Thanks to the groundbreaking work of geographer Richard Heede, we know that a relatively small number of investor- and government-owned companies are responsible for two-thirds of human-caused carbon emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Heede’s 2014 study found that just 90 companies accounted for 65 percent of worldwide carbon emissions between 1854 and 2013.
What’s more, half of those companies’ total emissions have occurred since 1988—long after the scientific community and the public became aware of the threat posed by global warming.
The Union of Concerned Scientists rated the business practices of the top eight U.S. investor-owned fossil fuel companies on Heede’s list that are U.S.-based or have a North American affiliate. Together, these eight companies are responsible for nearly 15 percent of worldwide industrial carbon emissions since the 1850s and have spent tens of millions of dollars over the last two decades to deceive the public about the reality of climate change. In order of emissions magnitude, they are:
4. Royal Dutch Shell
6. Peabody Energy
7. Consol Energy
8. Arch Coal
ExxonMobil, has consistently disparaged climate science and recommended that societies learn to adapt to global warming. “Mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity,” ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said at the company’s 2015 annual shareholder meeting, “and those solutions will present themselves as the realities become clear.”
Never mind that the realities of climate change have been clear for many years—and the company’s own scientists warned Exxon’s upper management decades ago about the “potentially catastrophic” risks posed by global warming. The company has spent at least $33 million since 1998 on a network of more than 60 think tanks, advocacy groups and trade associations, many of which continue to distort climate science and denigrate renewable energy to this day. ExxonMobil, flatly reject the idea of diversifying into renewables because, as Rex Tillerson told his shareholders, “We choose not to lose money on purpose.” Given that scientists project energy companies worldwide will have to leave 60 to 80 percent of their reserves in the ground to ensure average temperatures do not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius, that’s shortsighted thinking at best.
Chevron and ExxonMobil are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a secretive business lobby group that denies human activity is driving climate change and provides its state legislator members with sample bills to undermine renewable energy. BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell have quit ALEC but still belong to the American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who misrepresent climate science and oppose government efforts to curb carbon emissions. Peabody Energy deny there is a scientific consensus about climate change in its legal challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.