Epoch Eclipse
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Epoch Eclipse

Carbon Majors’​ Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance, the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes is known to induce anxiety.

An evil clown. “You want me to relax? Well, I feel more comfortable when I’m tense.”
Image by the author. More on Instagram.

By definition, creating cognitive dissonance anxiety as a matter-of-course is dysfunctional. One can only hope that purveying dysfunctional anxiety as a normal activity would widely be considered criminal.

The corporations are known collectively as the carbon majors normally exist in a state of cognitive dissonance. While attacking the science behind global heating, the carbon majors take steps to protect their own assets from climate change risks. This dissonance between industry communications to the public and industry action to safeguard their own investments began at least as early as the 1940s and was well established by the 1980s.

The extralegal persecution of Steven Donziger by the Chevron Corporation is merely an especially egregious recent example.

On a corporate level, this dissonance-induced anxiety is reduced by exaggerating the desirability of their goal, wealth beyond comprehension. Further, the carbon majors actively seek to induce cognitive dissonance in the general public through obfuscation, ad hominem attacks, and gaslighting. By employing these strategies to propagandize the public benefits relative to global destruction, the carbon majors seek to perpetuate this cognitive dissonance.

Coal, oil, and gas extraction, the core business of the carbon majors, has always been for the purported benefit of industrial-technological development. The industrial revolution, initially evidenced in the proliferation of cloth weaving mills, was enabled with coal-powered steam engines. Fossil fuel energy allowed factories to be built away from the river-driven waterwheels.

The inconsistent societal repercussions created widespread social anxiety. The benefits flowing from the factories accrued disproportionately to the owners and the costs were likewise experienced disproportionately by society. The social costs of displacing the cloth-making cottage industry, grueling factory work, and dangerous coal mining were ignored by the financial elite and the governments they supported.

Could technology have been advanced in cooperation with the indigenous cottage industry?

Of course, it could, but it would not have been as profitable for the carbon majors.

Would society be able to exist and advance without a high level of anxiety caused by cognitive dissonance?

Of course, it could, but then a few elites would not make huge profits from industrialized labor.

The cognitive dissonance between the social costs visited upon the general public and the financial benefits received by the governing elite was vigorously suppressed, by violence if need be. It took generations of struggle to establish the workers’ unions and child labor laws that enabled a minimum measure of the benefits to become somewhat distributed.

Right from the beginning, even as the cognitive dissonance increased, the social benefits were heavily propagandized and are repeated to this day in official histories. The growth of steam power devastated the forests, first through fuel harvest, then with coal extraction and transportation over the rail. The widespread suffering of the general population is a legend.

The inconsistent distribution of the cost-benefit ratio generated high levels of anxiety among the general population, as documented in both the literature and art of the time as well as in the reactionary emergence of Marxist ideology.

Cognitive dissonance grew to such alarming levels that the violent acting out of anxiety was seen everywhere the carbon majors operated.

Resource extraction drove the development of empires. What started with the accumulation of metallic resources evolved into the extraction of fossil fuel resources. Again and again, local general populations suffered great anxiety so that an elite minority could prosper beyond indigenous imaginations. The inconsistencies between costs and benefits generated cognitive dissonance unable to be ignored.

Still, those who profited trumpeted the supposed social benefits and grudgingly distributed a small portion of their wealth to help propagandize their point-of-view. This is evident to this day in the names of universities, libraries, hospitals, and museums memorializing the dynasties of carbon majors. By this time the cognitive dissonance was normalized regardless of how dysfunctional it was in practice.

Could we still have universities, libraries, and museums without funding from the carbon majors?

Of course, we could, but then the carbon majors would not have made incredible wealth. As for hospitals, healthcare is only organized around hospitals because J.D. Rockefeller discovered that was the most profitable way to provide healthcare after he monopolized oil refining in 1880.

In the United States, the petroleum industry became highly coordinated and acted through centralized industry associations. The Western Oil and Gas Association, now the Western States Petroleum Association, was founded in 1907.

After two world wars fought around fossil fuel access, the global presence of the carbon majors began to produce effects on a global scale. What had been hypothesized in the 19th Century by the Chemistry Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius became measurable in the 20th Century.

