Political Leadership Vacuum

Humanity’s demise from accelerating global warming, egregious pollution, mass extinction (of other animals), and human overpopulation seems certain this century. Those who dispute this prediction are riding a legacy of dither and denial championed by the political establishment for the past 6 decades.

1959 – Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller, the “father of the atomic bomb” tells the American Petroleum Institute (API) that rising carbon emissions pose a global threat.

1965 – A science advisory committee reports to President Lyndon Johnson that “pollutants have altered on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the air.” Summarizing the findings, the head of the API foretells “time is running out.”

1969 – UN secretary general U Thant worries out loud that humanity is running out of time to address its chronic problems. Nations “have perhaps 10 years left in which to subordinate their ancient quarrels and launch a global partnership to curb the arms race, to improve the human environment, to defuse the population explosion, and to supply the required momentum to development efforts. If not, these problems will have reached such staggering proportions that they will be beyond our capacity to control.”

1970 – British oil companies Shell and British Petroleum begin funding research into climate impacts from greenhouse gases.

1972 – The Club of Rome, a confederacy of those concerned and well-connected, issue a report titled The Limits to Growth. It promotes the nebulous idea of sustainability, but give no roadmap for transition.

1977 – Exxon scientists tell management that fossil fuel emissions are responsible for rising atmospheric CO2 levels.

1981 – An internal Exxon memo warns of “catastrophic” effects from global greenhouses after a half century. Spurred by Al Gore, the US Congress holds hearings on climate change, with no actionable result.

1988 – Shell management is warned of rising air temperatures: 1 to 2 °C by 2028. “By the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even stabilise the situation,” the report states.

1989 – US industry groups establish the Global Climate Coalition (GCC): a head-in-the-sand lobbying group denying the science of climate change, and recommending no action to reduce emissions. Exxon, Shell, and BP join in 1993 and 1994.

1990 – Exxon funds researchers Fred Seitz and Fred Singer to dispute the growing scientific consensus on climate change. The 2 Freds had previously worked on denying the hazards of smoking for the tobacco industry.

1991 – Shell releases a publicity film which acknowledges the “possibility of change too fast for life to adapt without severe dislocation.”

1992 – The UN Rio Earth summit produces the 1st international agreement to prevent man-made climate catastrophe. US President George Bush Sr. pays lip service: “the US fully intends to be the pre-eminent world leader in protecting the global environment.”

1997 – Mobil Oil places an ad in the New York Times titled “Reset the Alarm”: “Let’s face it: the science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil.”

1998 – Led by Republicans, the US refuses to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change action.

2009 – Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inofe, funded by the fossil fuel industry, leads a misinformation campaign against climate change science on the opening day of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. The conference ends in disarray. Feeble US President Barak Obama, a Democrat, shows his indifference to this critical issue.

2013 – A study by Richard Heede reveals the 90 companies responsible for 2/3rds of global carbon emissions.

2016 – Bowing to outcry, the API removes from its web site the claims that climate change is “uncertain.”

2017 – Donald Trump becomes US President and sets out to do everything within his considerable power to promote environmental destruction, with universal Republican backing and scant outcry from Democrats.

2019 – Mohammed Barkindo, secretary general of OPEC, the Arab oil consortium, warns that climate campaigners are the oil industry’s biggest threat, and that they are misleading the public about global warming with unscientific tripe.

2022 – UN secretary general António Guterres warns repeatedly that humanity has the immediate choice of “collective action or collective suicide.” Facing economic pressures from worthless covid pandemic restrictions 2 years earlier, world leaders (US, China, Europe) opt to keep burning fossil fuels apace. Expediency trumps the prospect of survival.


Fiona Harvey, “Humanity faces ‘collective suicide’ over climate crisis, warns UN chief,” The Guardian (18 July 2022).

Jonathan Watts et al, “Half a century of dither and denial – a climate crisis timeline,” The Guardian (9 October 2019).

Matthew Taylor & Jonathan Watts, “Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions,” The Guardian (9 October 2019).

Jonathan Watts et al, “Climate emergency: what the oil, coal and gas giants say,” The Guardian (9 October 2019).