Two major Michigan based car manufacturers knew for decades about the harmful impacts vehicle emissions have on the environment, a new investigation from E&E News revealed.
The energy and environment news outlet says researchers at Ford Motor Company and General Motors revealed “strong evidence in the 1960s and 1970s that human activity was warming the Earth.”
The findings are “disturbing as a Michigander,” said Kate Madigan, director of the Michigan Climate Action Network.
‘“To see this evidence that what we suspected is true, that our car manufacturers have known about climate change for 50 years, and not only did they not take proactive steps to fight climate change and to change their business model so that they wouldn’t have an enormous impact on the problem, but they also actively worked to undermine efforts to fight climate change.”
According to E&E News, GM and Ford knew their cars had a negative impact on the environment, yet the companies did nothing at the time, and for years later, to acknowledge the impact their vehicles had on the planet or shift away from fossil fuels. Instead, the companies donated money to groups that spread doubt about the scientific consensus of global warming.
Several GM and Ford scientists uncovered evidence that the emissions from cars and trucks was causing the atmosphere to warm at an unnatural rate. One was Canadian physicist Gilbert Norman Plass at Ford.
He published two pieces that “made a bold claim: Humanity was responsible for heating the Earth since 1900 by burning fossil fuels and pumping massive quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere,” E&E News wrote. It is unclear if Plass shared his findings with top executives at Ford, but the article does assert that Ford and GM privately confirmed the risks of climate change.
When NASA scientist James Hansen alerted the world to the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions in June of 1988 before a Congressional hearing, GM and Ford, “engaged in a concerted campaign to block climate action while casting doubt on the emerging consensus on global warming,” the article states.
GM didn’t start producing electric vehicles until the mid-90s. Around the same time, Ford released an all-electric Ranger pickup truck.
Madigan said if Ford and GM hadn’t pushed the gas-guzzling Hummer or marketed SUVs or focused on electric vehicles sooner, the impact of climate change might have been reduced.
“If there weren’t lobbying efforts, if they had just done that, we would I think we would be in a different place right now,” she said. “They actively funded operations that were undermining the message. I mean, we’ve seen decades of climate denial, we’ve seen decades of inaction in Congress, even though the science has been so clear.”
Emissions from transportation is the largest contributor to climate change.
In her story for E&E News, reporter Maxine Joselow says the investigation took five months and included “more than two dozen interviews with former GM and Ford employees, retired auto industry executives, academics, and environmentalists.” The outlet also obtained “hundreds of pages of documents” on GM’s corporate history and documents on Ford’s climate research.
Ford spokesman John Cangany said in an email to MLive that the company knows “climate change is real and we are addressing it right now through meaningful greenhouse gas emissions reductions, investment in electric vehicles and sustainable manufacturing.
GM spokesperson Jeannine Ginivan said in an email to MLive that the company is committed to an “all-electric future.”
“Climate change is something our company takes very seriously and recognizes the role the transportation sector has in contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “This is the driving force behind our vision of a future with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”
According to E&E News, the company also said, “There is nothing we can say about events that happened one or two generations ago since they are irrelevant to the company’s positions and strategy today.”
But Madigan said what the company did in the past is relevant to today.
“That’s not a satisfactory answer,” she said. “What happened decades ago is why we’re seeing what we’re seeing now.”
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