"Our house is on fire." This was Greta Thurnburg's reply to a Twitter trend called #2020in5words. Australia is on fire. The Amazon is on fire. Our House is on fire. Our collective negligence has led to almost half a million animal deaths just in Australia, just last year, including nearly a full third of the Koalas in New South Wales main habitat. Over 100 wildfires all across the country still rage with over five million hectares of land destroyed. People are fleeing en masse and nine people have already been consumed by these out of control fires.
Last official count in the Amazon rain forest, the lungs of the Earth, the largest carbon safe we have, there were around 76,000 fires burning; an increase of over 80% from this time last year. The interesting thing about these wildfires is although they are compounded by climate, they are man-made. Land grabbers are burning parts of the forest where indigenous tribes still live in their ancestral homes to make room for farmland and grazing pasture for cattle, but in doing so they are destroying the most important and diverse ecosystem on the planet.
Even worse is the Brazilian President Bolsonaro's denial of the severity of the damage, going so far as to blame the media for blowing it out of proportion. Bolsonaro a year ago this month issued an executive order giving control of the distribution of land, including that of indigenous people, to the Agriculture Ministry. Then when Ricardo Galvão, director of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), published satellite data showing increased deforestation, Bolsonaro fired him. It is clear that not only does the Brazilian President not care about the cost of life itself, he wishes to pillage in secrecy.
Some important occurrences this decade:
4 of the 5 largest wildfires in California history happened this decade
6 category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic region in the last 4 years
Arctic sea ice dropped 13% in just 2019
Thousand year floods, like the ones in Indiana, have become commonplace
More than 100 "Billion Dollar" climate disasters this decade
The last five years were the five hottest ever recorded
Yet last year alone we poured another 40.5 Billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere
In 1861 an Irish physicist named John Tyndall first discovered the ability of water vapor and other gasses to create the "greenhouse effect". Then in 1896 Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, concluded that the burning of industrial age coal, and therefore any fuel that yields CO2 or a heavier gaseous compound, like Methane for example, "will enhance the natural greenhouse effect." Over 120 years ago science, in a state far from our computerized science of today, concluded decisively that fossil fuels would contribute to the planet's warming atmosphere. I wish for there to no longer be any doubt about a concept proven and replicated in scientific laboratories and our very own atmosphere; Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and other heavy gasses hold heat on the planets surface and do not allow it to escape back to space. If you have any doubt, study the planet Venus.
Exxon Mobil recently went to court to defend themselves against a securities fraud case which included them being accused of lying to investors about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. Interestingly they did not defend the safety of their product, but won the case anyway. In a verdict that flew under the radar about a month ago, Justice Barry Ostrager of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution failed to prove that Exxon broke the law, “ExxonMobil does not dispute either that its operations produce greenhouse gases or that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change,” Ostrager wrote. “But ExxonMobil is in the business of producing energy, and this is a securities fraud case, not a climate change case.” Exxon admitted in court that it knows and understands that its fundamental practice is detrimental to the planet and the judge is splitting hairs. Although it may feel like they got away with something this time, the war is not over, in fact I am not convinced we lost the battle. This is the first time in history that I know of that a fossil fuel company admitted that not only do they know what they are doing is perpetuating climate change, they have known it for decades and hid it -- and the fact they actually used the phrase "climate change" is the cherry on top.
There are 3 types of securities fraud and they all deal with the financial side of a company. Regular securities fraud involves a company official deliberately misrepresenting a companies financial information. The second is Insider Trading, which happens when someone in the company uses information not available to the public to decide whether to invest in a stock or not. The last is Third Party, when someone else misrepresents a company they invested in, in order to inflate the market for its stock then sells their shares for a profit.
It seems that knowing and not just not disclosing to the public, but also suppressing scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels was literally destroying our global environment does not constitute securities fraud, at least according to Judge Ostrager. Even though it is possible for people within the company to have used this undisclosed knowledge to not only make informed personal financial decisions, but also to fool the public into making an investment perhaps they would have otherwise at least attempted to avoid. The question then becomes, what do you charge a company with when they lie about a fundamental truth about their product, causing an economic dependence, and the result is endangering all life as we know it? Also keep in mind, this is only one company. If it has been proven that since 1977 at least Exxon knew, and considering how old our scientific knowledge is about greenhouse gasses and their role in the environment, how could they all not have known, and much earlier.
Besides lying to the public at least since 1977, as far as we can prove, Exxon's criminal negligence has resulted in damaging oil spills and immeasurable damage to our collective ecosystem. The BP oil spill has been called the greatest environmental disaster of our time. The Great Barrier Reef is almost all bleached from sea water that is too warm to support the coral that live there. We are in the midst of a new mass extinction and our collective actions are dooming the planet and therefore ourselves, which we always see as more important. Why don't we as humans use this new decade to dedicate ourselves to the idea that we are not special, we are not superior, in fact we are vastly inferior when our very way of life endangers that of all life as we know it.
Borunda, Alejandra. “See How Much of the Amazon Is Burning, How It Compares to Other Years.” Map: See How Much of the Amazon Forest Is Burning, How It Compares to Other Years, 29 Aug. 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/amazon-fires-cause-deforestation-graphic-map/.
Brewis, Harriet. “Nearly 500 Million Animals Killed in Australian Bushfires.” Evening Standard, 28 Dec. 2019, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/australian-bushfires-new-south-wales-koalas-sydney-a4322071.html.
Hall, Shannon. “Exxon Knew about Climate Change Almost 40 Years Ago.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 26 Oct. 2015, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-climate-change-almost-40-years-ago/.
Ruiz-Grossman, Sarah, and Lydia O'Connor. “7 Numbers Show How Dire Climate Change Got This Decade.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 30 Dec. 2019, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/decade-end-climate-change-numbers_n_5e026b09e4b0b2520d10f41d.
Stargardter, Gabriel. “Brazil Farm Lobby Wins as Bolsonaro Grabs Control over Indigenous Lands.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 2 Jan. 2019, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-brazil-politics-agriculture/brazil-farm-lobby-wins-as-bolsonaro-grabs-control-over-indigenous-lands-idUKKCN1OW0S8.
Wamsley, Laurel. “Exxon Wins New York Climate Change Fraud Case.” NPR, NPR, 10 Dec. 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/12/10/780317799/exxon-wins-new-york-climate-change-case.