Laser Talk: Fossil Fuel Industry Funded Climate Disinformation for Decades

Laser Talk: Fossil Fuel Industry Funded Climate Disinformation for Decades

In a Nutshell: Most people are not making the connection between burning fossil fuels, our changing climate, air pollution, and the deaths due to the pollution from fossil fuels. How did this happen? Key players in the fossil fuel industry knew decades ago that burning coal, oil, and methane gas to warm our homes, power our cars, and generate electricity was warming the planet. Instead of acting on the knowledge, they began financing a massive disinformation campaign. Now, as a consequence, youth are fighting for their inalienable right to have a safe and liveable future.

Important to note: When you inform people that the fossil fuel industry funded a climate disinformation campaign for decades, people are more likely to believe you when you present solutions.

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Note this true story is based on a Twitter Thread from Ben Franta, Founding Head of the Climate Litigation Lab and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford

On April 2, 2023, the latest cache of internal documents describing Big Oil’s concealed knowledge of global warming is a gold mine. One bombshell is a confidential Shell scenario report from 1989 that imagined two futures: SUSTAINABLE WORLD and GLOBAL MERCANTILISM.

In SUSTAINABLE WORLD, greenhouse gas emissions would peak around the year 2000 and decline rapidly thereafter, and total CO2 concentrations would be limited to 400 ppm. GLOBAL MERCANTILISM, on the other hand, would see emissions continue to rise (this is the path we’re on).

Shell realized that even in SUSTAINABLE WORLD, global temps could rise more than 1 deg C (what we see today).

“SUSTAINABLE WORLD will not prevent the problem from arising, but it could mitigate the problem.” GLOBAL MERCANTILISM, meanwhile, would cause “considerably more” warming.

What would the world be like under GLOBAL MERCANTILISM (the path we’re on)? According to Shell, “There would be more violent weather – more storms, more droughts, more deluges. Mean sea level would rise at least 30 cm. Agricultural patterns would be most dramatically changed.”

Something as simple as a moderate change in rainfall pattern disrupts ecosystems, and many species of trees, plants, animals, and insects would not be able to move and adapt. “The changes would, however, have the most impact on humans,”

Shell went on… “In earlier times, man was able to respond with his feet. Today, there is no place to go because people already standing there. Perhaps those in industrial countries could cope with a rise in sea level (the Dutch example) but for poor countries, such defenses are not possible.”


“The potential refugee problem in GLOBAL MERCANTILISM could be unprecedented,” Shell predicted. “Africans would push into Europe, Chinese into the Soviet Union, Latins into the United States, Indonesians into Australia.”

“Boundaries would count for little – overwhelmed by the numbers. Conflicts would abound. Civilization could prove a fragile thing. The logic of SUSTAINABLE WORLD is a society choosing to channel some investments into environmental maintenance against this contingency.”

And yet despite these predictions, Shell chose to push the world into the high-carbon scenario it knew would be so disastrous. The company spent the next decade denying the existence and severity of global warming through disinformation groups like the Global Climate Coalition.

And then Shell spent the last two decades giving false reassurances that it’s moving away from fossil fuels, all while actually expanding its fossil fuel business and blocking the fossil fuel controls it knows are needed to avoid irreversible global damage.

Other nuggets from Shell’s document: – correctly admits the “principal source” of CO2 is “fossil fuel combustion” – correctly notes methane a powerful greenhouse gas about 25 times more potent than CO2 – says global warming “could be the most important issue for the energy industry”

This document underscores the fact that Shell, the fossil fuel industry, and broader society had a choice, and they knowingly chose global disaster in exchange for short-term profits.

“An individual may be powerless to impose restraint under these circumstances,” Shell said, “but, collectively, society is not. Rules can be devised, agreed upon, and enforced so that the capacity of the commons is not exceeded and access to the commons is equitably distributed.”

The climate crisis and the world’s inadequate responses to it were not just foreseen but actively engineered by Shell and its many collaborators. How much more until we say enough is enough, hold the perpetrators accountable, and chart a healthier path?





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