(Bloomberg) -- Executives from Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc were urged by U.S. lawmakers to abandon the leading oil-industry trade group and cut off funds to any groups sowing doubts about climate science.
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During a congressional hearing Thursday, U.S. Representative Ro Khanna pressed Gretchen Watkins, the president of Shell’s U.S. unit, and other executives to quit the American Petroleum Institute, which he said actively opposed government subsidies for electric vehicles.
They declined to make such a commitment. The demand came amid a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing during which executives were quizzed about what they knew about the causes of global warming and when, and whether they worked to undermine climate-protection efforts.
It’s the first time since BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill more than a decade ago that top industry executives have appeared together before lawmakers in the nation’s capital. Campaigners hope they can tease out statements that will help turn public opinion and aid lawsuits against fossil fuels as happened with Big Tobacco in the 1990s.
“They are obviously lying like the tobacco executives were,” U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who chairs the committee, said after a particularly tense exchange with Exxon Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods.
The probe comes as President Joe Biden struggles to keep key climate policies in his spending bill, which is crucial to implementing the infrastructure goals that were a cornerstone of his campaign. Moderate Democrats and Republicans are blocking large portions of Biden’s climate efforts amid deep divisions within his own party ahead of a key climate summit in Glasgow begins next week.
As such, Democrats are keen to use the hearing to ramp up public pressure on the fossil-fuel industry in the hopes of getting stronger climate provisions passed.
Maloney presented Exxon’s Woods with a series of documents and statements from Exxon’s own scientists that fossil fuels were the main man-made cause of climate change as far back as 1978 and contrasted them with the company’s public statements.
She particularly emphasized former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond’s skeptical comments about the state of climate science in the 1990s.
“No I do not agree that there was an inconsistency,” Woods said. Exxon’s scientific understanding was “entirely consistent” with the wider scientific community and has evolved over time, he said. “Our messaging has been that this is a complex problem that requires thoughtful, practical solutions.”
But that did not satisfy Maloney, who played a clip of former Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy caught on camera by Greenpeace saying the company worked with “shadow groups” to combat climate science.
Shell’s Watkins told lawmakers that as early as 1991 the corporation was raising concerns about climate change and created an educational film on the topic for schools and universities.
“Shell has long advocated for governmental policies that will reduce fossil fuel demand, stimulate innovation in clean energy technologies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and ensure access to reliable and affordable energy,” Watkins said in written testimony.
Last month, lawmakers requested documents and internal communications related to climate disinformation but “to date all the fossil fuel entities have failed to adequately comply with the Committee’s request,” the committee said on its website.
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In a grassy patch of public park in central Warsaw last week, archaeologists dug up a rusted metal coat hook and the tangled chain of a decayed necklace. The objects couldn't be more ordinary. Or more extraordinary.
The team excavated them from the buried rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, where German occupiers sealed hundreds of thousands of Poland's Jews into crowded, desperate squalor during World War II and over 80,000 died inside the walls of starvation, exposure and infectious diseases. Amid the twisted metal and bits of glass, the archaeologists unearthed small, unassuming remnants of daily life, suspended in hardened earth "like a time capsule," says Philip Reeder, a professor of natural and environmental science at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University and chief cartographer for the group working on the dig.
A fork. A light-green heart-shaped keepsake. A palm-size silver memorial medallion for a man named Morgenstern who died in 1880, inscribed in Hebrew.
"It makes you think," Reeder muses of the tiny heart. "Did it belong to a child who lived in that house and most likely ended up dead when the ghetto was liquidated?"Fragments of a Jewish prayerbook found buried in Warsaw's Krasinskich Park last week under the crushed remains of a metal box. Philip Reeder
The excavation is part of a broader effort to fill gaps in Holocaust history using geoscientific tools such as ground-penetrating radar; GPS systems; magnetometers, which study variations in Earth's geomagnetic field; and electrical resistivity tomography, a technique typically used for engineering and environmental investigations that images subsurface structures down as far as 660 feet (200 meters). Geoscience allows for what's called "non-invasive archaeology."
"Archaeology is the most destructive science on Earth," says Richard Freund, an archaeologist and professor of Jewish studies at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. "What's good about the geoscience is you don't destroy anything before you stick a spade in the earth. It's not very labor intensive and, most importantly, it's not very expensive."
Because these advanced tools identify and map historical sites without disturbing human remains, they also enable searches that honor the view held by some that digging up Holocaust graves disrespects the victims.
