Moderator: Georgia Piggot



The American Petroleum Institute and Global Warming: Industry Knowledge, Denial, Obstruction, and the Potential of Lawsuits for Supply-Side Policy

Benjamin Franta

In the past, litigation has been crucial as a supply-side policy pathway for regulating polluting industries including tobacco, asbestos, and lead. Today, climate-related lawsuits are being filed against fossil fuel producers as a strategy for recovering damages incurred through fossil fuel use, identifying and curtailing deceptive actions by industry, and catalyzing a decline in fossil fuel supply and use. A central element of these lawsuits is the history of fossil fuel producers, in particular their knowledge of the dangers of global warming and their public communications downplaying or denying the threat. This talk examines the history of the American Petroleum Institute (API) -- the primary trade association for the oil industry in the United States -- and its involvement in global warming science, policy, and communication since the 1950s. Drawing from newly uncovered archival documents, interviews, and other sources, I discuss the API's efforts in the 1950s to measure the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from fossil fuel sources using carbon isotopes, the existence of a newly discovered climate research program established by the API in 1957, and the physicist Edward Teller's direct warning to the heads of the US oil industry about global warming in 1959. I also examine the API's knowledge of global warming science in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s using internal industry documents, including the API's use of scientists at Stanford Research Institute, memos from the API's CO2 and Climate Task Force, and API-commissioned research that exaggerated uncertainties in climate science. I then track the API's role in leading the Global Climate Coalition, the primary industry coalition that denied climate science and fought climate policies from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, and the API's strategic funding of a small group of scientists and economists in order to fabricate scientific uncertainty and promote inaction. This research advances our understanding of fossil fuel producers' knowledge of global warming, their public communications, and the state of evidence that may be brought to bear against fossil fuel producers in supply-side climate lawsuits.


Switching Tracks: Opposition to Coal Exports in Canada and the United States

Kathryn Harrison

As US electricity generation has shifted from coal to gas, coal producers have looked to ship their surplus to foreign markets. Proposals for Asia-facing coal terminals have emerged in all US states and the one Canadian province on the Pacific coast. Campaigns against transport infrastructure enjoy an advantage over efforts to restrict production, particularly when the proposed infrastructure crosses into non-producing jurisdictions, where economic benefits are outweighed by costs (Harrison 2015). Consistent with this analysis, all US proposals were either rejected or withdrawn. Surprisingly, the Canadian project was approved.

This paper focuses on comparison of the fate of the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington and Fraser Surrey Docks, 50 kilometres north in BC. Both proposed to ship coal from the same US mines along the same rail line. Both faced opposition from local residents, Indigenous communities, and local governments. Both campaigns focused on local rather than global risks. If anything, the balance of costs and benefits were more heavily weighted against the Canadian project given minimal benefits of shipping US coal. The explanation for the difference lies in three institutional “switches” that routed coal trains to Canadian rather than US ports: the greater role of local governments in the US decision, stronger rights of Washington than BC Indigenous communities, and a commitment by the Obama Administration to consider downstream combustion emissions.

The paper addresses several conference themes: providing insight into the politics of opposition at a mid-point in the fossil fuel supply chain, examining the role of litigation, examining the strategies and impact of social movements, and documenting synergy with other policy objectives, including local air quality. As a litigant against the Canadian project, the author also will reflect on tensions but also mutual reinforcement of scholarship and activism.


Disrupting carbon lock-in: The catalytic impact of the fossil fuel divestment movement

Noel Healy, Gregory Trencher, and Geoffrey Supran

The rapidly diminishing carbon budget for holding global warming below 2 °C requires more explicit interventions to curb fossil fuel extraction and supply. Whilst demand-side policies are acknowledged and utilized around the world, restrictive supply-side strategies are generally underappreciated and underexploited by policy makers and scholars. As such, the urgent necessity to limit fossil fuel extraction is not driving significant policy change in coal mining nations like China, India, USA and Australia (Blondeel and Van de Graaf, 2017). The “keep it in the ground” ideology and objective of the fossil fuel divestment (FFD) movement is therefore a critical societal effort to tackle inaction from governments.

By focusing on the politics of decarbonization, this paper analyzes how the FFD movement (U.S. and worldwide) disrupts three types of carbon lock-in: (1) infrastructural and technological lock-in (2) institutional lock-in, and (3) energy cultures lock-in. We highlight how the FFD movement shifts attention to the resistance by the incumbent fossil fuel regime and its key actors as the most significant obstacle to fundamental changes in energy systems. By stigmatizing fossil fuel regime actors and investors and actors who serve them, the FFD movement is establishing new norms for energy investments and catalyzing powerful supportive political coalitions, and conflict dynamics, which are central to disrupting carbon lock-in (Bernstein & Hoffmann, 2018). We demonstrate how FFD adds to the pressure on governments to implement supply-side climate-related energy policies and is encouraging societal acceptance and demand for policies that foster lower carbon emissions trajectories. This study reinforces the critical and catalytic role that anti-fossil fuel politics and sub-national climate actions ultimately play within the new paradigm of global climate governance embodied in the Paris Agreement.


Challenging status quo through supply-side initiatives in Norway:  Way out or far out?

Berit Kristoffersen and Bård Lahn

Environmental mobilization against oil and gas production is as old as the activity itself in Norway, where access to new areas for oil and gas has been the longest standing political conflict. Over the last ten years, political debates have shifted, where climate and oil have become increasingly interlinked, and the dependence upon the oil and gas is sector is challenged by a broader set of actors. Deliberatively leaving oil in the ground for climate reasons is thus a new strategy,  where the Paris agreement is being used to question whether there is space for more ‘Norwegian’ oil in the global carbon budget and its links to potentially l stranded assets. The political and economic fossil fuel dominance of the Norwegian state  is thus being challenged by the realization that Norway is facing a post-petroleum era sooner rather than later. The environmental movement does not have a unified strategy, ranging from the Greenpeace initiated court case, to broad compromises where some areas can be granted to the industry. This paper analyses the evolution of the Norwegian Environmental movement’s  strategy in efforts to limit oil production, in light of the movement’s historical embeddedness in the Norwegian corporatist model of state-civil society relations.