The real culprits of climate change
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The real culprits of climate change

THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released one of the most comprehensive reports yet on man’s effect on our environment and – spoiler alert – the results are not good.

The report itself is a mammoth document that can be hard to digest so for the tl;dr crowd, to summarise, we only have 12 years to act in order to stay below the maximum 1.5-degree Celsius threshold and avoid catastrophic environmental breakdown.

That’s not to say we will avoid the effects of climate change, look around you, they are already well underway. Remaining under the 1.5-degree level would simply keep the devastation to more manageable levels and give us some time to adapt to a world that clearly wants to get rid of us.

No doubt this isn’t the first time you’re hearing this, or something similar. As individuals we hear a lot about our need to do our part to hold off the coming wave. And many of us are doing just that, trying to do our bit to help the cause.

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But while we’re ferreting around replacing our straws with soggy cardboard and carrying ‘bags for life’, the real culprits of climate disaster are not only getting away with it but are continuing to muddy the waters of the climate debate.

A 2017 report from Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) found that just 100 companies were responsible for 71 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

More than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 25 corporate and state-owned entities, the report said. Unsurprisingly, these are fossil fuel producers – and there are some familiar faces in the line-up.

ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, and Aramco are identified among the highest emitting investor-owned companies.

And no prizes for guessing, these have historically been the people most likely to fuel the climate denial fire, dispute the findings of scientific studies, and disrupt progress.

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Dry lake in Victoria. Source: Tim J Keegan (Flickr CC)

These companies frequently wield immense influence through longstanding political relationships and lobbying networks that have acted as a powerful obstacle to regulatory action.

  1. Influence Map, a US-based think-tank, tracked climate lobbying in the American government. In the United States alone, the group found ExxonMobil spent US$27 million, and Shell US$22 million, in 2016 on obstructive climate influencing activities.

“Extrapolated over the entire fossil fuel and other industrial sectors beyond,” the think-tank said, “it is not hard to consider that this obstructive climate policy lobbying spending may be in the order of US$500m annually” – and that’s a conservative estimate.

A small few have made an orchestrated effort to steer the climate debate off-track. Indeed, the fact that we still call it a climate “debate” in the face of almost unheard-of scientific consensus is a sign of this.

They have cast doubt on science, confused public opinion, and forestalled passage of laws and regulations aimed at tackling the global crisis. Inside Climate calls it “one of the largest, longest and most consequential misinformation efforts mounted against mainstream science in modern history.”

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And hell, it’s largely worked. Only 45 percent of Americans think that global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime.

Thankfully Asia-Pacific is a bit more clued up with 94 percent of Chinese believing climate change is happening, but only 66 percent think it is caused by humans.

But that stands in contrast to India where, according to a 2017 Yale study, only 7 percent of respondents said they know “a lot” about global warming, while 41 percent had never heard of it or said, “I don’t know.”

However, after hearing a short definition of global warming, 72 percent said they believe global warming is happening, 56 percent said it is caused mostly by human activities, 50 percent said they have already personally experienced the effects, and 61 percent said they are worried about it.

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Firefighters try to extinguish flames during a wildfire at the village of Kineta, near Athens, on July 24, 2018. Source: Valerie Gache/AFP

I single these countries out as they are the top three polluters in the world – public opinion in these places matters. And there are still worryingly large sections of the population who distrust the expert opinion of 97 percent or more of scientists – 97 percent!

That’s a blind confidence in your own beliefs that I simply don’t have.

But it’s not by coincidence. The climate denial campaign has been an organised, well-funded, targeted and often vicious one.

In 2012, conservative American think-tank The Heartland Institute paid for a billboard that compared believers in climate science to “murderers and madmen” such as Osama bin Laden and Charles Manson.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go down well and the billboard was quickly removed.

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But the group behind it made an unsettling re-appearance recently in the inner-most circles of power.

Standing behind US President Trump as he pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement in January 2017 was Joseph Bast, the group’s chief executive. They now advise the US Environmental Protection Agency on climate change.

Despite the umpteen warnings, going as far back as 1896 (no joke).

And despite the real-time effects that are battering communities now – droughts in Australia, wildfires in Finland, typhoons in the Philippines.

We still find ourselves hurtling towards disaster and the people with their foot hovering over the brake are drunk on profits and power.