For years, a planned and systematic effort to mislead the public discussion and twist the public’s understanding of climate change has been going on. Deniers go after the science of global warming saying it’s inconclusive. Though ninety-seven percent climate scientists agree, climate change is real and the trends over the past century are extremely likely to be the reason due to human activities. During this period, two industries have made a profit like no other before, compromising people’s health and environment–tobacco and fossil fuel industry. And both of the industry have tried to wash their hands off with their money, power and advertising.

The tobacco industry produces 6.7 million tonnes of tobacco every year. Tobacco is a risk factor for some 25 diseases, and its use causes nearly 7 million deaths per year globally. This is far greater than the number of deaths from all illegal drugs and alcohol combined. The death toll is expected to rise to 10 million per year by 2020, with 7 million deaths occurring in developing countries. The WHO predicts nearly 80% of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries.

Tobacco cultivation itself is a complicated process requires massive use of pesticides, growth controls, and artificial manure. These creates environmental health problems, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. One hectare (ha) of a forest is needed to dry every acre of tobacco. Nearly 600 million trees are destroyed each year to provide trees to dry tobacco.

Just losing this many carbon dioxides absorbing trees leaves at least 22 million net tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, roughly equivalent to burning 2.8 billion gallons of gasoline. In advanced countries, fossil fuel is used to dry tobacco leaves. However, resource-scarce countries depend on wood for fuel to dry tobacco. 73% of the 4.2 million hectares of land that grow tobacco around the world is in poorer countries. The tobacco industry has contributed to this tobacco epidemic, and it should be held responsible for its portion of the clean-up.

Last month, carbon dioxide failed to drop below 400 parts per million, a month of the year that usually has the lowest carbon dioxide values. The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, but natural processes can only absorb about half of that amount, so there is a net increase of 10.65 billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate. In the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85 Celsius. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause a quarter of a million deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. The direct damage costs to health are supposed to be within US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030. The fossil fuel industry has contributed to this disaster that jeopardises our future, and it should be held responsible for its portion of the clean-up.

But both industries for decades have sponsored deniers to save their businesses. Their funds are the reason we see consistent phrases from deniers. And it all started with Philip Morris, the tobacco giant and many others in both of the industries later followed. Nine out of ten climate denier scientists have a link with ExxonMobil. Other than making the human and environmental sphere toxic, they have many other things in common:

Tobacco Industry Fossil Fuel Industry
Profit first Profit First
knew about tobacco impact on lung cancer for 50 years knew about fossil fuel impact on climate change for 40 years
Tried to keep it secret Tried to keep it secret
Denied tobacco impact on health Denied fossil fuel impact on climate
Funded people to deny effects of smoking funded climate change denial
Used Marketing and advertising Used marketing and advertising to move focus from climate change

As a direct result of decades of tobacco industry wrongful behaviour, disease and health care costs arising from tobacco use are far higher than would otherwise be the case. As a direct result of decades of fossil fuel industries wrongful actions, we now in an irreversible state of nature.

Both of these industries should not get off the hook for the tremendous damage resulting from their poor business practices. These practices will likely continue until they are held entirely responsible for its actions. During the conference of the parties in Marrakesh, this should be emphasised on. The companies must pay their fair share of the damage and must be held accountable for their behaviour. Time is a commodity we don’t have, and we have to act now. Otherwise, the environment will continue to have irreversible impact human life and health.

Palash Sanyal

About Palash Sanyal

A development practitioner currently based in Bangladesh. Interests involve facilitation, creating data visualisation and community engagement in climate change.Follow him on Twitter @prsanyal.