You are here

Climate Change Denial: The CO2 Cartel and American Policy

Climate-change deniers must go. They will not stop until the last drop of oil is gone.

Lysander Reid-Powell

The idea that climate change is real and caused by human activity is neither novel nor outlandish. The symptoms grow more palpable every year. Global temperatures are increasing; weather patterns are more erratic and extreme; the oceans are rising and acidifying. These changes are caused by man-made greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion. This is not a Liberal Conspiracy; this is factual evidence backed by 97% of the scientific community.

Yet in spite of the overwhelming scientific consensus, in spite of the droughts and category 5 hurricanes, record temperatures and receding glaciers, climate change denial remains a widespread belief in America. The United States has the highest rate of denial of the developed world—between twenty and thirty percent of the total population. It is a staggering figure, and its implications are grave.

The epidemic climate change denial is emblematic of a broader, recurrent framework of paradoxes in American society. We are the “leader of the free world,” yet have the largest prison population of any country. Our healthcare system is ranked 37th in the world by the World Health Organization. In 2011, the United States spent an average of $11,841 per full-time student in elementary and secondary school (4th highest in the world) yet it ranks 14th in education. We have the second highest level of inequality in the developed world, as measured by the Gini Coefficient. Twenty-two percent of our children live in poverty, while billions of dollars are spent to elect politicians who demonize welfare recipients. We have a gross domestic product of 17.4 trillion dollars, and 15.3 million children without food security. Appalling as the figures on climate change denial are, data on the national pattern of dysfunction is well established.

Today’s widespread public denial of climate change has many influences—--media biases, political rhetoric, false science, business interests,partisan politics, social inertia, the American economic system and way of life. But these influences are all connected, orchestrated, pulled like puppet strings. It began nearly twenty years ago, in 1997, shortly before the creation of the Kyoto Protocol,a binding resolution to reduce global carbon emissions. It was signed by The United States on November 12, 1998. The move was hailed as a landmark step for the future of humankind, a token of global cooperation and solidarity towards a common threat. The Kyoto Protocol envisioned the end of fossil fuel consumption.

Faced with the prospect of emissions regulation and clean energy competition, a syndicate of vested interests conspired to discredit the science behind climate change, desperate to preserve profit margins and retain influence over American policy. 1997 saw the creation of “the denial machine,” a network of industries, think tanks, political figures and media outlets that has since worked systematically to sway public opinion against science.

The fossil fuel industry is behind the largest propaganda and disinformation campaign in American history. Recently, the Union of Concerned Scientists released hundreds of pages of internal documents—dubbed “The Climate Deception Dossiers”—that substantiate this claim. These documents detail a conspiracy by the American Petroleum Institute to discredit climate change science.

In 1997, the API, the largest syndicate of oil industrialists in the United States, created a “Global Climate Science Team” to offer a counter-perspective to the climate science behind the Kyoto Protocol. Shortly thereafter, a “Global Climate Science Plan” (GCSP) was drafted by this organization, its program to convince the American people that climate change is a hoax.

“A majority of the American public, including industry leadership, recognizes that significant uncertainties exist in climate science, and therefore raises questions among those (e.g. Congress) who chart the future US course on climate change.”

The goals of the GCSP were clearly stated:

Victory will be achieved when...

·     Average citizens “understand” (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom.”

·     Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science.

·     Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current “conventional wisdom.”

·     Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy.

·     Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.

Over the last two decades, this strategy has been used to discredit climate change science and derail any legislative effort to curb global warming. This propaganda campaign permeates the government at state, local, and federal levels. It permeates the scientific community, where a small number of dissenting scientists are paid to publish papers that refute the overwhelming consensus that global warming is made by man. It permeates the media, where “experts” are given airtime to deny anthropogenic climate change. Money from the oil, natural gas, and coal industries fund climate change controversy. It is one of the great propaganda campaigns of modern history.

In 2001 President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, two months after taking office. In a televised speech on June 11 where he defended the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, he questioned the validity of anthropogenic climate change put forth in a report by the National Academy of Sciences:

“Yet the Academy's report tells us that we do not know how much effect natural fluctuations in climate may have had on warming. We do not know how much our climate could, or will change in the future. We do not know how fast change will occur, or even how some of our actions could impact it."

