The petroleum papers Inside the far-right conspiracy to cover up climate change

Geoff Dembicki

Book - 2022

"Drawing from hundreds of confidential oil industry documents spanning decades, this explosive work of investigative reporting reveals for the first time the far-right conspiracy that's stopped the world from preventing the climate crisis. In The Petroleum Papers, investigative journalist Geoff Dembicki tells the story of how the American oil companies that founded the tar sands in Alberta, Canada--home to the third-biggest oil reserves on the planet--ignored warnings about climate devastation as early as 1959. Instead of alerting the world to act on this impending global disaster, Exxon, Koch Industries, Shell and others created ad campaigns saying climate change isn't real and that alternatives to oil are an economic These companies built a global right-wing echo chamber to ensure tar sands could keep flowing into the U.S., which helped elect Donald Trump and now leaves the Joe Biden administration with a sprawling climate mess. But Dembicki also tells the high-stakes stories of people fighting back: the Seattle lawyer who brought Big Tobacco to its knees and is now going after Big Oil, a young Filipina activist who saw her family drown in a climate disaster, and a former engineer at Exxon who was pushed out for asking too many hard questions. With experts now warning we have less than a decade to get global emissions under control, The Petroleum Papers provides a step-by-step account of how we got to this precipice and the politicians and companies who deserve our blame."--

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Informational works
Vancouver ; Berkeley ; London : Greystone Books [2022]
Corporate Author
David Suzuki Institute
Main Author
Geoff Dembicki (author)
Corporate Author
David Suzuki Institute (-)
Physical Description
285 pages ; 24 cm
Issued also in electronic format
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction
  • I. The First Warnings (1959-2013)
  • "Just another storm"
  • "Men on a hunt"
  • "A gift from God"
  • "We were all so desperate"
  • A "hellish cloud"
  • "Operation Oilsands"
  • "A million pieces"
  • II. The Early Construction of Denial (1968-1988)
  • "He seemed embarrassed"
  • "Ahead of the game"
  • "Very strong interests at stake"
  • "Pitted against our very survival"
  • III. Solutions Known and Sabotaged (1988-2002)
  • "Threaten the existence"
  • "I feel embarrassed"
  • "We have to get this right"
  • "Americans can't hear the whistle"
  • "The dumbest-assed thing"
  • IV. A Public Awakening (1997-2008)
  • "Victory will be achieved"
  • "They lied about everything"
  • "Saudi Arabia of the western world"
  • "What Makes Weather?"
  • "Global energy powerhouse"
  • V. Blame Canada (2006-2010)
  • "Back off dudes!"
  • "A full-on barney"
  • "Public embarrassment"
  • "They're struggling forward"
  • "Global warming!"
  • VI. The Climate Goes to Court (2008-2014)
  • "The island is sad that it's going away"
  • "A way to justify exploitation"
  • "I remember being angry every day"
  • VII. Well-Oiled Allies (2016-2019)
  • "Stacked with friends"
  • "Friends in unexpected places"
  • "It just kept going and going"
  • "This is an avalanche"
  • "We are the beating heart"
  • "They surrounded me"
  • VIII. The Right to Live (2020-2022)
  • "Robbed of their options"
  • "Why wouldn't I choose the right thing to do?"
  • "Is there risk?"
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Just as the Keeling Curve tracks fluctuations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, this book charts the vicissitudes of American responses to global warming. In chronologically arranged chapters spanning 1959 to 2022, Dembicki, an investigative climate change reporter, begins with James Hansen's public warning about the deleterious effects of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, independently verified by the roughly coeval, but only internally published, research conclusions of companies such as Exxon. The book then explains how, as public interest grew in addressing the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, firms involved in oil and natural gas production--concerned with profits and investments--knowingly suppressed their research findings, as the internal documents cited ably attest. This was coupled with their attack on the science of global warming, carefully constructed public relations campaigns designed to misinform and scare the public, and their backing of bogus grassroots organizations meant to sow distrust of governmental carbon mitigation programs like cap and trade. Although initially successful at sowing doubt about global warming in the 1980s and 1990s, Big Oil now faces rising lawsuits and public cognizance of its role in both encouraging inaction and attacking solutions like lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels. --Robert T. Ingoglia, St.Thomas Aquinas College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The petroleum industry is guilty of a Big Tobacco--style public cover-up, according to this vivid exposé from journalist Dembicki (Are We Screwed?). Petroleum executives have known since as early as the 1960s that they were contributing to climate change, Dembicki writes. Among the evidence he cites is a 1977 briefing for Exxon executives by a company scientist in which they were informed that if the rates of burning fossil fuel "didn't slow down... the dangers to humankind could be immense," and that the company needed to consider "changes in energy strategies"--the scientist's warnings were ignored. By the 1990s, as the public's awareness of climate change increased, the Shell Oil--backed Global Climate Coalition "was regularly getting academics who questioned the scientific consensus on climate change quoted in major media outlets" despite knowing they weren't using "credible science." The industry has no shortage of political allies, Dembicki writes, and criticizes, among others, Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau, who campaigned on an environmentally friendly platform, but later supported the Keystone XL pipeline: "When it came to the crude produced in Canada's oil sands, the Trudeau government actually saw Trump becoming president as a good thing," Dembicki writes. This damning account is a worthy contribution to the literature on climate change. (Sept.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Big oil knew about greenhouse gas--related climate change more than half a century ago--and did nothing but lie about it. In November 1959, writes investigative climate change reporter Dembicki, a prominent oil executive named Robert Dunlop "received a credible warning that his industry could cause death and suffering for large numbers of the planet's inhabitants." That warning came from physicist Edward Teller, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb and "no back-to-nature romantic," who prophesied that his invention was a toy next to the consequences of fossil fuel--caused climate change. Moreover, added Teller, when the climate warmed, the ice caps would melt, the oceans would rise, and large swaths of the world would become uninhabitable. Even at the time, the facts were not hidden: So bad was the smog in Los Angeles in 1943 that "many assumed that it was a chemical warfare attack by the Japanese army." Still, Dunlop and others in the petroleum business covered up those inconvenient truths, and decades later, players such as Koch Industries remain heavily invested in the fossil fuel economy, backed by media outlets such as Fox News, whose minions have steadfastly insisted that climate change is a natural phenomenon. The situation, though, is different in the courts, and renewable-energy warriors are waging combat against big oil that draws on many of the same tactics as the fight against big tobacco in the 1990s. One recent case, for instance, contests the extraction of Canadian oil sands, while another links typhoon damage in the Philippines to the international energy industry. Yet, even as one Exxon oil scientist warned 40 years ago that climate change would be catastrophic for people around the world, the Philippines included, the company still is "trying to convince people the emergency wasn't real." A damning, necessary exposé of corporate malfeasance with lethal consequences. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.