Yes, it’s true. It was a Canadian who figured it out first. In 1953, Time magazine wrote a story about a Canadian scientist named Gilbert Plass, then working at John Hopkins University, and his claim that the spreading envelope of carbon dioxide around the Earth would serve as a ‘great greenhouse’. Plass had published his ideas in a paper titled: The carbon dioxide theory of climate change.
Over the next decade, the scientific basis for Plass’ theory came to be accepted as sound science. Even President Johnson was persuaded. In a special message to the US Congress in 1965, he said: “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through … a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”
For the major oil companies this was not a welcome message. They couldn’t shoot the messenger, but could the message be lost in translation? So began a concerted campaign by the oil companies of manufacturing uncertainty and doubt about the science of global warming that has lasted until the present day. Baffled by the conflicting scientific assessments, many of which were being published by front organisations in the pocket of the oil companies and their petrochemical allies, public opinion never fully grasped the real reasons behind global warming. Politicians delayed any action until the science was ‘settled’. Which of course companies like Exxon ensured it never was.
Recently published analysis has named and shamed the top 20 companies that are the worst global emitters of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet and driving climate change. And guess what? Every single one of them is in the business of mining, drilling, processing, transporting and selling fossil fuels—oil, gas, and coal.
Saudi-owned Aramco tops the list, but of the eight investor-owned companies, Chevron and Exxon-Mobil are about tied for first place. BP and Shell follow close behind.
Did we say shamed? No, it doesn’t look like it.
The largest five publicly-owned oil and gas companies spend about $200m a year lobbying to delay or block government policies to tackle climate change. It’s the usual suspects: BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron lead the field. At the same time, these companies are spending an equal amount greenwashing their image to try and fool the public into believing that they support action against climate change. A couple hundred million is chump change for these companies. In 2019, their spending on oil and gas extraction is estimated to increase to $115 billion with only about 3% of that amount invested in low carbon programs.
CAPP and trade anyone?
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) is no slouch when it comes to lobbying. The organisation represents companies that produce about 80% of Canada’s oil and natural gas, as well as service companies that support the industry. About half of CAPP’s personnel are full-time lobbyists. The organisation represents an industry which is the fastest rising source of carbon pollution in Canada and which is almost single-handedly preventing Canada from achieving its emissions target set under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
CAPP’s brazen manipulation of Canadian government policy is impressive even by American standards. A new report by Environmental Defence reveals that CAPP has consistently opposed carbon pricing mechanisms in Canada even though this is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the organisation has successfully delayed implementation of federal policy regulating methane—a strong and dangerous greenhouse gas. CAPP also opposed the government’s clean fuel standard, perhaps understandably so, when you consider that the Alberta tar sands are one of the dirtiest sources of petroleum fuels on the planet.
CAPP has good friends in high places. In 2015, the International Monetary Fund estimated Canada’s subsidies to the energy sector, including the costs of air pollution and environmental deterioration at $43 billion a year. Canadian government subsidies to the oil and gas sector are the highest among the G7 countries on a GDP basis. Given these incentives, it’s no surprise that Canadian per capita greenhouse gas emissions are the highest in the world.
As Canadians prepare to vote on October 21, surveys show that climate change is a top ballot issue. But recent reports have documented how Conservative party leaders are collaborating with the oil and gas industry to elect a Conservative government that will scrap the carbon pricing mechanism, roll back environmental regulations, and provide more subsidies for fossil fuel industry and tar sands production.
Promoting an industry that heavily pollutes the environment, damages human health, and undermines the future welfare of our children is simply immoral. Especially when renewable and inexhaustible clean energy technologies are now less costly, fully functional at gigawatt scale, and already employ more people than the fossil fuel industries they will replace. The sole motivation for the fossil fuel industrialists and the politicians in their pocket is money.