Those are just a few of the harsh words that former U.S. Vice President and long-time climate activist Al Gore had for the fossil fuel industry recently. Gore spoke about the industry to The New York Times at its Climate Forward event, held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in Manhattan in September.
A Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 2007, Gore called out fossil fuel companies for using their power and influence to delay and subvert effective action against climate change.
“Many of the largest companies have engaged in massive fraud,” he said. “For some decades now, they’ve followed the playbook of the tobacco industry, using these very sophisticated, lavishly financed strategies for deceiving people.”
Breaking a Taboo
Gore’s statements were significant, as they marked a recent turning point in the tone and focus of his environmental advocacy. In a TED Talk just the month before, Gore leveled many of the same arguments against the lobbying done by fossil fuel companies.
“The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis,” he said. “The solutions are going to come from a discussion and collaboration about phasing out fossil fuels.”
Gore’s remarks are also profound because they break a long-held taboo against politicians naming the fossil fuel industry as central culprits in creating and maintaining the global climate crisis.
Gore acknowledged the shift in his focus at the Climate Forward event. “I was one of many who felt for a long time that the fossil fuel companies, or at least many of them, were sincere in saying that they wanted to be a meaningful part of bringing solutions to this crisis,” Gore said. “But I think that it’s now clear they are not. Fossil fuel industry speaks with forked tongue.”
Big Oil Drops Its Disguise
He pointed out that Big Oil had its sights now set on the United Nations COP28 climate change conference in November in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The fossil fuel companies had appointed UAE’s state oil company CEO, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, to lead the discussions.
“That’s just, like, taking the disguise off,” Gore said, as The New York Times reported. “They’ve been trying to capture this process for a long time.”
Gore may be right. According to leaked notes, the UAE planned to leverage its role as host of COP28 to lobby foreign governments for gas and oil deals. The internal documents show that Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber intended to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 countries during the world’s biggest and most important annual climate conference.
A Chorus of Dissent Grows
Gore is not alone in singling out Big Oil for criticism. Other notable voices in climate advocacy are joining the chorus. Former Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres made a significant recent comment about the fossil fuel industry. She said that she did not think they should be invited to COP28.
“If they are going to be there only to be obstructors, and only to put spanners into the system, they should not be there,” she said at a conference hosted by Covering Climate Now, as The Guardian reported.
Her remarks come after an op-ed she wrote for Al Jazeera in July, in which she said she was wrong to believe that fossil fuel companies could be part of the solution. “My patience ran out, and I say this with sadness,” she told The Guardian.
California Governor Gavin Newsom also criticized the fossil fuel industry at the Climate Ambition Summit in September. “It’s time for us to be a lot more clear. This climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis,” he said, remarks that earned him cheers from the audience.
Speaking about the fossil fuel industry at the Climate Forward event, Gore added: “I don’t think it’s fair to expect them to solve this when they’re incentivized to do otherwise. But I think it’s more than fair to ask them to get out of the way, and stop blocking the efforts of everybody else to solve this crisis. I think it’s time to call them out.”
Despite the increasingly dire impacts of climate change, Gore pointed to hopeful signs of change, like the acceleration of clean energy adoption in the power sector, and the increasing number of electric vehicles on the road.
“Despair is just another form of denial,” Gore said at Climate Forward, “and we have to resist it. We don’t have time to wallow in despair, we’ve got work to do. We can do this.”
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