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Big Oil Says You’re to Blame For Climate Change, Not Them

“Global increases in CO2 concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use…” — IPCC.

“Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).”NASA.

“The IPCC does not say it’s the extraction and production of oil that is driving these emissions. It’s economic activity that creates the demand for energy, and that leads to emissions.”Chevron’s attorney in an ongoing California climate change liability suit.

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After years of encountering this argument in the chat forum below, we could well have seen it going mainstream from a mile away.

To bring everyone up to speed, Big Oil and other fossil fuel giants are being put on trial for their role in producing climate harming carbon emissions. Low lying coastal cities like San Francisco are claiming that impacts like sea level rise caused by those carbon emissions are going to be costly to deal with. They’ll have to build coastal defenses with price tags at least in the tens of millions (and probably more) to protect valuable neighborhoods and industries in the very near future.

(Big oil says they just sell the products that cause climate change. The fact that people in captive energy markets have little choice but to use them is not their fault, they say.Image source: Inside Climate News.)

But Big Oil which for years denied that climate change was happening (after they did the science that proved it was), and for still more years denied that it would be damaging, has now added a new deflection to their arsenal of distraction. They’ve come up with a perfect scape goat for the problem they’ve contributed so much to over the years. Who’s that? Well it’s you. Yes — YOU.

The argument goes something like this — climate change is happening, the IPCC proves it, it’s caused by human economic activity and energy use, so it’s not our fault.

We could well call this climate change denial argument # 5,000 — deny responsibility for harms done by blaming the victim which is humankind and related human civilization itself. Never mind the fact that fossil fuel companies have lobbied for decades to prevent government policy that would actually reduce climate harms by cutting carbon emissions. Never mind the fact that monopolistic fossil fuel companies did everything they could since their inception to corner the energy market and keep humans like you and me captive to fossil fuel use. Never mind that these corporations have fought alternative, clean, non-carbon emitting energy sources like wind and solar tooth and nail — going so far as to produce public relations campaigns that demonize these non-carbon energy sources.

(An expose on just one of many fossil fuel based industry attacks on non-carbon emitting sources during recent years. Video source: The Young Turks.)

Now they want to blame you for the damage they fought so long to ensure.

We’ll see how that argument flies in court. Because it’s likely that a growing list of oil, coal, and gas companies are going to be asked to pay for the damage they’ve caused. The damage that they’ve fought and lobbied for over the course of years and decades in the political sphere. They were both the author of the damage and the authors of denial. And I think there will be many more legal and social bills for their various wrongs and excesses that start coming due.

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Big Oil is the New Big Tobacco: Climate Change Liability Battles Heat Up

Exxon Knew

For decades now, fossil fuel companies have been misinforming the public about climate change. They’ve paid money for PR campaigns that confuse the climate science. They’ve supported climate change denying political candidates. They fund meteorologists to misinform the public.

The aim of these activities is to cloud the issue of climate change in the public sphere. To generate false debate and to support a political constituency (primarily republicans) that prevents climate action in the form of carbon emissions reductions.

(A recent study breaks down the climate impacts of the world’s largest fossil fuel corporations. The above graphic by Inside Climate News illustrates some of these proportional impacts.)

One term for this activity is predatory delay — aimed at ensuring that harmful fossil fuels control energy markets on and on into the future. Such activity is also intended to prevent a helpful and necessary renewable and clean energy transition.

But intentionally spreading incorrect and misleading information carries with it a degree of liability. Especially when these information and political campaigns lead to such results as getting hammered by worsening floods, storms and droughts that produce very real and widespread damage. Each emitting industry is responsible for a portion of the damage inflicted (see image above). And it is this kind of liability writ large that has landed corporate bad actors like Exxon in court.

So far, nine cities have filed climate change based lawsuits against oil companies. Other cities, like Paris, are considering pursuing legal action. In addition, attorney generals from states like Massachusetts and New York have taken fossil fuel companies to task for both misinforming the public and producing harms by burning fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel companies responded by leveling the ludicrous charge of ‘conspiracy’ against state attorney generals while also using subpoenas to intimidate cities. In an equally nonsensical claim, fossil fuel corps are blaming cities who have, for so long, been captive to fossil fuel energy sources, for their own carbon emissions. Carbon emissions that these cities are trying to reduce — even as they find fossil fuel companies attempting to thwart them at every turn.

Subpoena intimidation by fossil fuel corps was specifically aimed at containing the lawsuits by making an example of whistle-blower cities and states. The message to municipalities presently under threat from climate harms being — ‘if you attack us, we’ll spend a portion of our considerable profits to hurt you.’ And, in some instances, these intimidation tactics have succeeded. The Virgin Islands, for example, bowed to fossil fuel company bullying and withdrew its own climate change damages related subpoena.

On the flip side, the fossil fuel industry has also sustained losses. In a recent California ruling, a federal judge has ordered the first-ever court hearing on the issue of climate science and whether or not fossil fuel companies acted as a public nuisance. This precedent opens up a legal question that could result in a flood of lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry going forward.

It’s worth noting that these are just the opening salvos of a massive legal and political battle to come. We are still in the early stages of climate change litigation and the related wrangling over fossil fuel company liability. And it appears that courageous states, cities, islands and environmentalists are gearing up for a fight for our future that will last for many years to come (you can join in the fight by divesting from fossil fuels).

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