History Repeating? A Climate of Change...

July 9th, 2015

Climate Change was the subject of another article published in The Guardian (here)

(why won’t it just, you know, go away?)

The story feels all too much like History Repeating (thanks Shirley)

ptma_history repeating2

A long term senior scientific advisor to Exxon-Mobil (the worlds largest oil company) has written about some aspects of his time with the company.  He advises that the company was aware of the nature of carbon dioxide emissions as a pollutant impacting on climate change, as early as 1981.

It would appear that they recognised at least 35 years ago, that it was likely

  • the science of man made climate change would be developed, better understood, and widely accepted: and
  • governments would act to curb emissions through policies such as carbon taxes; which
  • in turn formed a risk for their business through new costs (taxes) and restrictions on development (carbon abatement)

And so, at that time, they were forming corporate strategies to ensure their business remained profitable.  This included:

Internally acting to minimise their exposure to risk from their mining operations

For example: electing to not develop a huge gas reserve off the coast of Indonesia which would have become the largest single source of Carbon Dioxide pollution, globally

With the longevity of such developments they recognised that it was likely within the lifespan of the project that the science, and following government intervention (eg carbon pricing) would impact the profitability of the development.

So they gave themselves breathing space and acted to protect their profitability.

They also minimised their risk externally by spending millions of dollars in funding the public denial of climate science.

This long running practice by this company and others, helped to delay our understanding in the community that Climate Change is a legitimate (and now largely undisputed) science.

It also helped to delay the speed at which governments would act.

While ethically a dubious practice (given we all only have 1 climate to breath) it has been, and continues to be, very effective.

Exxon-Mobil apparently advised last week that they

  • no-longer dispute the science of man-made Climate Change… and that they
  • no-longer fund campaigns and think tanks which seek to cast doubt on the widely accepted science.

Other traditionally conservative institutions have weighed in on the topic: the Pope released his recent Encyclical demanding that as a society we all act to minimise the risk and reduce the hurt which we all are causing the environment on which we all depend.

Where to Now?

Some governments appear weighed down with inertia and doubt.  They would prefer the Pope leave science to the scientists… and would also prefer the scientists leave science to… the politicians or… well… others.

Some parliaments seem unwilling or unable to develop a plan and act decisively to protect us from a known and measured risk.  (For example the way in which an oil company planned and acted to protect themselves from a likely risk 35 years ago.)

You and I: we all make choices each day. 

Within the means at our disposal, our choices demonstrate to those around us that

  • We accept this to be a real issue.
  • Or that we do not

As architects we can strive to design more efficient buildings, use less resources, renovate for clients when it makes sense rather than building from scratch.  Encourage clients to step a little out of their comfort zones in the direction of sustainability.  As people we can lead more efficient lives, turn off lights, catch buses, plant a garden, buy local and seasonal foods, buy an electric car, put solar power on our roof, rent a room to a friend.

Naturally we won’t always get it right in our own practice or lives – but we give it a go where we can, instead of waiting.

We can have a little rant on our website to promote a bit more conversation around the issue!

ptma_history repeating