In previous posts, I have criticized the idea of a "windfall profits tax" against the oil companies. I have also criticized laws against "price gouging" and price controls as proposals that will make the energy situation worse than it would otherwise be.
I have made this argument by drawing an analogy to an isolated village facing a shortage of food. High prices are the market's way of telling people that they need to start conserving their supplies. It would be stupid to argue that we should first use up all the food we have in storage, THEN begin conserving. Yet, in the realm of energy, a huge number of people are arguing for exactly this type of policy -- that the price of gas should not go up until we have used up all current supplies.
High prices also tell us to start switching over to substitutes, and to put extra effort in acquiring more supplies.
High profits are the market's way of rewarding those people who take the necessary steps to help us through a shortage, without waiting for the slow and significantly more corruptible political system to hit on a solution/
These types of policies are foolish.
However, there is another issue involving the energy companies that warrants our full condemnation.
On the issue of global warming, they have spent years financing a campaign of deception (see also: Union of Concerned Scientist report) that has slowed our response to this problem and put countless people at risk of losing their lives, health, and property. It is not an exaggeration to claim that they decided, years ago, that they were willing to put whole cities and countries at risk of destruction to help ensure greater profits.
They represent a level of villainy that can be honestly compared to the Holocaust and Stalin's purges in the level of destruction they may well cause.
A report from Christian Aid says that an estimated 182,000,000 people could die in Africa alone due to diseases associated with global warming. I am not saying that this many people will die. I would not be surprised to hear that this figure contains some hyperbole. However, a person with a shred of moral conscience looking at the possibility of this many deaths would have to respond by saying, 'Are you sure we are not going to kill these people?' This moral conscience will also insist that 'being sure' implies rejecting the bogus arguments that the energy industry and others pay to spread around the world.
To continue to fund this campaign of deception would make Hitler's holocaust and Stalin's purges look like a game.
Some would want us to think that the science of global warming was uncertain, and that it is only recently that we have collected enough evidence that we can say for certain that we are doing things to the environment that could be very costly. Yet, this is not the case. Scientists had a good idea of what we were up against decades ago. However, the facts supported policies that certain energy company executives (among others) did not like. Therefore, those executives began a campaign to bury the facts. The consequence (and intention) of this campaign was to slow down the public response to global warming until they could pocket as much private wealth as they could get away with. The consequence of this slower response is that we face a much more serious problem than we need to.
We can see the evidence of this villainy in the types of arguments that these companies funded in their campaign.
Here are some examples:
The Heat Island Effect
"Global warming does not take into consideration the heat-island effect."
This was an attempt to claim that the evidence for global warming was found in the fact that urban temperatures were rising. In turn, they claimed that urban temperatures were rising because cities trap heat. Anybody who lives in or near a city knows that the temperatures within a city are typically a few degrees higher than temperatures in the surrounding countryside.
A layman can be forgiven for falling for this argument, but nobody with an interest in truth and a few million dollars to spend on an advertising campaign can be forgiven for spreading this deception. Global warming models predicted that temperatures would rise the most in the arctic and Antarctic -- where the glaciers and ice packs were. Indeed, this is what the temperature records were showing. Average global temperatures are up 1 degree, but are up 5 degrees in places like Alaska and Siberia. These are not 'heat islands'.
The 'heat island' argument was a lie. As a result of this lie, melting ice packs are threatening the homes and property of millions of people -- of whose cities -- near (or below) sea level.
This is, literally, a case where corporate executives were willing -- and may even bring about -- the destruction of whole cities for the sake of securing more profits.
The Coming Ice Age
"Forty years ago scientists were warning us about a coming ice age. Now, they are warning us about global warming. Obviously, they have no idea what they are talking about."
This argument is entirely invalid. Imagine somebody who argued, "Three hundred years ago scientists were telling us that malaria was caused by bad air. Now, they are telling us that it is caused by a bacteria and we should wipe out the mosquitoes. Clearly, scientists do not know what they are talking about."
