I swear, the first political campaign to say "As president, I will RICO the fossil fuel companies" will make a hell of a splash. (More on that below.)
The news is that climate advocate Bill McKibben has gotten himself arrested in protest because, as his Tumblr site says, "Exxon Knew." But the biggest takeaway, for you, is this, from the middle of McKibben's explanation (my emphasis):
[Exxon's] silence and their lies—driven by nothing more than the desire to keep making money—helped disrupt the earth’s most critical systems. When people ask, how could our species have wrecked our planet, the memos and internal documents uncovered by these reporters offer a huge part of the answer. We wrecked the planet, in no small part, because we were lied to by the most powerful institutions on that planet.
Please ponder that.
Except "institutions" don't lie; people do. This is the face of the man who runs Exxon, CEO Rex Tillerson.
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, explaining something (source)
Exxon — the collection of buildings, oil fields, office equipment and legal documents — doesn't make decisions. Humans do, led by this man, Rex Tillerson. He's not a building or a legal entity. He's a person and a perp. Please ponder that.
Here's how we know they knew — and have known since 1977:
The bare facts are, he tried to get arrested in a one-person protest in his home town, and he succeeded. The Burlington Free Press:
Climate activist and author Bill McKibben was arrested Thursday afternoon in Burlington after blocking access to a downtown gas pump.
McKibben, a Ripton resident, said he hoped his protest at the Simon's Quick Stop and Deli Mobile station on South Winooski Avenue would draw attention to recent evidence that suggests that Exxon Mobile knew about fossil fuel's role in global warming several decades ago — and shaped drilling strategies accordingly.
"I don't want this story to disappear in all this media clutter," McKibben told journalists and a dozen or so supporters. "We need to let people know what we now know about ExxonMobil."
At the moment I’m sitting in front of an ExxonMobil station in Burlington Vermont waiting to be arrested and feeling, frankly, a little silly.
But I’m doing it because I want people to read and share two news stories, and I figure this small gesture might be enough to move a few people to do so. The stories come from teams of reporters at the Los Angeles Times, the Columbia Journalism School, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning Inside Climate News, and they demonstrate—exhaustively, undeniably, and appallingly—that ExxonMobil, the biggest and most powerful company on earth, knew all about climate change in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The company had sophisticated computer models demonstrating exactly how fast the globe would warm, and its highest levels of management were clearly aware that this would be a severe problem for the planet. They even used this knowledge to bid on oil leases in the rapidly melting Arctic.
But they didn’t tell anyone. Instead, they lied—they helped fund institutes devoted to climate denial, and bankrolled politicians who fought against climate action. Their CEO—who had overseen much of the research—told Chinese leaders in 1997 that the globe was cooling and that they should go full-steam ahead with fossil fuel.
This is not just one more set of sad stories about our climate. In the 28 years I’ve been following the story of global warming, this is the single most outrageous set of new revelations that journalists have uncovered. Given its unique credibility—again, it was the biggest corporation on earth—ExxonMobil could have changed history for the better. Had it sounded the alarm—had it merely said ‘our internal research shows the world’s scientists are right’—it would have saved a quarter century of wheel-spinning. We might actually have done something as a world before the Arctic melted, before the coral reefs were bleached, before the cycles of drought and flood set fully in.
Instead, their silence and their lies—driven by nothing more than the desire to keep making money—helped disrupt the earth’s most critical systems. When people ask, how could our species have wrecked our planet, the memos and internal documents uncovered by these reporters offer a huge part of the answer. We wrecked the planet, in no small part, because we were lied to by the most powerful institutions on that planet.
And so here I sit. I don’t have any great hope this action of mine will change anything practical. I fear that no one is likely to prosecute Exxon—they’re too big and too powerful. And for that matter it wouldn’t undo the damage. I know that we can’t rally enough Americans to boycott Exxon to make more than a token dent in their endless profits, and that even if we did those profits would flow to some other oil giant whose deeds are yet to be uncovered. Indeed, I know that most of the gas stations that say Exxon or Mobil on the sign aren’t even owned by the company. I know that none of this is the fault of the local franchisees—I gave the folks who run this station a hundred bucks before I sat down in hopes that my small protest won’t cost them too much in income.
I also know that there are clever and cynical people who will wave off these stories by saying, ‘of course, we knew that all along. That’s just how the world works.’ Or they will say, ‘it’s not Exxon’s fault; we all use fossil fuels.’ These clever people are the cousins of the cynics who worked at ExxonMobil; their knowingness is a cover for inaction. Exxon didn’t act when its actions could have changed the course of history; that’s not true of the rest of us.
My only real hope is that this gesture of mine will lead a few more people to read these pieces of reporting before they disappear into what my wife correctly and despairingly called the overwhelming clutter of our digital culture. I don’t want you to sign a petition, add your name to a mailing list, send money to a kickstarter. Just to read. I guess I figure that some people will say: if it’s important enough to someone to get arrested, I can spare ten minutes to read the story.
Perhaps this understanding will lead more people to join in the movement for fossil fuel divestment, or to oppose giant new oil projects, or to take away government subsidies from dirty energy. That would be good—I’ve spent much of my life on those battles, and will keep at them with my colleagues at 350.org and throughout the climate justice movement. It would help in every battle that matters if the Exxons of the world had less credibility and less power.
But even if these stories simply lead to more understanding without any practical consequence, that seems worthwhile. People are dying already around the world from the effects of climate change, people who never burned a gallon of oil in their lives. Everyone who comes after us will inhabit a planet much less vibrant than the one we were born into. My daughter graduates from college this spring, and she inherits this world that Exxon did so much to break. They—and all of us–deserve at least to know the truth.
P.S.—if others elsewhere want to repeat this small gesture, please do it peacefully, and respectfully.
Exxon knew, and then they lied to you for money.
Which Democratic Candidate Will Stand with the People and Say "RICO"?
Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for making the point as strongly as it needs to be made. Will Bernie Sanders promise to RICO the fossil fuel companies if he's elected? Will climate champion Martin O'Malley? Will Hillary Clinton?
The first one of these three who says so will get a hell of a boost, judging by the cheering of the crowd in this debate segment:
Listen to the crowd after Sanders speaks. The people get it. They just have to act on what they know.
If you'd like to sign a petition aimed at RICO'ing the bones off Exxon, you can do it here.
And if you want to say thank you to Bernie Sanders for what he's done so far, you can do it here. Adjust the split any way you want at the link.