For 50 years, thanks to lavishly funded disinformation campaigns and targeted political contributions from the fossil fuel industry, climate change has been dismissed as a “hoax” or “uncertain” science. 

All this was cynically accomplished in the face of the industry’s own science that emphatically, unequivocally — and secretly — linked fossil fuels to inevitable catastrophic climate change.

As early as 1968 and throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the industry subsidized research that identified fossil fuels as the major culprit in global warming and predicted serious impacts by 2000. The findings were provided to the American Petroleum Institute and its many industry members and were reinforced in subsequent studies.

When it comes to self-aggrandizing lies, Vladimir Putin has nothing on ExxonMobil. 

The fossil fuel barons buried the climate science in an avalanche of mendacity that’s only now beginning to melt under the crushing heat dome of 2023.

So, here we are. On this patriotic holiday weekend, the impacts of all that corporate treachery and deceit are inescapable. 

Never mind your political affiliations or whether you bought into the propaganda campaign out of naivete or self-interest, you’re experiencing the consequences. 

We all are.

Folks in the Northeast and Midwest have been stunned by suffocating hazardous air pollution caused by smoke from hundreds of Canadian wildfires, the kind of conditions that have ruined so many summer days in Colorado in recent years. 

Forget about holiday picnics. Along the lakes of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, where so many legendary summer celebrations have been enjoyed, residents are forced to stay inside with the windows closed.

Game of sheepshead, anyone?

The South from Oklahoma and Texas to Florida is broiling under an unrelenting heat wave. Long-planned events are being canceled as the triple-digit temperatures linger and public health officials warn residents to restrict outdoor activities and hunker down for the foreseeable future.


But be careful about cranking up the air conditioning or there will be power outages across the notoriously finicky Texas electrical grid. 

Maybe try fanning yourselves with your 10-gallon hats.

Let them eat ice cubes, I say.

For some of us in Colorado who are experiencing a momentary respite from 20 years of severe drought and its accompanying heat waves, wildfires and acrid smoke-filled air, a bit of schadenfreude might be forgiven.

Now they know what it’s like, we say. It’s about freakin’ time.

This year, after an epic snow season and a wet spring, we’ll (carefully) fire up our grills, take hikes in the (mostly) fresh air, (tentatively) watch fireworks displays and do our best to enjoy the traditional summertime pleasures in ways that have been all but impossible in recent years.

At least that’s the hope. 

As we learned from the Marshall, East Troublesome, Cameron Peak, Pine Gulch, Hayman and so many other disastrous wildfires, conditions can change quickly. Keep that evacuation bag nearby.

Preparing to flee and making sure the disaster insurance premiums are paid are just a couple examples of climate adaptation and they’re about all we can do as the climate change behemoth barrels ahead with no relief in sight.

Except … we can sue.

States and municipalities from Hawaii to Rhode Island, Maryland, California, Oregon and Colorado have filed lawsuits in state courts against ExxonMobil, Chevron, Suncor, Shell and others.

The City and County of Boulder and San Miguel Country are among the plaintiffs in the litigation. Their lawsuit actually was filed three years before the Marshall fire destroyed 1,000 homes and caused an estimated $2 billion in damages in Boulder County.

They were prescient.

Then, in what is considered an encouraging victory, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that the lawsuit can proceed in state court over the objections of the oil and gas industry, the defendants.

The city’s mayor is eager for the legal case to have its day in court.

“Oil companies are making record profits while our planet continues to warm,” Mayor Aaron Brockett said when the decision was handed down. “It’s only fair that the companies that profit from irresponsible actions compensate communities for the harm they cause.”

The plaintiffs have cited the deliberate deception in the industry’s disinformation campaigns, calling it fraudulent activity that has inflicted untold harm on the environment and local economies.

Of course, even if the plaintiffs succeed and win billions — or trillions — in damages, this won’t stop the heat waves, the wildfires, the hazardous air days and all the other climate catastrophes from continuing until long after we’re gone.

But it just might make a difference for our grandchildren.

Imagine a day when ExxonMobil and its ilk are forced to pay for their lies and profligate destruction of the planet by compensating victims (all of us) for our losses and financing alternative energy solutions.

It’s not so out there.

After all, they could have been in the forefront of clean energy development. They knew back in the ’60s that the fossil fuel economy was doomed. They had every advantage over the little solar and wind startups that have come and gone since then, falling victim to predatory fuel pricing and hostile pro-O&G regulation.

They blew it — for all of us.

Even in the realm of hard-nosed, bottom-line business decision-making, they failed spectacularly. 

As Warren Buffett’s partner Charlie Munger says, “Any year that you don’t destroy one of your best-loved ideas is probably a wasted year.”

The oil and gas industry has wasted more than five decades. It recklessly clung to  a demonstrably bad idea, and we’ve all paid dearly for it.

Time to settle up.

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.

The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to (Learn more about how to submit a column.)

Read more opinion. Follow Colorado Sun Opinion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @dccarman