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USA energy firms – history of climate change denial from 1968

US firms knew about global warming in 1968 – what about Australia?, The Conversation, , April 18, 2016 Earlier this month the satirical newspaper The Onion “reported” on the discovery in a Californian university’s archives of a dusty, yellowing report saying the time to act on climate change is now.

This week life imitated art, as it was revealed that there is indeed a decades-old report to be found in a Californian archive warning of climate impacts. The real report, as opposed to the satirical one, was written in 1968 by scientists at the Stanford Research Institute, who sent it to the American Petroleum Institute to warn of the possible impacts of carbon dioxide emissions.

That wasn’t even the start. A decade earlier, in 1959, a scientist working for oil giant Shell wrote in New Scientist about the idea of humans altering the climate, although he poured scorn on the idea.

By the early 1970s, the idea of the greenhouse effect was already in the air, if you’ll pardon the pun. It merited several pages in the Club of Rome’s landmark 1972 report, The Limits to Growth, and even got a mention in the dystopian classic 1973 film Soylent Green……..

The sceptics

Only now is the issue really coming home to roost for fossil fuel firms, such as the world’s biggest private coal miner Peabody Energy, which this week filed for bankruptcy in the United States.

Peabody’s recently retired chief executive Greg Boyce has always been combative on the subject of climate change. He told the World Energy Congress in 2010 that:

“The greatest crisis society confronts is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve – with coal.”

Its now-retired chief lobbyist Fred Palmer, in a 1997 documentary, happily and emphatically states:

“Every time you turn your car on and you burn fossil fuels and you put CO₂ in the air, you are doing the work of the Lord.”………

The fallout

The New York attorney-general’s office is now demanding answers from Exxon over its response to the climate warnings of half-a-century ago.

Meanwhile, the attorney-general of the US Virgin Islands has subpoenaed the US think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a long-time ally of the fossil fuel industry, over its campaign to cast doubt on climate science.

While it is both interesting and frustrating to learn that the very companies that have worked hardest to obfuscate climate science actually knew about it before the wider public did, that knowledge doesn’t help us figure out how to deliver the sorts of deep emissions cuts that are needed now. We need to keep our eyes on the increasingly unlikely and battered prize of a habitable planet.

April 20, 2016 - Posted by | climate change, USA

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