Oil companies? Government? The public? All of the above shares the blame.
There are numerous ongoing legal challenges in an effort to determine who is responsible for climate change. Exxon is being investigated by state attorneys general, cities are suing oil companies for the costs of rising sea levels, and Our Children’s Trust is suing the federal government for failing to protect its generation from climate change. At the heart of these legal challenges is the question: who is to blame for climate change and responsible for its costs and consequences?
Like Exxon, Shell knew
Exxon has been a primary target of these investigations and lawsuits since Inside Climate News investigative reporting revealed that the company's internal climate science investigation warned of the dangers posed by human-caused global warming since the late 1990s. seventies.
Recently, Dutch journalist Jelmer Mommers from De Correspondent unearthed internal Shell documents that began warning of the dangers associated with human-caused climate change 30 years ago. The company's 1988 report "The Greenhouse Effect" warned:
By the time global warming becomes detectable, it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even stabilize the situation.
And, particularly relevant to the Our Children’s Trust lawsuits, the 1988 Shell report warned of climate consequences for future generations.
Quote from Shell's 1988 report "The Greenhouse Effect."
Quote from the 1988 Shell report "The Greenhouse Effect."
Similarly, in a 1991 film called Climate of Concern, Shell warned,
Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that waiting for the final test would be irresponsible. Stock is now seen as the only safe insurance.
1991 Royal Dutch Shell film 'Climate of Concern'
The case against Exxon and Shell is similar to the case against the tobacco companies, which committed fraud to mislead the American public about the health effects of their products. However, the oil companies tweaked the tobacco playbook. Rather than directly misinforming the public, they funneled money to conservative think tanks that did the dirty work like Merchants of Doubt. By outsourcing the disinformation campaign and allowing their scientists to publish research in peer-reviewed journals, where it was available to the public, but largely invisible, the oil companies sought to protect themselves against the legal liability that brought down the tobacco industry.
The case against the fossil fuel industry is largely based on evidence that these companies misled the American public about the threats posed by the consumption of their products. The case against the federal government seems more straightforward. In their defense against cities demanding sea level rise damages, oil industry lawyers essentially argued that the blame does not lie with the producers, but with the consumers of fossil fuels, and that any economic problems must be addressed through policies rather than the judicial system.
But, of course, the US government has not implemented climate policies in the last two decades. In 1998, the Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Bush Administration censored government climate reports and took no action to address climate change. Thanks to a Republican threat of obstruction, a carbon and trade bill passed by the House died in the Senate in 2009. The Obama administration finally took concrete steps to address climate change, for example by drafting the Clean Energy Plan. and signing the Paris climate accords, but the Trump administration has (at least temporarily) reversed all those efforts.
In short, Our Children’s Trust is correct in asserting that the US government has failed to protect future generations from the threats and harms of climate change.
Everyone shares the blame for climate change
Oil companies make a valid point that consumers share the blame for causing climate change. The public has been aware of the climate threat for more than a decade - the topic was popularized in An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. Yet 12 years later, Americans are still buying trucks and SUVs, while hybrid and electric vehicles represent only 3% of new car sales.
While the power grid has become cleaner due to the falling cost of wind, solar and natural gas that displaces coal-fired power plants, Americans have done little to demand or provoke that kind of change in other energy sectors. That would require a climate policy, which most Americans (including Trump voters) support, but their support is superficial. It is not a problem that decides the votes, so policy makers are not pressured to take action.
The fossil fuel industry certainly bears some responsibility for having funneled tens of millions of dollars to climate-denying think tanks who have worked hard to misinform the American public. Republican Party politicians and conservative media have followed suit in helping to convey that climate misinformation. A recent study found evidence that "Americans may have shaped their attitudes [on climate change] through the use of elite party cues" broadcast through the media. The history books will not reflect well on American conservatives today.
Yet when hybrid cars have been mass produced for more than 20 years and still 97% of new cars sold in America still run exclusively on inefficient and polluting technology from the 19th century internal combustion engine, Americans in neither do they do their part to stop climate change.
There is a great deal of blame for rising weather costs, but so far, taxpayers are paying the entire bill. Eventually there may be a court case where the fossil fuel industry, like the tobacco industry before it, is held accountable for its role in misleading the American public about the dangers of carbon pollution. And American voters will eventually punish the Republican Party for its decades of climate denial and policy obstruction. Accountability comes.
Original article (in English)