The Role of Information Professionals in the unfolding Apocalypse

This morning the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds until midnight. It’s never been this close to midnight before – but with the real threats of nuclear war, climate collapse, increasing rise of fascism, global economic inequality, and the resulting social unrest it isn’t really a surprise that they moved it.

Also this week there was a New York Times article about how Exxon scientists knew back in 1972 how burning fossil fuels would lead to human caused climate change. Exxon knew! This isn’t really a surprise that they knew and lied to keep their business in tact. It’s just another day in this world run by oil oligopolies. It also made me think of how starting in the 90s (and probably before) many oil companies started touting their research into “clean energy” like natural gas, wind, and solar – but now it is clear that it was a cynical PR move. Not to say there wasn’t good work or research to come out of those efforts, but they were doomed from the start because it was never going to be in the interests of Exxon, Shell, BP, etc to ever move away from selling oil.

And through all of this work, there were librarians and information professionals working to help these companies. Which makes me wonder – what did they know?

Long ago I had considered possibly working for an “energy” company (the way many oil companies refer to themselves, which isn’t incorrect but also pointedly excludes that energy in their case is oil, which is carbon intensive). I wanted to help the world, to fight climate change, and perhaps working for one of these companies would be an avenue? I knew many colleagues through SLA that worked for various oil companies. One of my former bosses worked for a couple. It paid better than UC, seemed stable, and likely interesting.

But also extremely dirty.

And as the years have gone by and we have learned not only that companies like Exxon knew they were causing climate change and how it would lead to ecological collapse, they were at the same time actively subverting research and technology with greenwashing and lobbying efforts to maintain the status quo and keep the oil oligopolies on top. And there are lots of librarians and information professionals who were a part of that.

Oil companies are only one sector that has enriched itself at the expense of the world. Transportation is intertwined with them closely – see Axios’ story this week about the literal growth of SUVs.Defense contractors are another offshoot, though you could argue their clients’ ultimate goal is to maintain control of access to oil. And through this all, again, there are librarians and information (and knowledge) professionals helping this organizations achieve their goals at the expense of life on this planet.

So while people think of how public librarians are fighting for democracy, I’m thinking of some corporate library doing their small part (likely without much consideration for the implications) to help bring about climate collapse.

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