphically, as documented by a Greenpeace project, At the hubs of this interconnected web are many well-known so-called “think tanks,” such as the George C. Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute and Foundation, the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise and the CATO Institute- to name just a few of the 43 groups which are either puppet front groups or organizations funded by ExxonMobil.

Oh!, what an tangled web ExxonMobil weaves, when they first practice to deceive!

When included by the media in a discussion of this global warming “debate,” the media always fails to mention that the group is funded by ExxonMobil. Normal journalistic integrity should dictate that such a conflict of interest should be revealed.

Despite all the confusion, the current situation is plain and clear. Humanity does not have three more decades to “debate” what is apparent and obvious.

The polar ice cap is melting, and at the current rate of summer meltback will vanish in the next 5 to 7 years, at least during summer months. The polar ice cap serves to reflect much of the solar irradiance back into space, and as an integral function for the species which depend on it. This loss will devastate a thriving ecosystem, cause the extinction of arctic animals, and accelerate global warming. An arctic without ice has has been compared to a garden without soil.

Glaciers around the world, including Greenland and Antarctica, can be visually seen to be melting. Greenland, for example, lost an estimated 55 cubic miles of ice in 2006. For comparison purposes, this is 55 times the volume of oil that the world economy uses in one year.

All this melting is occurring in a epoch in which the planet would without man's interference be going into another ice age. Positive (warming) climate forcing due to accumulation of man-made greenhouses gases is now more significant than climate forcing from natural cycles, such as the Earth's tilt in space or orbit around the sun, or solar output, as has been shown by James Hansen and colleagues at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The most recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report forecasts a warming of as much as 6 degrees Celsius by century's end if current business as usual trends continue. This is a rate and amount of warming that could kill off many of the species that we share the planet with, now estimated to number 10 million species. Mass extinctions, more than half the Earth's species, have already occurred several times in the Earth's history as a result of a similar amount of rapid warming, so the concern is not just conjecture.

Already, extinctions are occurring, with a rate estimated to be between 100 and 1000 times the normal background rate. Is is impossible to say with certainty, but somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 species are vanishing every year, depending on the source. Land use change and habitat destruction have been the primary driver, but rapid warming and climate change will play a much larger role in these extinctions.

With consideration of the trends of climate change and energy depletion, scientists now estimate that by century's end human population will drop to between one and two billion people. James Lovelock, for instance, a prominent scientist and author of the idea of Gaia, has placed his estimate at one billion by century's end.

Assuming population rises to7 billion from the current 6.7 billion before the die off phase begins, and population stabilizes at 2 billion, this is 5 billion non-natural deaths by century's end. Two billion people is about the carrying capacity of the planet without the subsidy of carbon-based fuels, anyway.

To try to comprehend the scope of this challenge, the closest analogous situation may be the second world war. In WWII, an estimated 50 million people died. Climate change and energy depletion will kill off about 100 times the war related loss, or 5,000 million. So over the rest of the century, this will average out to about an entire WWII every year. Besides, human beings are just one species. The loss of many or even most of the species we share this planet with is no less lamentable.

The planet's energy balance and thus climate system has now been sharply tipped toward a much warmer planet. The rate of warming will be beyond what most species can survive. Our progeny will now inherit a planet bereft of much of its biodiversity. Humanity, or what will be left of it, will be left bereaved.

So to hear these groups which have effectively stopped national and international movement towards addressing this situation for their own financial gain, is a little frustrating. For want of a quarterly report, the planet was lost.

In light of the obvious signs of climate change and warming, and under pressure from stockholders of the corporation, the public, respected scientists in the U.S. and the U.K., groups like Exxpose Exxon and U.S. policy makers, ExxonMobil has begun to nuance its message. It has cut some funding to some groups, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The current CEO, Rex Tillerson, still emphasizes the “uncertainty” about climate science, while still funding most of the astroturf front groups which continue to muddy the waters.

James Hansen, the climate scientist referenced earlier, in his testimony to Congress in June 23, 2008, has stated that the CEOs of these corporations, for their roles in misleading the public and delaying a response to the climate crisis, “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

In a complex world, attributing culpability to the involved parties is difficult. In the developed world, we have all used resources and created greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that trap infrared energy. We all have a carbon footprint. We all have played a role. So who should determine the role, if any, of these deceivers, like Rex Tillerson and ExxonMobil, and the rest of the deniers? The answer is, The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The ICC is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although, the United States has not yet joined the ICC.

Given the magnitude of what is happening, and what is about to happen, it is clear that these liars are operating with impaired capacity, quite possibility from smoking crack or banana peels or something. Either that, or a conscious and deliberate decision has been made to place quarterly reports and compensation packages ahead of all humanity and the biosphere entire. Surely, ExxonMobil smokes crack.

There's wrong. And there's dead wrong.