It is only with age that one appreciates the importance of memories and realizes that knowledge without experience is merely data. I love that endorphin rush I get when some random bit of information triggers an avalanche of old memories. It must be why old people live in the past so much. It’s also why dementia is so frightening.
I can remember some specific things about the summer of 1977, but there are many more things that I simply know.
For instance, I know I was 14 years old; I remember looking forward to the fall when I would turn 15, and get that coveted driving permit.
I know it was the summer that Elvis died; I remember women my mother’s age losing their shit about that.
I know disco was all the rage, but I remember it as the summer of Bob Seger’s Night Moves and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, both still among my all-time favorites.
I was far from politically aware as a kid, so I was oblivious to our misadventures in the Middle East, but I know 1977 was only a few years after the Arab oil embargo, and I remember my parents bitching about high prices and long lines at the gas pumps. I remember we had a new preznit who talked a lot about conservation and alternative energy sources. I know nobody was listening.
Which leads me to the cause of my little trip down memory lane; a lengthy (three parts so far) story I’ve been reading this past week at Inside Climate News. It turns out, in July of 1977, while I was busy getting the right side pants leg of my Levi’s Super Bells tangled in my bike chain, one of Exxon Corporation’s senior scientists was speaking to a committee of their top management executives:
…Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.
“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” …
If you haven’t read this story — (and I highly recommend you do, here is Part One) — you are probably thinking Exxon just swept this information under the rug and continued with business as usual. But no, they did the right thing. They assembled a team of top-notch scientists and engineers, and spent millions to learn all they could about this emerging climate crisis.
Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.
Not only did they do the right thing, they seemingly did it for the right reasons. Internal memos show Exxon viewed climate change as an opportunity to conduct a project that would benefit mankind. It’s laughable to picture an international corporation doing something like that now, but astonishingly, Exxon actually helped create a good deal of the science they now routinely shit all over. From Part Three:
Through much of the 1980s, Exxon researchers worked alongside university and government scientists to generate objective climate models that yielded papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Their work confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming’s risks.
Yet starting in 1989, Exxon leaders went down a different road. They repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions. Even as the models grew more powerful and reliable, Exxon publicly derided the type of work its own scientists had done. The company continued its involvement with climate research, but its reputation for objectivity began to erode as it campaigned internationally to cast doubt on the science.
As I noted above, there is still more of this story to come. We already knew the ending, now we have the beginning. The messy middle, the truth of Exxon’s reversal on this issue, will assuredly be about money. Notably, it came at the end of the Reagan administration, which ushered in our current era of government de-regulation and unconstrained corporate greed.
I can’t help thinking about the Butterfly Effect and all the other possible outcomes. Where would we be now if Exxon had continued down its path of corporate responsibility? Or if Amurka had listened to Jimmy Carter and begun constructing an alternative energy infrastructure in the ’70s? Would our lust for oil have abated by now? Or would we still be reeling from one catastrophe to the next in the Middle East?
Does it even matter any more? We are all pretty much powerless to do anything about it, so we might as well relax and listen to some tunes. Sing it, Stevie.
Now here you go again
You say you want your freedom
Well, who am I to keep you down?…