A New Kind of Crime Against Humanity?: The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Disinformation Campaign On Climate Change

I. Introduction.

This post examines the question of whether some US companies are guilty of a new kind of crime against humanity that the world has yet to classify. This post is not meant to be a polemic but a call for serious engaged reflection about deeply irresponsible corporate-sponsored programs that have potentially profound harsh effects upon tens of millions of people living around the world, countless millions of future generations, and the ecological systems on which life depends. This post seeks to encourage further reflection on the issues discussed here.

II. Corporate Disinformation Campaign

Although skepticism in science is needed to make science advance, for almost thirty years some corporations have supported a disinformation campaign about climate change science that has been spreading untruths and distortions about climate science. Several recent books document how this disinformation campaign began in the1980s including a book by Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt. (Oreskes and Conway, 2010)

Although it may be reasonable to be somewhat skeptical about climate change models, some corporate sponsored participants in the climate change disinformation campaign have been spreading deeply misleading distortions about the science of climate change. These untruths are not based upon reasonable skepticism but outright falsification and distortions of climate change science. These claims have included assertions that that the science of climate change that is the foundation for calls to action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been “completely debunked” and that there is no evidence of human causation of recent observed warming. Reasonable skepticism cannot make these claims or others frequently being made by the well-financed climate change disinformation campaign.

Given that there are thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies that support the consensus view on the dangers of continuing to emit increasing levels of greenhouse gases, that most Academy of Sciences around the world have issued statements in support of the consensus view articulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there are virtually no peer-reviewed scientific articles that prove beyond reasonable doubt that observed warming is naturally caused, that there are a huge number of attribution, fingerprinting, and analyses of isotopes of greenhouse gases that are appearing in the atmosphere that point to human causation, that the basic physics of exactly what initially happens when greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere in terms of absorbing and reradiating heat in watts per square meter has been understood for over 150 years, claims that the science of climate change have been “completely debunked” and that there is no evidence of human causation are patently false. These claims do not represent reasonable skepticism but utter distortions about a body of evidence that the world needs to understand to protect itself from huge potential harms.

On October 21, 2010, the John Broder of the New York Times, http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/10/21/us/politics/21climate.html?sort=newest&offset=2, reported, that “the fossil fuel industries have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it.” According the New York Times article, the fossil fuel industry has ” created and lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global-warming studies, paid for rallies and Web sites to question the science, and generated scores of economic analyses that purport to show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy.”

Without doubt those telling others that there is no danger heading their way have a special moral responsibility to be extraordinarily careful about such claims. For instance, if someone tells a child laying on a railroad tracks that they can lie there all day because there is no train coming and has never checked to see if a train is actually coming would be obviously guilty of reprehensible behavior.

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