"It's a game changer for Holocaust studies," says Freund. He heads a multidisciplinary geo-archaeological research group aimed at unearthing lost Holocaust history to preserve the past and to protect the future from similar depravity. The group includes Geoscientists Without Borders, a program of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists that applies geoscience to humanitarian efforts."You get to tell the stories of people who can't."
Philip Reeder, chief cartographer for the excavation team
This summer in Warsaw's Krasinskich Park, a powerful metal detector turned up an anomaly that Freund's team thought could be part of the Ringelblum Archive, a vast undercover cache of documents collected by as many as 60 volunteers determined to bear witness to Jewish life in Poland under Nazi occupation. The archive contains tens of thousands of invaluable items that testify to terror and suffering, but also to courage and acts of defiance. Collated in secret, the archive itself represents one such act.In Krasinskich Park, archaeologists dig up an area about 10 feet by 23 feet. After geoscientific tools helped them pinpoint a spot likely to hide valuable historical documents, the Polish government granted the team an excavation permit. Philip Reeder
The archive -- spearheaded by Warsaw-based Jewish historian and political activist Emanuel Ringelblum starting in fall 1939 when Germany invaded Poland -- includes underground newspapers, essays, letters, postcards, diaries, last wills and testaments, tram tickets, ration tickets, Nazi decrees, school schedules and original drawings, literature and poetry by Jewish artists and intellectuals that bring daily life in wartime Warsaw and beyond to vivid life.
In 1946, one of the few survivors of the ghetto guided a search party to metal boxes filled with archive documents amid the ghetto's ruins. Polish construction workers building new apartments chanced upon two milk cans holding more archive material in 1950. Another milk can has long been rumored -- based on diaries like Ringelblum's -- to be hidden at the site of an old brushmaker's shop near the ghetto's edge.
The archaeologists had hoped the metal object detected this summer would be that missing piece. Instead, they dug into the rocky earth last week to find a large steel beam collapsed on top of brick walls.
This was a letdown, but still a significant victory, as the other, more subtle artifacts they found carry their own historical and emotional value.
"In many ways it's a somber experience," Reeder says of uncovering such everyday relics. "But in many ways it's an exhilarating experience. You get to tell the stories of people who can't."
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Freund has led international teams exploring some 30 Holocaust-era sites in Poland, Latvia, Greece and Lithuania. There, researchers have mapped sites of mass burials and used radar and radio waves to uncover a 100-foot (30-meter) hidden escape tunnel leading out of a little-known Nazi extermination site at Ponar forest, known today as Paneriai. Eighty Jewish prisoners dug the tunnel over 76 nights using only their hands and rudimentary tools like spoons.
Just 12 prisoners managed to make it through the escape tunnel to the forest, with 11 surviving to recount constructing the passageway and squeezing through it to avoid massacre. But until Freund's team found the tunnel, there hadn't been physical evidence to reinforce the survivors' accounts.
More than 100,000 people died at Ponar, bullet by bullet, including 70,000 Jews, as well as Poles and Russians. The tunnel's discovery sheds light on another piece of the story: the tenacity and hope some prisoners still managed to harbor in the most unspeakable circumstances.
"We're using science to help write or rewrite history," Reeder says.An electrical resistivity tomography reading from Krasinskich Park. The vertical patterns show the presence of buried Warsaw Ghetto walls, while the small white rectangle superimposed on the horizontal line at 52 meters shows where an EM61 metal detector located an object that turned out to be a steel beam. Philip Reeder
Electrical resistivity tomography images the ground's subsurface by assessing the transition of electrical charges at various depths. Because different materials conduct electricity in different ways, the ERT instrument can delineate between stone, sand, clay, organic material or open voids buried underground. It reports findings back to an attached monitor and, after processing the information with ERT-specific software, generates images that outline the shape of the underground finds.Mikaela Martínez Dettinger watches the monitor on an electrical resistivity tomography instrument for signs of subterranean objects in Warsaw's Krasinskich Park this summer. BGC Engineering in Calgary loaned the geoscience equipment free of charge. Mikaela Martínez Dettinger
"There's nothing it cannot locate," Freund says.
In July, 21-year-old Christopher Newport University undergraduate Mikaela Martínez Dettinger stood in Krasinskich Park and watched tangible pieces of the past pulled from the ground attached to electricity-conducting metal ERT stakes as passersby rode their bikes and pushed strollers in the afternoon heat.
