As temperatures reach over 100 degrees in South America in the middle of winter, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is calling for federal officials to finally take the fossil fuel industry’s long-standing lies about the climate crisis seriously and prosecute the industry the same way the Justice Department prosecuted Big Tobacco decades ago.
In an op-ed published by MSNBC on Thursday, Sanders called for officials to recognize fossil fuel companies’ “clear violation” of racketeering, advertising, consumer protection and other laws in their campaign to spread climate denial and doom future generations to an unlivable planet.
“The fossil fuel companies knew. They knew they were causing global warming and threatening the very existence of the planet,” Sanders wrote. “Yet, in pursuit of profit, fossil fuel executives not only refused to publicly acknowledge what they had learned, but, year after year, lied about that existential threat. And they continue to fund misinformation campaigns today.”
For at least 60 years, scientists have warned fossil fuel executives that their products would cause global warming and widespread climate destabilization. In the ensuing decades, executives had the choice to pivot their businesses into renewable energies that could have saved the planet from climate destruction.
Instead, they chose to dismiss their own employees’ climate research and follow in Big Tobacco’s footsteps to engineer a massive disinformation campaign to block climate action which is still thriving today. The consequences of this decision — to put profits far above the planet and people — have proven dire.
But, as Sanders pointed out, there is a way to avoid worsening the crisis going forward, if government officials are willing to take it.
“[W]hen fossil fuel executives make calculated decisions that threaten millions of lives — and the planet itself — we are told that ‘it’s just business.’ That’s not acceptable,” Sanders wrote. “Like the tobacco industry before them, the fossil fuel companies’ actions represent a clear violation” of laws meant to prevent such widespread deception, he went on.
Sanders also denounced the escalation of tensions with China by “hawks” intent on creating “a new cold war,” emphasizing the need to cooperate with China and other countries to “aggressively combat climate change and prevent irreparable damage to our countries and the planet.”
The op-ed comes after a letter Sanders sent this week alongside Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), urging the DOJ to file lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry for its lies.
The Vermont senator concluded by saying that it is long past time that Big Oil pay for the damage it’s done.
“The fossil fuel industry must begin to pay for the extraordinary damage it has caused and continues to cause every day,” Sanders wrote. “Climate change is an existential threat to every person on Earth. At every level, in every country, we must work together to save the planet for our kids and future generations. And those most responsible for this global crisis must finally be held accountable.”