Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben & friends on Egypt: the prison state where the COP27 Climate Conference will meet. But first: Big Oil – selling climate disaster. Author Geoff Dembicki with his new book “The Petroleum Papers, Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change.”
Big tobacco knew their products were killing their customers. Did oil, gas, and coal executives know they were killing climate and species? Enter investigative reporter and author Geoff Dembicki with his proof, the new book “The Petroleum Papers, Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change.” Geoff won the 2018 Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. He is a regular contributor to the Tyee and VICE.
One of the top five biggest storms in U.S. history recently hit Florida, after causing blackouts in Puerto Rico and all of Cuba. The Northern Hemisphere baked in multiple heat waves. All this week it was over 80 degrees F (27 C) outside my studio in Western Canada. That is crazy for October in Canada, just crazy.
Demibiki’s research found evidence executives and owners of fossil fuel companies knew this would happen.
Geoff grew up in Alberta, Canada – home to the notorious oil sands megaprojects. He literally played around oil projects. Now he’s in Brooklyn but investigating what big oil companies knew and when. The short version: in 1959 big oil execs were warned about climate change caused by their products. From Geoff’s book, here is a bit from Edward Teller’s speech to the Energy and Man Conference in New York City, 1959, organized by the American Petroleum Institute:
“Now all of us are familiar with smoke and smog and all of us know about it as a nuisance. …I would like to talk to you about a more hypothetical difficulty which I think is quite probably going to turn out to be real. Whenever you burn conventional fuel, you create carbon dioxide. It has been calculated that the carbon dioxide which has been put into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution equals approximately 10 percent of the amount of carbon dioxide that our atmosphere contained originally.
It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York…”
“All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.”
Dembicki continues: “This wasn’t the first time Teller had delivered such a warning. In late 1957, he’d spoken to members of the American Chemical Society about the impact of burning coal and oil, stating that the carbon emissions coming out of chimney and exhaust pipes could someday change the climate and melt a large portion of the polar ice caps. ”
Edward Teller was well-known in 1950’s America as the “father” of the hydrogen bomb. He established the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which continues today.
Companies like Exxon hired top scientists in the 1970’s who confirmed it. They knew long before Dr. James Hansen of NASA warned Congress in 1988. Shell oil knew entire countries might be abandoned eventually due to burning Shell products. President Lyndon B. Johnson warned about the risks of burning carbon dioxide in 1965. Two scientists hired by the American Petroleum Institute further confirmed the danger in 1968. They warned carbon dioxide levels could hit 400 parts per million by the year 2000. (CO2 was 370 ppm in 2000, and over 420 ppm in Spring 2022.)
QUOTE FROM CONFIDENTIAL 1988 SHELL DOCUMENT
Geoff Dembicki unearthed this quote from a 1988 report written for Shell Oil by DR. T.G. Wigley and the University of East Anglia:
“Mathematical models of the earth’s climate indicate that if this warming occurs then it could create significant changes in sea level, ocean currents, precipitation patterns, regional temperature and weather. These changes could be larger than any that have occurred over the last 12,000 years. Such relatively fast and dramatic changes would impact on the human environment, future living standards and food supplies, and could have major social, economic and political consequences . . . The changes may be the greatest in recorded history. They could alter the environment in such a way that habitability would become more suitable in the one area and less suitable in the other area.”
Pretty well all the big oil companies knew they were selling climate disaster. As Geoff writes in “The Petroleum Papers”:
“Like Shell, Suncor, and Imperial Oil, which by this point had operated in the oil sands for several decades, BP knew about the dangers of climate change long before its executives acknowledged them publicly. This is evident from a twenty-four-minute documentary released in 1991 by BP’s Corporate Communication Services called ’What Makes Weather?‘”
DENY AND CONFUSE
Executives and big oil investors decided to use the tobacco company strategy to deny, to delay, and always to sow doubt in the mind of the public. Some of them, funded by big oil magnates like the Koch brothers, are still doing it. It should be criminal – to knowingly damage the lives of all future generations. But so deep was their influence in government after government, no laws were passed to stop them.
When I did research for Greenpeace in the late 1980’s, I found a cluster of well-funded front groups and a half dozen scientists who threw up a smoke screen about tobacco dangers. The very same people then attacked any environmental regulations to limit toxic pollution. In the mid-1990’s they added climate denial to their games. One of their stars was an alleged climate scientist from the University of Virginia, the late Patrick Michaels. He said warming would be minimal, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were alarmists, and climate was no crisis. He was paid big money by big coal and utility companies.
Big fossil fuel companies not only knew they were contributing to climate change, but they also knew how to avoid the risks we now face. Internally, they were presented a plan to save us, but chose to expand the tar sands and fracking instead.
Alberta Premier Manning and Sun Oil President Pew were evangelical Christians who saw oil development as “God’s work”. How far is Christianity intersecting with well-paid propagandists who push for more oil development, burning, and climate damage?
For ten years, Canada suffered through Prime Minister Harper, who pretty well worked for Western oil interests. The Canadian government became odious internationally, trying to water down or kill climate agreements. We were so relieved to get climate-talking Justin Trudeau instead. But then Trudeau pushed pipelines, even spending tens of billions of taxpayers money to build a pipeline no private company would touch. What happened to the “green” Prime Minister of Canada?
Major Canadian television news continues to use reports from the Canadian think-tank, the Fraser Institute. The media don’t mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in Fraser Institute funding coming from Koch Industries and their front groups. Why do these paid announcements for big oil and gas get treated like news sources?
