Richard Heede is a methodical guy. Someone who likes to "pay attention to detail." It was a necessary quality when calculating the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the world's leading companies. For years, with few resources, Heede dug through files and reports from the industrial age to today. When he finished the task, he concluded that only 90 companies originated two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions. And therefore they are responsible for climate change.
Heede was born in Norway but raised in the United States. When he was studying geography at the University of Colorado, as reported by journalist Douglas Starr in Science magazine, he became interested in the subsidies that the Ronald Reagan government granted to the fossil fuel industry and the elimination of support for renewable energy. Thus he began to immerse himself in one of the greatest challenges facing the planet: climate change.
In 2003, the municipal government of Aspen, Colorado, hired him to calculate all the CO2 emissions for that locality. Heede devised a methodology and began collecting the data. It calculated the number of emissions generated by all the air travel made by the inhabitants of the city. Also the tons of CO2 corresponding to all the trips of the nearly 13,000 Aspen vehicles.
That work caught the attention of Peter Roderick of Greenpeace's Climate Justice program. Roderick asked him to calculate the CO2 emissions generated in its entire history by the Exxon company. After fifteen months, in which he dug through archives since 1870 on two continents, he concluded that the oil company, directly and indirectly, was responsible for 4.7% to 5.3% of humanity's greenhouse gas emissions. .
His data began to bother. For some of the experts, their approach is wrong. Companies cannot be blamed for a responsibility that falls on everyone. Others believe that when the responsibility belongs to everyone, it does not belong to anyone. Heede has said that most citizens simply do not have a choice. Their decisions are already determined by those industries and the economic system.
As Starr recounted in his report, the next task Greenpeace commissioned Heede was to calculate the emissions of the largest hydrocarbon companies. In 2013 he published his results in a scientific journal and stirred up the debate on climate justice. Between 1791 and 2011, 90 companies were responsible for 63% of global emissions. Only the eight largest accounted for 20%.
A month ago, Heede was summoned to the US House of Representatives because some of its members believe that he is part of a conspiracy to affect the image of those companies. "This is a campaign to intimidate and stop scientific research," Heede told Science.