In 1938 Guy Stewart Callendar published the widely cited study: The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature. In it Callendar stated,

“[T]hree quarters of the carbon dioxide released in the prior 50 years had, in fact, remained in the atmosphere…”

and that world temperatures had increased by 0.25 degrees Celsius from coal combustion.

In the 1940s Los Angeles, California struggled with high levels of smog. The Committee on Smoke and Fumes of the Western Oil and Gas Association was explicitly created to discourage pollution regulations that might affect the carbon major’s profits. They were organized to defend the rising cognitive dissonance.

In 1946 the Stanford Research Institute was founded in connection with Stanford University with Atholl McBean, director of Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) as the “most important of the founding fathers”. By the 1950s the Stanford Research Institute was selectively sponsoring research favoring the carbon majors and terminating criticizing research.

Since 1947 carbon majors sponsored research into hurricane formation and conducted research into paleoclimates and historical sea levels. Research into the historical temperature record was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute in 1950.

In 1952, the Smoke and Fumes Committee was reformed within the American Petroleum Institute, with an executive of Union Oil Company of California (now Chevron) as its chairman.

In 1955 Hans Suess produced the first clear proof that, as Svante Arrhenius hypothesized in 1896 and Guy Stewart Callendar theorized in 1938, carbon dioxide (CO₂) traceable to fossil fuel combustion accumulated in the atmosphere, a phenomenon later referred to as the “Suess effect”.

In 1956, the Madera Daily News ran an article, “Carbon Dioxide May Contribute to Hurricanes” discussing Roger Revelle’s work and explaining the theory that accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might be raising temperatures and contributing to an intensification of hurricanes. The same year, 1956, an article in Time Magazine reported Roger Revelle’s work and warned that rising temperatures could “melt the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland, which would flood the earth’s coastal lands”.

In 1957 Hans Suess and Roger Revelle published a landmark paper that contradicted the longstanding assumption that the oceans would absorb a large majority of artificial carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere. Two months after the Roger Revelle and Hans Suess paper was published, scientists at Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil) submitted their own study acknowledging rising levels of atmospheric CO₂ but supported the longstanding assumption that the oceans would absorb a large majority of artificial carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere.

In this open disagreement with Suess and Revelle, the carbon majors proved they were aware that the byproducts of fossil fuel combustion were accumulating in the atmosphere and that they were prepared to publish faulty science to defend their cognitive dissonance.

This is clear documentary evidence that carbon majors were colluding through the American Petroleum Institute to investigate carbon dioxide as an atmospheric pollutant by no later than 1958 within the context of a longstanding campaign to combine industry-funded science with active public relations efforts to increase public skepticism of air pollution science and regulation.

By the 1960s the carbon majors were sponsoring significant research that concluded climate change was on its way and was primarily due to fossil fuel combustion. Their own scientists predicted the expected increase in atmospheric CO₂ would increase global temperatures by 0.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2000.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the carbon majors’ scientists repeatedly confirmed the science behind global heating and climate change. Even as the carbon majors employed obfuscation, ad hominem attacks, and gaslighting to confuse the public, climate change projections were being used internally in business and operational planning.

By the time of the first IPCC meeting in 1990, the carbon majors were well-practiced and ready to manipulate the public by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. As climate change anxiety rose, the carbon majors obfuscated. When scientists spoke out, they were attacked.

If you feel anxiety about enjoying the fruits of advancing technology, it’s because the carbon majors want you to conflate global heating and climate change with those technological advances in order to protect their profits. If you are not in the upper 0.1 percent of the monied elite, don’t believe that for even a minute.

The general public has been targeted by concerted public relations campaigns for centuries that justify the cognitive dissonance created by the carbon majors’ obscene profits at the public’s expense. Science would still have advanced without the carbon majors and many more, including indigenous people everywhere, would have profited from a better-considered use of non-renewable fossil fuels.

Purveying dysfunctional anxiety as normal is now part of business-as-usual. Cognitive dissonance psychopathology has been promoted as normal. Normal has to change if the world is to survive.

Sources and some material quoted from:



Part 2

The Evidentiary Basis for Accountability

Notice, Opportunity, and Failure to Act

found at:


© 2017 Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

Smoke and Fumes: The Legal and Evidentiary Basis for Holding Big Oil Accountable for the Climate Crisis by The Center for International Environmental Law is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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I’ve also speculated upon where this is heading in a previous article.



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