Follow the CO2 (and the $$$)

In a classic scene from All The President’s Men, the movie about investigative reporters unmasking wrongdoing in the Nixon White House, one reporter, Bob Woodward, meets up with his insider source, Deep Throat, in a DC parking garage. Woodward confesses that he and his partner have hit nothing but dead-ends and need help. Deep Throat tells him, “Follow the money. … You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. … Just follow the money.”

Geographer Richard Heede has been following greenhouse gases, and the big money companies behind these gases for years. According to his research, which is described in The Carbon Accountant (D. Starr, Science, 26 Aug 2016, p. 858), “nearly two-thirds of the major industrial greenhouse gas emissions (from fossil fuel use, methane leaks, and cement manufacture) originated in just 90 companies around the world.” One company, ExxonMobil, is estimated to be responsible for roughly 5% of humanity’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions over the past 130 years, but that time span may not be worthy of consideration because Heede’s research shows that 50% of the emissions from the Nasty 90 have been produced since 1988.

Critics have argued that Heede’s numbers don’t tell the right story because all of us are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, but Heede responds, “I as a consumer bear some responsibility for my own car, etcetera. But we’re living an illusion if we think we’re making choices, because the infrastructure pretty much makes those choices for us.”

The owners and suppliers of that infrastructure, I might add, not only defined our choices, it also earned itself a lot of money while boosting CO levels above 400 ppm. Heede’s research not only lets us follow the gases, it also shows us how to follow the money.

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