Fossil-fuel industry disinformation about the climate under scrutiny in U.S. corridors of power but not in Canada

A U.S. probe has come in the wake of an oil-industry lobbyist inadvertently blurting out some of the tactics that have been used

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      On September 16, the U.S. Congress oversight and reform committee revealed that it's conducting a probe into ways in which the fossil-fuel industry has misled people about the climate crisis.

      The chair of the subcommittee on the environment, Rep. Ro Khanna, told CNN that there are plans to hold a hearing on October 28 with CEOs from oil companies.

      The goal is reportedly to get them to admit that their companies have spread disinformation about climate change.

      Letters have already been sent to executives at ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron Corporation, Shell Oil Company, the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

      "Disinformation has been in the news more than ever, but the oil industry has been pulling the strings of public opinion for decades," Our Daily Planet staff writer Amy Lupica wrote today. "Employing big tobacco’s playbook, fossil fuel companies have fought to prevent policy and public opinion from embracing climate science and clean energy. 

      "Now, the world is facing the consequences—this summer’s wildfires and hurricanes have broken records, and the [Intergovernmental] Panel on Climate Change reports that the world has even less time than previously thought to reach net zero," she continued. "To make net-zero emissions by 2050 a reality, the Biden administration will not only have to replace fossil fuels with renewable power, but hold Big Oil accountable for decades of gas-lighting and harm."

      The congressional committee's decision to hold a hearing comes after several U.S. states and the District of Columbia have sued large oil companies. The attorneys general in these states and D.C. have alleged that the defendants have systematically and intentionally misled consumers about the role that their products have played in causing climate change.

      Here in Canada, no parliamentary committee has demonstrated any interest in investigating disinformation from the fossil-fuel industry on this side of the border. And not a single provincial attorney general north of the border has filed a lawsuit along the lines of the litigation taking place in the U.S.

      This is despite an ExxonMobil lobbyist, Keith McCoy, recently disclosing in a videotaped job interview that the company "aggressively" fought against the science. Greenpeace released the video after its staff posed as recruitment consultants and spoke to him over Zoom.

      Video: Greenpeace staff pretended they were working for a recruitment agency to gather information on Big Oil's efforts to counter scientific research on the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions.

      Denialism existed for decades

      Back in 1997, journalist Ross Gelbspan was one of the first to seriously shine a light on climate-change denialism. This came in his book The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, The Cover-up, The Prescription.

      A decade later, the Georgia Straight published a cover story about how climate-change denialism was rampant in the Canadian media. Two years after that, there was another feature story highlighting Vancouver authors who were exposing Big Oil's tactics.

      In 2011, I wrote a commentary about how Canadian climate-change deniers in the media were the Neville Chamberlains of our time.

      Over the years, there have been many other stories on this website along similar lines.

      They included a 2018 article about a book by Burnaby author Donald Gutstein. In The Big Stall: How Big Oil and Think Tanks Are Blocking Action on Climate Change in Canada, Gutstein exposed why the fossil-fuel sector preferred a market-based carbon tax over heavier regulation—and how it went about winning over politicians.

      The watershed event in exposing the climate cover-up actually occurred way back in 2010 with the publication of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.

      Written by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, this book documented how the fossil-fuel industry used the same playbook as the tobacco industry in sowing doubt about the links between oil and coal and the looming climate crisis.

      Nowadays, Big Oil is promising that it will achieve net-zero carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions by 2050 in Canada. That's thanks in part to an approach known as carbon capture, utilization, and storage.

      Canadian governments at different levels, including the B.C. NDP regime headed by John Horgan, have bought into this notion.

      That's despite the lack of evidence that it can be achieved on a scale necessary to continue with business-as-usual drilling in the Canadian oilsands and fracking for gas in northeastern B.C.

      Nobody at any official level in Canada has suggested that carbon capture, utilization, and storage is yet another example of Big Oil's disinformation efforts.

      This is notwithstanding the investigative zeal to uncover disinformation from the fossil-fuel sector in the United States.

      A recent report by Environmental Defence, Équiterre, and noted that 70 percent of oilsands production in Canada is owned by foreign companies and shareholders.

      Much of this foreign ownership is American.

      So if it turns out that these companies and their associations have misled U.S. decision-makers on the climate crisis, wouldn't it stand to reason that this has also occurred in Canada?

      If so, why isn't anyone in any official capacity looking into this?