I blame ExxonMobil for a depressing Earth Day. Last September, Inside Climate News broke a story that ExxonMobil had not only known about climate change 40 years ago, but their own scientist conducted some of the most valuable and original research into its effects.
Think about that for a second. Almost four decades before our current carbon crisis, a powerful and influential American company could have begun a conversation to curtail and clean up fossil fuel use, an effort that would have possibly slowed or reversed climate change. Instead, ExxonMobil doubled-downed and decided to fund anti-“global warming” junk-science studies, leading a campaign against all emission regulations.
It’s times like these that make me hate Earth Day. Not for the same reason Fox News or Donald Trump seem to hate it. I hate it because Earth Day is a reminder of the folly and shortsightedness of humankind.
In 1970, Earth Day was originally conceived a to promote and celebrate peace on earth. With the Cold War raging, a global celebration seemed like a sensible way to try and build awareness about the possibility of nuclear war. This concept may seem ridiculous to the youth of today, but back then the possibility seemed very real, maybe even inevitable. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, advocates of Earth Day shifted their focus to environmental causes. By 1990, organizers got the newly focused Earth Day out to a raucous start, with advocates mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries, in an effort to bring attention to environmental issues.
Currently, Earth Day advocates celebrate around the globe, using the day to launch new global environmental initiatives such as product recycling, plastic bag bans, and emission reduction treaties. But even with emission reduction efforts aiming to reduce carbon emissions to pre-1990 levels, planetary scientist are wondering if we are doing too little too late. Scientists have always theorized that there is (was?) a carbon “point-of-no-return”, a mark where prolonged emissions trigger an irreversible natural process of warming. Current studies certainly show the earth warming at an alarmingly accelerated rate even with our push to reduce global emissions.
What would have been the effects of slowing climate change if plans were laid in place to reduce emissions in 1977? According to an article in the New Yorker in 1977, ExxonMobil lead scientist James Black made a determination that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the environment will roughly raise the average temperature of the earth by about 2 to 3 degrees Celsius – a number that is generally agreed upon by the overwhelming majority of planetary scientists today. A graphic illustration of ExxonMobil’s duplicity is graphically illustrated by Mr. Lee R. Raymond, CEO of the company between 1993-2005. A ceaseless climate change detractor, he infamously gave a speech to Chinese officials and industrialist on the eve of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty signing, proclaiming climate change “defies common sense”.
Turns out, he lied. Mr. Lee R. Raymond is 78 years old this year, and made $321 million by the time he stepped down in 2005. He will never live to see the effects on the earth that he and his company helped orchestrate.
What defies “common sense” is that if these men truly believed in family values as they often proclaim, they would have been concerned about the environmental effects climate change has on their children and grandchildren. No matter how much money the Raymond family has, they have to breathe the same air and drink the same water as everyone else. Is it really a “conservative” or “liberal” issue to want our children to be healthy and safe?
The real tragedy is that this story barely made the headlines. I fully understand that there is no point in jailing 78 year old men. But can we at least be more wary about corporations that influence public health and environmental policy, for the sake of Earth Day and beyond?