Thursday, March 31, 2016

Antarctica is Melting and Attorneys General are Going After ExxonMobil

Two major stories rise to the surface this week in climate news. A new study warns that melting in Antarctica could raise sea levels substantially more and faster than previously thought. And the Attorneys General from several states band together to investigate "what Exxon knew" about climate change...and when.


Antarctica (i.e., the South Pole) is a favorite of climate deniers because it serves as a convenient counterpoint whenever the Arctic (i.e., the North Pole) sea ice extent is reaching another record low. The denier position, like all denier positions, is both wrong and intentionally fraudulent for a variety of reasons. And now it's getting even worse.

A new study published in the scientific journal Nature suggests that previous sea level rise estimates could be vast underestimated. The last IPCC report in late 2013 estimated a mean sea level rise of between about 1.5 to over 3 feet by the end of the this century. The new study suggests the reality might be more like 5 feet in that time, double or even triple the previous estimates.

This new study comes is independent of another recent study published by James Hansen and 18 co-authors also warning of catastrophic sea level rise due to melting of Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

It actually gets worse, so read up on this issue here, and here, here, and here. The full peer-reviewed paper in Nature can be downloaded for free here.


It came as no shock to most insiders when it was recently made public Exxon knew that fossil fuel consumption was warming the climate. They've known it for decades and their own internal scientists were the ones telling them. Like most big corporations, Exxon (and the combined ExxonMobil, as well as all the other big fossil fuel companies) has many scientists on staff. Some focus on resource development (e.g., finding new oil, gas, and coal reserves) while others focus on a wide range of testing, both to develop new products and to comply with health and safety regulations. Scientists at these companies are often the cream of the crop, that is, they are very good scientists. It is these scientists who long ago informed Exxon (and other companies through the American Petroleum Institute, the primary trade association/lobbying firm for the fossil fuel industry) that the vastly increased carbon emissions from their products were causing dramatic and dangerous warming the climate system.

The problem is what Exxon and others did with this knowledge and the best comparison is to the actions of the tobacco industry. In both cases the industry dealt with the knowledge of harm by suppressing it. On top of this they funded front groups and consultants to create doubt about the science.

After this "revelation" of suppression of knowledge became public recently, public pressure helped initiate investigations by a now growing body of state Attorneys General. A federal Justice Department investigation is also either underway or contemplated. Support for investigations has reached at least 15 Attorneys General, with more likely in the future.

While independent, these two issues are helping to push man-made climate change to the forefront again. A recent poll showed the highest public concern about climate change in a long time. In addition, the Arctic has just set the lowest annual maximum on record, not a good start to the annual meltdown that threatens to produce an ice-free Arctic Ocean for periods of the summer sometime in the future.

As noted previously, 2016 could surpass 2015 as the hottest year ever, continuing a trend of a warming climate. This could very well be a critical year in climate policy action.