Check out this quote from Geoff’s book “Petroleum Papers”:
“In 1992, 88 per cent of Americans believed that global warming was a serious problem, but by 1997 that number had fallen to 42 per cent (with only 28 per cent of Americans thinking immediate action was needed)…”
As climate change became more obvious and terrible, fewer Americans thought any action was needed. That is how successful the millions of dollars in lobby and public relations money was. The George Bush family were oil men. President Trump appointed the former head of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, to be his Secretary of State. Was the Trump Administration the glory peak for the big oil takeover of America?
So climate denial is a combination of things. It is a high-paying industry for some. Others associate climate denial as either a libertarian issue (political), or part of a conspiracy to control everyone. A few saw it in religious terms. But official-looking reports, supposed documentaries, and books were all fed into that system kept on life-support by the fossil fuel industry.
There will be no climate prosecutions for Virginia Professor Patrick Michaels. He passed away a few months ago. Should we expect governments will somehow make fossil fuel companies immune to lawsuits for climate damage? I wonder if there will be climate tribunals, with old men brought to court, like the old Nazis were for Holocaust crimes against humanity.
Geoff Demibiki’s previous book was “Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate Change”. Geoff went looking for signs of hope in younger people ready for climate action. But still,the harsh truth is: climate crime does pay, at least until the sea washes over your ocean-front estate, or climate hits crash the banks keeping all your money. Until then, you can lie for fossil fuel companies and die rich.
THE NEXT COP CLIMATE MEETING IN A POLICE STATE
NAOMI KLEIN, BILL MCKIBBEN AND FRIENDS
This November, politicians, press, and NGOs converge for the climate COP27. It will be held in a walled resort in Egypt. What is the situation there? Famous author Naomi Klein is joined by climate activist Bill McKibben and voices banned in Egypt. The focus is leading Egyptian intellectual Alaa Abd El-Fatta, now slowly dying in prison in a hunger strike. The basics of environmental activism and green decency are at stake.
The online presentation titled “Egypt’s Carceral Climate Summit” is now posted on YouTube. The event was live-streamed October 6. It was presented by The Intercept and co-moderated by University of British Columbia faculty members Mohammed Rafi Arefin and Naomi Klein from the new Centre for Climate Justice. Sadly the audio from Cairo with Alaa’s sister Sanaa Seif was not clear enough for radio. But I do broadcast a recent letter from El-Fatta on global warming, read by his other sister Mona Seif.
Or you can watch the full one and a half hour presentation on YouTube here.
In the video, check out the few minutes of greenwashing advertising from the Egyptians about Sharm El Sheikh resort. Take your electric car out into the desert for a morning coffee! Feel Green as Hell, while Egypt burns tons of coal to power the big cement plants owned by the military. Enjoy their “Speak Truth to Power” tent – because millions of Egyptians never get that chance. Just one critical Tik Tok post can leave you languishing in prison for years in Egypt, before getting to your perfunctory trial where guilt is assumed. It is horrifying really.
As Bill McKibben points out in this presentation, both he and Naomi Klein would be in Egyptian jails just for speaking out about climate as they have done. The only Egyptian climate activists anyone will hear from are carefully vetted by the government. The rest have been swept up into prison. With governments held captive to fossil fuel money, street demonstrations and public actions are about all we have left to pressure for change. Without those freedoms, there is no hope, for the climate or anything else.
By the way, Bill McKibben surprised everyone by popping up on the screen from a hospital bed. But Bill reassured everyone he was fine. He just needed an “unexpected surgery” which he said was minor.
Egyptian coal, much imported from the U.S., has risen over the years. The largest importer is the big cement company owned by the Egyptian military, built in 2016, after their takeover in 2013. Egypt is the second largest gas producer in Africa, and scaling up production.
Sure the United Nations wanted to bring Africa into the climate dialog. The pre-planning meeting was held in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Egypt was supposed to be more affordable than Europe, and closer to the developing world, so more people could participate. But Egypt was a poor choice, and there won’t be much participation under the shadow of a police state. The meeting happens inside a walled city, in an atmosphere of deep fear. Remember the Al Jazeera reporter jailed for years.
Following the world-famous protests for freedom in Tahrir Square ten years ago, Egypt today is run by a military government – a tight closed circle of military and intelligence officers who brook no opposition. Egypt has tens of thousands of political prisoners right now. Two dozen new prisons built in recent years. Some are “American-style” prisons. The court houses are built right in the prisons, to speed to conveyor belt to incarceration The charges are usually “spreading false news” and “belonging to a terrorist organization”.
Egypt tolerates some environmental activity, like recycling and trash cleanups. Anything that implicates government is not tolerated. In the Egyptian prison system, there is often no medical care, many death sentences, and torture is common. There has been a massive crackdown on the press. The Egyptian general intelligence service bought out big TV stations and newspapers to become the largest media owner in the country! Egypt is the third worst in the world for jailing journalists. The government sees its citizens as a threat. They are the third largest arms importer in the world.
THE CASE OF ALAA ABD EL-FATTAH
One of Egypt’s best known political prisoners is Alaa Abd El-Fattah. He is a computer-savvy blogger who was locked up on spurious charges years ago. Having given up on justice, Alaa is now months into a hunger strike which has left him as skin and bones. His most recent letter as about global warming, after heat and floods in Pakistan this year. His first version of the letter, complete with his formula for “an African Renaissance” – was taken away by authorities. He managed to get out a shorter letter to his family, which is read by his sister Mona.
Alaa Abd El-Fattah, Eyptian prisoner of conscience.
Alaa has been in jail almost continuously since 2011. Alaa applied for British citizenship (his mother was British) last November. His application went to admin under Liz Trust, then Foreign Secretary. She did take on the case, but nothing real has happened. She spoke on it in Parliament saying she would seek release. Will she act now as PM?
Alaa Abd El-Fattah wrote the book “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated”.
My thanks to the Intercept and the University of British Columbia for this hard-hitting presentation on the upcoming climate conference venue.