Global Climate Coalition. It may sound like an environmental organization, right? With double-sided color ads, they featured in weekly magazines all over the world for many years. The Global Climate Coalition, GCC, was established in 1989, the year after the UN Climate Panel. The task of the GCC was to counteract the Climate Panel and measures that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. GCC became the largest corporate-financed organization in the world for a time, active in climate policy and present in all international climate negotiations. Behind GCC stood “Big oil” such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Philips Conoco and Aramco. In addition, American automakers and the coal industry contributed. The GCC opposed the Kyoto Protocol and blocked the approval in the United States. The GCC casted doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change and created as much controversy as possible. The GCC was formally dissolved in 2002 following public criticism and the European oil companies withdrew.
In the 1970s, the world’s politicians knew about anthropogenic global warming and climate change, that it was due to the use of fossil energy, and that we had to discontinue its use to avoid warming to dangerous levels. The coal and oil companies saw their revenues threatened and began to fund “think tanks” and public relations agencies to put a lid of doubt on scientific research and factual information. Millions of dollars were spent on disinformation. The main message was: Sow doubt and paralysis! The GCC and its successors frequently attended the UN Climate Panel’s conferences to influence the scientific process and attract scientists to good pay.
A global network of “doubters” was built. At the major climate conferences, the negotiations between the researchers on what should be included in the IPCC reports sometimes appeared as a drag match between serious, independent researchers on the one hand and “Merchants of doubt”-representatives from the coal and oil companies on the other. The fossil side tried to install ambiguous formulations into the scientific texts.
How the fossil fuel industry polluted the information landscape
1. Internal corporate documents show that the fossil fuel industry has known about the reality of human-caused climate change for decades. Its response was to actively orchestrate and fund denial and disinformation so as to stifle action and protect its status quo business operations.
2. As the scientific consensus on climate change emerged and strengthened, the industry and its political allies attacked the consensus and exaggerated the uncertainties.
3. The fossil fuel industry offered no consistent alternative explanation for why the climate was changing—the goal was merely to undermine support for action.
4. The strategy, tactics, infrastructure, and rhetorical arguments and techniques used by fossil fuel interests to challenge the scientific evidence of climate change—including cherry picking, fake experts, and conspiracy theories—come straight out of the tobacco industry’s playbook for delaying tobacco control.
After 2002, the Heartland Institute, Cato institute and a dozen similar propaganda factories took over GCC’s role in continuing to produce disinformation. These institutes are funded and directed by the world’s richest men, such as the owners of the Koch Corporations in the US and the directors of ExxonMobil. The main task was and is to remove state and international rules that restrict multinational companies. The leaders of these institutes have close ties to right-wing groups in the United States; with oil and gas producers in Russia, with the royal family in Saudi Arabia, and form a global network of lobbyists for continued use of fossil fuels. It was therefore natural for the current US president to make his first foreign visits to Saudi Arabia and Russia.
The world now uses 100 million barrels of oil every day. One barrel of oil equals 159 liters, about a full bathtub. In total, this equates to 15 billion liters of oil – every day. We burn a similar amount of coal and gas daily. If we combine our consumption of coal, oil and gas – and add the burning of rainforests – we end up with over 30 billion liters of daily oil equivalent. Figuratively, that means we burn an olympic-sized pool filled with oil, or 300,000 liters a second. This represents far more greenhouse gases than emitted in total from all volcanoes in the world. These emissions are continuous year-round, not just in eruptions of a week or three. To even imagine this does not affect the world environment is not only incredibly naive, it is fatal.
Daily, crude oil is sold for over $ 7 billion. The value of the daily turnover of refined products is astronomical. Who is in control of all this money? We know that pretty much goes to tyrants in the Middle East who couldn’t care less about ethics, the environment or future generations. Around 100 multinational companies are responsible for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The major oil companies already knew in the late 1950s that emissions from coal and oil combustion would lead to global warming, affect the world’s climates, lead to more extreme weather and rising seas. Despite this knowledge, the major oil companies have contributed millions of dollars annually to the PR institutes that took on the role of the Global Climate Coalition. They continue to manipulate the mass media and have a global network of echo chambers repeating the information produced at the Heartland Institute and in Putin’s “trollfarms”.
For big, unethical corporations it has always been a point to maximize profits by letting the ordinary public pay for their “negative externalities”. While they get away with free lunches, we all have to pay their bills through damages from more extreme weather, pollution, more irregular climates with heavy rain and longer periods of droughts, sea level rise, heatwaves, wildfires and climate refugees.
Most politicians have long known about this cynical game. Reports such as “Limits to Growth” in 1972, the “Brundtland Report” to the UN in 1987 and the UN Rio Summit in 1992 removed all rational doubts. But the world’s oil companies have power. It seems that huge, but short-term profits for a handful of billionaires are more important than life itself. If, because of cynical negligence and illusion-making, we pass irreversible tipping points in nature, this will be the greatest betrayal ever.
(Scientific American 2019)
- (Forbes, 2017)
- (WEF, 2017)