Earlier this month, we collectively walked into the unknown.

We are all now a living experiment. Never before in human history have carbon dioxide levels reached 415 parts per million.

These levels were last seen maybe some 2.5-5 million years ago, during the Pliocene, but then the earth was much warmer than it is today and it was way before us.

Back then, there was no Greenland and trees grew near the South Pole. Sea levels were much, much higher. Maybe 25 metres higher.

415 ppm is a grim number. It signals we are in deep, deep trouble. And in the words of Rolling Stone magazine: “Further evidence (as if further evidence were needed) of just how hell-bent we are on cooking the planet we live on.”

To show you how much we are changing the climate: Every year another 2-3 ppm of carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere. Before the industrial revolution it was 280 ppm. And now it is 415 ppm.

We could have stopped the relentless rise of carbon dioxide, but we did not. In part the reason collectively we have failed to do so is the power of the oil companies and one of the most sophisticated public relations exercises ever undertaken to deny and obfuscate the truth.

The oil companies could have acted and kickstarted the renewable revolution, but they did not. But they knew. #ExxonKnew.

As Think Progress noted this week, one of the documents obtained by InsideClimate News into its investigation into what Exxon knew about climate science decades ago was an internal 1982 document from the Exxon Research and Engineering Company.

In this document the oil company mapped the “growth of atmospheric CO2 and average global temperature increase” over time.

Amazingly, as Think Progress highlights, “the company predicted that that, by 2020, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would reach roughly 400 to 420 ppm. This month’s measurement of 415 ppm is right within the expected curve Exxon projected under its “21st Century Study-High Growth scenario.”

Exxon not only predicted the future, it knew how bad it could be.

Not only did Exxon predict the rise in emissions, it also understood how severe the consequences would be, including warning of “considerable adverse impact” of rising carbon dioxide levels, including flooding and the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Exxon knew all this, but instead of acting, went on to pour tens of millions of dollars into a massive disinformation campaign that we still  see today being spouted by President Trump and Fox News.

No wonder climate scientists are alarmed at us reaching 415 ppm.

Professor Michael Mann told Think Progress “If you do the math, we’ll cross 450 ppm — which likely locks in dangerous planetary warming of more than 2C/3.5F — in just over a decade”.

Peter Gleick, the President Emeritus at the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, added: “Not that we need it, but the latest numbers are further evidence of the massive impact humans are having on our atmosphere and climate … We are entering an era never before experienced by humans.”

Meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus noted on Twitter:

We don’t know a planet like this. We don’t know what will happen, except that climate chaos will get worse. We do know the answers, though.

As Oil Change International pointed out yesterday, in yet another groundbreaking report, we have to stop drilling. It really is that simple. Not tomorrow. Not today. But yesterday. We need a just transition now.

Predictably, the denial in the Trump Administration continues: This week, Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary said he had not “lost sleep over” over the 415 ppm figure.

David Bernhardt, who is a former oil and gas lobbyist, said “I believe the United States is number 1 in terms of decreasing CO2”. He added: “I haven’t lost any sleep over it.”

Meanwhile, just as Exxon warned that Antartica would be in trouble, there is new research published showing just how bad things are.

According to new academic research published in the Geophysical Research Letters, warming of the Southern Ocean now means that with ice is being lost from Antartic glaciers five times faster than in the 1990s.

It is yet another sign we are in deep, deep trouble.


One Comment

  • Exxon (and now ExxonMobil) have failed to lead the way to demonstrating highly profitable energy alternatives. Yes, apparently oil companies like Exxon knew that they would not be the breakthrough global leaders in their industry (of thousands of companies) and would not be able to provide economic, long-term, Wall-Street-approved business plans with good returns using renewable energy, and would therefore not be the breakthrough leaders of the solution to solve the brewing CO2 crisis. If academics and average citizens (but not shareholders…) called the shots on their board of directors, their cash and staff could have been used to research alternatives, even if Wall Street would have decried the result, and even as other companies would have seized their market share as quickly as they lost it in pursuit of potential new alternatives. But this is hardly a surprise, considering how large publicly traded companies work. Given the quarterly profit-driven hawks of Wall Street, and the millions of people who blindly empower them with retirement plans, I doubt many companies in the world will choose to commit economic hari-kiri purely to pursue the remote possibility of becoming a change-leader in the energy industry. What incentive do they have? And what true pressure do they have to do so, in economic terms? While we can sue for idealized behavior in one country, it will be hard to force multinational conglomerates governed by global shareholder populations to ignore their owners everywhere, without being forced to be either market regulations or economics. Where is the voice of The People in deciding that we as a country must choose to support alternatives? Where are dominant hoards of outraged shareholders demanding lower returns (or profit-negative business models, which do exist for companies like Lyft or Uber) in return for better alternatives? Their voices are rising. But still too few people care to pressure representatives / MPs / congressmen and women about this issue enough to provide market opportunities for true business growth in alternative industry. Blaming specific companies is wishful thinking, and ignores the reality that most people globally vote with their pocketbooks on this issue by proxy, through their shareholdings in energy companies, or with their political votes, as they ignore candidates who promote plans to direct markets towards alternatives. Expecting businesses to both toe the bottom line of profit while also destroying their own business models by taking on gargantuan shareholder risk is disingenuous. Crying fowl of the supposed leaders of industry ignores the reality that they adhere slavishly to the strictures of their Wall Street masters, and the governments that regulate their incentives and those of all industries. This exercise is wishful thinking, and ignores the real work to be done, which would be to make fossil fuel industries obsolete by empowering alternative industries.

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