"The tips of [the stakes] were all stained terracotta orange, and it was because we had literally been hammering them into the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto factory that was right beneath our feet," says Martínez Dettinger, a senior studying political science, philosophy and comparative religion who joined Freund in Poland as a research intern this summer.
"I never want to make it sound like I know what it would have been like to be in [ghetto inhabitants'] shoes," Martínez Dettinger added, "but you can feel in your heart the sorrow or the feelings of anger or persistence these people must have felt."
Martínez Dettinger, who wants to pursue a career in archaeology, worries her generation doesn't know enough about Holocaust horrors. She cites a 2020 national survey of Holocaust awareness among American millennials and members of Gen Z from 50 states. Of all survey respondents, 63% didn't know 6 million Jews were murdered and 36% thought "2 million or fewer Jews" were killed. Of those polled, 48% couldn't name a single ghetto or concentration camp.
This summer, visiting the most notorious of those camps, Auschwitz, Martínez Dettinger walked the path that prisoners took to the gas chambers where they took their last breaths. And she toured warehouses where prisoners sorted fellow inmates' suitcases and other personal effects. As she stepped off a gravel path onto the floor of one warehouse, she noticed the sound of her footsteps changing and realized she was standing on hundreds of buttons that had once fastened shirts, possibly like the one she was wearing that day."The science helps prove if atrocities have taken place and can be used to demonstrate war crimes."
Alastair McClymont, geophysicist and member of the excavation team
With most Holocaust survivors now in their 80s and 90s, fewer and fewer are alive to share their memories. Holocaust deniers distort the facts of the mass extermination or claim it never happened at all. Earlier this month, a Texas school district came under fire after an administrator discussed with teachers the potential need to offer "opposing" views of the Holocaust, based on a new state law that requires teachers to present multiple perspectives when covering "widely debated and currently controversial" issues.
"The science helps prove if atrocities have taken place and can be used to demonstrate war crimes," says Alastair McClymont, a Calgary-based geophysicist and environmental consultant who joined the Ponar excavation in 2016 and just returned home from working on the Warsaw dig. "Holocaust education helps young people understand how important it is to protect human rights and keep democracies from failing."A page from the handwritten last will and testament of 19-year-old Dawid Graber, one of the Jewish volunteers who hid the Ringelblum Archive in the Warsaw Ghetto before German forces liquidated it in 1943. Documents from the archive are preserved at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images
"May this treasure end up in good hands, may it live to see better times. May it alarm and alert the world to what happened," 19-year-old Dawid Graber, one of the Jewish volunteers who hid the Ringelblum Archive, wrote in his last will and testament.
The Ringelblum Archive isn't the only trove of eyewitness testimony to survive the Holocaust, but it's considered the most comprehensive, valuable chronicle of Jewish life in occupied Poland, and a vital piece in the history of Jewish resistance. UNESCO included the archive in its Memory of the World register, alongside the original manuscripts of composer Frederic Chopin and writings by astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.In 1946, a Warsaw Ghetto survivor led a search team to the location of buried metal boxes containing parts of the Ringelblum Archive. A Polish construction worker chanced upon more archive contents in 1950. Yad Vashem
Sealed off in November 1940, the Warsaw Ghetto confined more than 350,000 Jews, about 30% of the city's population, into 2.4% of the city's total area, or about 1.3 square miles. German SS and police forces liquidated the ghetto in May 1943 following the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a monthlong armed revolt of Jewish ghetto residents trying to prevent their deportation to death camps.
Before the ghetto's obliteration, the archivists -- a group code-named Oyneg Shabes ("Sabbath pleasure") -- strategically hid the archive, divided in three parts to increase the chance at least some of the documents might survive. They also transmitted to the Polish underground all the information they'd recorded about deportations and murders. The underground smuggled the materials out of the country so the free world could learn first-hand of the horrors taking place.
But as Warsaw was rebuilt post-war, some city maps shifted, and that has complicated the search for the archive's missing piece.
Using subsurface mapping techniques, Freund's team surmised that the wartime location of the brushmaker's shop at 34 Świętojerska Street doesn't correspond with the modern-day 34 Świętojerska Street, where the Chinese embassy now stands -- and where another team using traditional archaeology methods already tried, unsuccessfully, to find the missing part of the archive. The geoscientists concluded the old shop can now be found across the street beneath Krasinskich Park, countering long-held assumptions about the best place to search for the lost section of the archive.
"We solved an 80-year-old mystery," Freund says.