This is clearly a bogus argument. The only legitimate criticism that can be made against a current scientific theory is to show that it does not explain and predict observations. Saying that scientists did not have a perfect knowledge of the world in the past so we can ignore what they say in the present is foolish.
Yet, promoting this foolishness meant additional profits for the energy companies, so they promoted it. Again, they paid millions of dollars to a campaign to promote this deception in the press and as a part of the public consciousness. Again, we see in this a willingness to finance the potential destruction of whole cities and countries in order to obtain profits -- a level of villainy that makes Mr. Evil look like a common flim-flam man.
Finally, there is nothing inconsistent with claiming that global warming can create regional cooling -- even a new 'ice age' in some local areas. Europe is kept warmer than normal because the Gulf Stream carries warm tropical air up north. If global warming shuts this heat conveyer down, Europe while cool -- while the tropics get even hotter (because its heat is no longer being transported north).
As a part of its campaign to get the people to do nothing but sit on their hands, while the energy companies secured their profits at the risk of whole cities and countries, those energy companies also launched a campaign to deceive people about the nature of global warming science.
The energy companies presented the global warming debate as one in which scientists noted higher temperatures and then went looking for a cause. Their 'theory' was that carbon dioxide was the case. Against this 'theory' the energy companies financed a competing 'theory' that this was a natural cycle linked to such things as changes in the sun.
This was a lie. Global warming was never a theory about 'higher temperatures in search of an explanation.' For over 100 years, scientists knew that there were gasses that let in solar energy and trapped the heat. They knew this by studying the absorption spectrum of those gasses -- and that the Earth was warmer than it would have otherwise been as a result. For over 100 years they knew that an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations would warm the earth even more.
What we had in the second half of the 20th Century was a set of observations that confirmed those theories. These observations allowed scientists to say that propositions that had been a part of mainstream science for over 100 years were true.
But, the energy companies did not want us to learn this. Therefore, they financed a campaign to hide this fact behind a smokescreen that they paid millions of dollars to construct. They intentionally hid the truth from us because the truth would have caused us to protect our lives, health, and property (and the lives, health, and property of our children) in ways that would have cost them money.
Another argument that these companies mass-marketed to people was the claim, "Climate is complex and we really can't be sure what will happen."
Somehow, this was supposed to justify business as usual. At least, these companies marketed this as an argument for business as usual.
However, this is a bit like a drug company saying, "Biology is far too complex for us to know what is going to happen when people take this drug; therefore, we can go ahead and market it as a cure for cancer." Or, imagine somebody firing a gun into a school yard at a great distance. When asked to justify his actions he said, "If you take into consideration gravity, wind speed, the shape of the bullet, and the motion of the kids in the playground, it was difficult to predict whether I would actually hit anybody; therefore, I did no wrong.
We can easily determine how we would judge the moral character of anybody who would risk the life of even one child in a playground with this type of argument. What should we think of the person who risks the lives of tens of millions of children, and the destruction of entire cities?
The main point is that all of these are bogus arguments.
These arguments are fundamentally and logically flawed that spreading them is not a matter of a difference of opinion where reasonable people can disagree. This is a matter of a group of people spending millions of dollars in a bid to muddy the waters and hide the truth from people who could have otherwise acted to defend their life, health, and property.
If we take into consideration the potential magnitude of the destruction involved (including today's report that we may be facing nearly two hundred million fatalities in Africa, and the destruction of whole cities in certain parts of the world), we are talking about a level of villainy to compete with Hitler and Stalin.
This blog entry is not enough to examine our options in detail. However, I would support civil action for harms done that would end up taking hundreds of billions of dollars from those companies that participated in this fraud, and to use it to compensate those whose lives, health, and property are at risk. If the penalties should end up driving these companies into bankruptcy, so be it. There would be justice in giving control of the companies themselves to their victims.