This is a standard tactic—to claim that anthropogenic climate change has not been sufficiently substantiated to warrant change in US energy policy. In 2015, the United States produced 16.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Historically, we are far and away the largest polluter of greenhouse gasses. In 2011, the House of Representatives voted on a bill called The Energy Tax Prevention Act. Section 330 of this Bill reads:

“The Administrator* may not, under this Act, promulgate any regulation concerning, take action relating to, or take into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change."

“The definition of the term air pollutant…does not include a greenhouse gas. Notwithstanding the previous sentence, such definition may include a greenhouse gas for purposes of addressing concerns other than climate change.”

The Energy Tax Prevention Act passed the House of Representatives 255-172, a margin of nearly 20%. It later died in a Democrat-controlled Senate committee.

Fifty-six percent of the majority party in the United States Congress are climate change deniers; 131 out of 246 Republicans in the House of Representatives, and 38 out of 54 Republicans in the US Senate (53 and 70 percent, respectively) have publicly denounced anthropogenic climate change. That is why a bill that claims a greenhouse gas is not an air pollutant is taken seriously. That is why the Energy Tax Prevention Act passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming support.

Efforts to stall combative measures against climate change have intensified in our current era of partisan-politics. The Obama Administration has made climate change a focal point of his agenda, and so, accordingly, our congress has done everything it can to thwart the federal government’s effort to fight climate change.

In 2015, dozens of climate change denial and anti-environmental provisions were passed through the Republican-controlled House and Senate as “riders” in appropriation bills. Appropriation bills are critical pieces of legislation; if they are not passed the government is defunded. The hope is that the importance of the bill and the consequences of it not passing will force the opposition to balk into accepting the provisions. A few examples of climate change denial legislation from the 114th Congressional session of 2015-2016 include:

H.R.2578 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016; None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to implement the United States Global Climate Research Program’s National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis under Executive Order No. 12866.

H.R. 2822 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds made available in this or any other Act may be used to implement any provision in a rule, if that provision requires mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.

S.1645 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to develop, propose, finalize,implement, enforce, or administer any regulation that would establish new financial responsibility requirements pursuant to section 108(b) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980**.

The sponsors of these bills—John Abney Culberson (H.R.2578), Ken Calvert (H.R.2822), and Lisa Murkowski (S.1645)—are all climate change deniers.

For the upcoming 2016 elections, Rep. Ken Calvert has received more than $20,000 from the oil and gas industry. Rep. Culberson has received $37,300, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski has received over $595,000 from the oil and gas industry.
Senator Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and adamant climate change denier, has received over $455,000 from the oil and gas industry for the 2016 election. It does not take a sharp mind to connect the dots.

We have allowed a cartel of private interests to warp the future of our planet. It is too late to stop climate change, but there is still time to soften the blow. Future generations will look to us and ask why we did so little to save them. For the sake of the Earth, for the sake of humanity, the Denial Machine must die. It is an illusion, propagated by greedy, evil men who have sold their souls to the Almighty Dollar. The Puppeteers must be discredited and exiled; they have no place in the future of our world. They will not stop until the last drop of oil is gone, and if we do not stop them, the denial with continue, even when the ocean is up to our necks.

*“The Administrator” refers to the Environmental Protection Agency

**CERCLA created a “superfund” for the EPA to clean up catastrophic pollution sites, and requires the responsible party to assist with the cleanup.

Lysander Reid-Powell is an undergraduate at New York University. His interests include travel and journalism.

Image credits:

"Image Too Big to Fail" by Melanie Mills, Slow Burn/Downturn # 33, mixed media collage, 2012.
"Untitled", Noah Gelfman, modified digital photograph, 2016.
"Oasis", Scott Greene, oil on canvas, 2010 .

Slow Burn/Down Turn is an ongoing series of collages begun in response to the economic recession in 2008.

See gallery for artists' bios.

Copyright © Lysander Reid-Powell. All rights reserved.