Climate change action faces ‘fight’ with Big Oil, says McKibben

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Tugboats tow the oil tanker Exxon Valdez off Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound 5 April 1989. Exxon became aware of climate change as early as 1981, according to reports. Image: Eco Watch

By Thomas Leaycraft of Scoop

Climate change activists have to be prepared for a confrontation with oil companies that will “flat out lie”, says environmental leader Bill McKibben.

McKibben, a professor of environmental journalism at Middlebury College and founder of the Pacific Climate Warriors, he was speaking yesterday to the In the Eye of the Storm conference from his office in Vermont, USA.

Noting how high the stakes were, he said there were “absolute survival risks in this century if we let the temperature go up even a little bit more”.

In the eye of The Storm logo“Obviously if one degree [of warming] melts the Arctic, we don’t want to find out what 1.5 or two degrees would do.”

The world “couldn’t have civilisations like we do today” if the world warmed by the near three degrees rise possible under the pledges made at last year’s COP21 Paris climate conference.

McKibben also stressed the immorality of the oil industry and its influence in politics.

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Reining in the industry
Oil companies “will flat out lie,” he said, singling out Exxon for particular criticism.

Despite having known about global warming 25 years ago, the firm had used that knowledge only to prepare its oil rigs for the rising sea level.

“We’re not engaged in an argument, we’re engaged in a fight … the fight is to see if we can rein in the power of that industry.”

Four-fifths of the world’s current fossil fuel reserves must go unused if runaway climate change was to be avoided, McKibben said.

“I don’t know if we can stop climate change. There are scientists who say we can’t,” he added.

Hope lay “in building big movements” that could break the back of the oil industry. But such an effort would require protests, civil disobedience, jail time, and “will require all of us”.

Thomas Leaycraft is a Scoop student journalist intern covering the In the Eye of the Storm conference for Scoop, Asia Pacific Report and Evening Report.

Read more about the In the Eye of the Storm Pacific Climate Conference.

Exxon ‘knew of climate change in 1981’

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