Why The Oil Companies Deny Climate Change

Posted by | February 9, 2012 14:34 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Fantastic essay by Bill McKibben on climate change deniers.  First he takes apart a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that was standard fare in denialism.

The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.

It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: The fossil-fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the WSJ article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.) Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.

Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did?

Then he sets about answering the question he posed.  Basically the tobacco industry had alternative markets abroad so they could afford to cut back sales in the US.  The oil (and coal and natural gas) industry has a big problem if we try to save the planet.

Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).

If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that’s far scarier than drought and flood. It’s why you’ll do anything — including fund an endless campaigns of lies — to avoid coming to terms with its reality.

Of course I don’t think we should write off all of those reserves immediately.  The economic disruption would be too great.  But we need to start phasing out our dependence on fossil fuels now and many of those reserves will need to stay in the ground if we are to avert calamity.  And that will cost the fossil fuel industries trillions of dollars. . . trillions.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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