This is the story of a loud conspiracy. A new book titled “The Petroleum Papers” reveals the origins of the climate denial movement fostered by its most generous financier, Charles Koch and his fossil fuel empire.
Author Geoff Dembicki had access to hundreds of confidential documents that reveal “how oil companies have been lying to the public since at least 1959” about climate change. Dembicki focuses on a 1991 conference organized by the Cato Institute—personally founded and financed by Koch—to counter the then growing international alarm about the disastrous effects of fossil fuels on the planet’s atmosphere.
“We can look down the road a little way and see an industry under siege,” one member of the Koch network, an oil executive from Oklahoma named Lew Ward, predicted during this period. “We are not going to let that happen.”
The conference featured several academics willing to deny the evidence and portray the rest of the scientific community as an alarmist movement and the industry as an innocent victim of unfounded climatic conclusions. The event in general denied the existence of climate change or interpreted it as “manageable” and even “beneficial.”
The conference turned out to be extremely successful, as it set the foundations of climate denialism, establishing the strategy of using paid academics eager to confront the international scientific consensus, and the news media to confound and mislead the public.
After more than 30 years of fossil fuel dependency, humanity now faces a planetary emergency that threatens the very existence of our species. In the 2022 edition of its report “The Lancet Countdown,” the publication compiled the opinions of almost 100 experts and 51 institutions arriving at the following conclusion: “The health of the peoples of the world is at the mercy of a persistent dependency on fossil fuels.”
The report indicates that the impacts of extreme heat aggravated by the climate crisis “include exacerbating conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and causing heat stroke and poor mental health,” as well as pregnancy complications and premature death. It also warns that extreme climate is putting world agriculture under huge stress, indicating that almost 100 million people around the world, especially the most vulnerable communities, suffer from malnutrition, undernourishment or famine,
“The climate crisis is killing us,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres about the report. “It is undermining not just the health of our planet, but the health of people everywhere, through toxic air pollution, diminishing food security, higher risks of infectious disease outbreaks, record extreme heat, drought, floods and more.”
This climate emergency also punishes our natural world. For the first time, the snow crab fishing season had to be canceled in Alaska after the disappearance of billions of them, a dramatic decrease of 90 percent of its population. The NOAH office in Alaska reported that “as oceans warm and sea ice disappears, the ocean around Alaska is becoming inhospitable for the species.”
It’s important to be aware of the fact that our fossil fuel dependency would be impossible without the industry’s powerful political allies. This industry is one of the major contributors to the Republican Party, the world’s most powerful climate-change denying political force.
It’s equally important for the voters of the world to ask ourselves the question of the century. What side are our politicians and elected officials on, the side of a dirty energy industry whose business model includes the destruction of the atmosphere we all depend on, or the side of a livable, healthy planet where future generations can thrive and prosper?
It’s up to all of us.
Javier Sierra writes the monthly bilingual column "Sierra & Tierra. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
Focusing primarily on social justice issues and respect for human rights, I assist non-profit organizations willing to establish a dialogue with the US largest minority, the Latino community, and to promote the respect for human rights internationally.