Study Pins Climate Change Blame on Big Oil Companies

Fagjun | Published 2017-09-15 22:45

Findings show that the rise in sea levels as well as climate change can be attributed to just 90 big oil companies.


In what ways are oil companies responsible--and accountable--for climate change?



The recent hurricanes and floods didn't just leave devastation in their wake. They also left people pointing a finger at climate change to explain how hurricanes, in particular Harvey and Irma, got so destructive. Scientists have also claimed that extreme weather, previously rare, will become more common in the future due to climate change and warmer oceans.


This, of course, isn't surprising. For years, scientists have been warning the public that climate change will lead to more extreme weather events. We've been seeing those predictions come true, but so far scientists haven't really focused on finding out who, not just what, is responsible for the rapid changes in climate. Of course, there have been those who point fingers at certain institutions, but this new study sought to put faces and names on those responsible—and, perhaps, financially liable.



The Impact of Big Oil


ExxonMobil, one of the biggest carbon producers, has known for decades that their products are harmful to environment. [Photo by Matt Brown/AP]



A new study makes a bold claim—that just 90 companies were responsible for almost two-thirds of historical greenhouse gas emissions. They are also responsible for nearly a third of global sea level rise from 1880 to 2010. Most of these companies are in the fuel business, while a handful were cement companies. The one thing they have in common, however, is that they are the biggest carbon producers in the world.


The study, conducted by researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists and two universities, showed how much temperature and sea level increase certain companies were responsible for. Emissions from ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP caused 6% of the rise in global sea levels. Meanwhile, the emissions of 20 companies named in lawsuits filed by communities in California were responsible for 10% of global sea level rise from 1880 to 2010.


B. Ekwurzel et al., 2017, Climactic Change



The researchers used a simple climate model to calculate that these 90 big oil companies contributed 42 to 50% of the rise in global temperatures. Since the year 1980, the emissions of these companies have accounted for 28 to 35% of global temperature increase and 11 to 14% of the rise in global sea levels.


Of course, this study isn't just geared toward finding those to blame. It also aims to find those who should be held responsible, in every sense of the word.



The Fair Share of the Blame—and the Expenses


The destruction left by natural disasters, such as 2004's Category 4 Hurricane Charley (shown above), can be expensive to deal with. So who pays for all of it?



Two of the researchers, Peter Frumhoff and Myles Allen, penned a piece for The Guardian detailing how their study can help hold these companies accountable. According to Frumhoff and Allen, rebuilding after natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, as well as preparing for the effects of climate change in the future, can be expensive. More importantly, it would be unfair to put the burden of these expenses on taxpayers.


According to the California lawsuits mentioned above, these companies have known for decades that emissions from their products can adversely affect the planet. In the case of ExxonMobil in particular, however, the company has been found to have deliberately misled the public on the effects of fossil fuels on the environment.


Now, Frumhoff and Allen say that Big Oil must pay. ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP have chipped in a total of $2.75 million for Gulf communities affected by Hurricane Harvey, though those communities may need tens to hundreds of billions of dollars in order to rebuild. So did these companies pay their fair share?

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