When it became impossible to deny the impacts of its pollution, the fossil fuel industry changed its line. It admitted the irrefutable — that the climate was changing — but claimed that humans were not responsible. When the human influence on the climate in turn became undeniable, it switched to the line that while we humans might be responsible, the costs involved in fixing the problem were too high. When even that was proved false, it turned to promoting despair, promulgating the idea that it’s too late to address climate change and that nothing can be done anyway. These staged retreats have had an immense impact, their power to disempower and demoralise being a major factor in holding us back.
The most morally repugnant aspect of this litany of misinformation is that the fossil fuel industry has known all along just what the impact of burning fossil fuels would be. In 1982 a simple graph was produced by the world’s largest oil company, Exxon. It projected the increasing concentrations of CO2 that would result from a business‐as‐usual approach if it and other fossil fuel companies were allowed to pollute unchecked. The graph also correlated CO2 concentrations with temperature. Looking at where we are in 2020, Exxon’s prediction has proved to be accurate.
It is shocking to think that the fossil fuel industry had begun planning its war on climate action decades ago, in the full knowledge that it would cost us our world. But that appears to have been what happened.
Learning the truth about the fossil fuel industry is confronting. We buy its products daily, and many of us have some further link with it, either through shares, superannuation or employment. A sense of outrage is mixed with guilt. How are we to respond? Christiana Figueres councils us to forgive, and move on, saying: ‘We must let go of the fossil fuel dominated past without recrimination. The process of letting go is essential, and it must be intentional. The more work we do to let go of the old world and walk with confidence into the future, the stronger we’ll be for what lies ahead.’
Personally, I’m still struggling with the issue of forgiveness, particularly of those who continue to stymie climate action. But I can see that Figueres is right. We will need to reserve every atom of effort for the job ahead to have any chance of success in the battle to stabilise our climate. But as we do so, we must be severe on further efforts to misguide.