Fast Company: “Corporations and governments have known about the risk of climate change for about half a century. It first appeared on Exxon’s radar in 1981. Two years prior, a group of scientists had created the Charney Report, which assessed the effects of rising amounts of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (and correctly predicted how more CO2 would lead to more warming). A few years later, in 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen testified before Congress about how the “greenhouse gas effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” News coverage of that testimony sounds all too familiar: “The earth has been warmer in the first five months of this year than in any comparable period since measurements began,” opens the coverage from the New York Times. The headline even calls for a “sharp cut in [the] burning of fossil fuels.” It’s a plea scientists are still having to make more than 30 years later. We did not heed those warnings; we have not stopped burning fossil fuels. In 2019, global fossil fuel emissions hit a record high. Emissions dropped in 2020, but not because of smart climate policies or effective action. That reduction came because a global pandemic—which might also have roots in climate change—effectively put a pause on human activity. There’s no denying that corporations and governments have fueled the climate crisis—in the case of the former, even spending years and millions of dollars to actively lobby against climate change solutions, often ones that would limit our use of fossil fuel and so threaten fossil fuel businesses. (In just one example, BP donated $13 million to a campaign that ultimately stopped a carbon tax in Washington State; but oil companies aren’t the only ones lobbying against environmentally friendly changes). In a different world, business leaders and politicians would have heeded those first warnings and, 40 years ago, ended their use of fossil fuels, transitioned to net-zero emission operations, and prioritized policies for renewable energy and transportation alternatives. Today, the climate actions we can take in our lives are limited by the world these corporations and politicians built. “Fossil fuels are still the lifeblood of modern civilization,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC). “Almost everything we do as human beings involves fossil fuels. They’re in our clothes, in our food, they’re the way we get around.”
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