At the end of one long workday in the park this summer, Martínez Dettinger found Freund sitting on an equipment bin, staring transfixed at a section of grass with pink flags stuck in it to indicate scanners had found an object of interest. She asked him a question, but he couldn't seem to summon the words to answer.
"He could not take his eyes off the piece of grass, and he looked at me and goes, 'This could be the Ringelblum Archive,'" Martínez Dettinger recalls. "It felt like a moment out of a movie."
Last week's excavation might not have produced the cinematic scene the team envisioned, at least not yet. But they hope the Polish government will issue further permits so they can excavate more of the area they've identified as the former 34 Świętojerska Street.
"What we were unable to cry and shriek out to the world, we buried in the ground," the young Dawid Graber wrote. Now that Freund's team has pinpointed the original location of the brushmaker's shop, they're determined to make more silenced voices heard.
"The work," Freund says, "will continue."
Science may finally unravel the centuries-old, paranormal tale of the Bell family haunting, a story that’s captured the imagination of area residents and Hollywood executives alike for more than 200 years.
Austin Peay State University's Dr. Meagan Mann, an assistant professor of chemistry, talked about her research and subsequent theories on the Bell Witch during a Science on Tap event, held in Clarksville earlier this month.
“I’m hoping that people can see this old and magical case through new and scientific eyes,” Mann said in prepared statements, ahead of an interview with The Leaf-Chronicle.
Ancient and modern folklore suggests the Bell Witch poisoned the family's patriarch John Bell, something Mann’s research can explain through science.Where the research began
Mann began researching the Bell Witch in 2008 and appeared in the debut of A&E’s new American documentary drama and paranormal investigative series, Cursed: The Bell Witch. The five-part show premiered in October of 2015 and was filmed on location in Adams, Tenn.
She became interested in the legend shortly after moving to Robertson County, when she spotted the Bell Witch cave sign on Interstate 24's exit 11.
“I didn’t know what it was, so I was curious, and that’s when I started looking into it,” Mann said, noting that one of the biggest draws to the tale is its believability.
“It has some level of truth behind it which is unusual for a ghost story. We know that John Bell and his family were real people. There are records that these people lived here in this area, and so that kind of sets it apart from a lot of other legends in a way that’s kind of fun, I think.”The Bell Witch legend explained
The story starts with John Bell, a farmer from North Carolina who moved with his family to a 320-acre, northern Robertson County farm in 1804.
For more than a decade, the Bell family lived in peace, until strange events began occurring around the farm and their home in the summer of 1817. They began to see strange-looking animals and heard knocking sounds on the door and walls at night, according to legend.
Other disturbing sounds included rats gnawing on bed posts, chains dragging through the home, stones dropping on the floor and gulping and choking sounds.
Eventually, the family made contact with a paranormal entity who identified itself as the witch of a neighbor named Kate Batts. From then on, it was known as Kate or the Bell Witch.
For the next three years, “Kate” tormented the family, none more so than John Bell and his daughter, Betsy Bell, who was pinched, scratched, stuck with pins and beaten, according to legend. Some historians say the witch's efforts were meant to keep Betsy Bell from marrying the family's neighbor Joshua Gardner and to ultimately kill John Bell – though no reason as to why had ever been provided.
In December of 1820, John Bell died from poisoning. Betsy Bell broke off her engagement with Gardner the following year.
Over the last century, it’s thought that “Kate” has returned twice, once in 1828 and again in 1935 – though many local residents believe she's never truly left the area and remains in Adams today.
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Tennessee towns: Self-guided Tennessee road trips promise big fun from some small townsPoisoned, but with what? © Larry Mccormack/Tennessean The Bell Witch historical marker in Adams.
For Mann, one of the most fascinating aspects of the legend has to do with John Bell’s medical symptoms.
“At the bottom of that story is really a poisoning... John Bell was supposedly poisoned to death,” she said.
In an effort to learn more, she dove into a written account of the haunting, Our Family Trouble: The Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee by Richard Williams Bell, John Bell’s son.
“His son talked about all of these strange medical symptoms he was having, and a lot of them sounded very neurological to me, as someone who knows a bit about things like biochemistry and toxicology,” Mann said.
“He would have trouble swallowing, and his tongue felt weird... he would start getting this weird twitching sensation in his face, and eventually, it grew to the point where it was kind of impacting him in other parts of his body – and if that happened to someone now, and you went to your doctor, they would send you to a neurologist."
Even if John Bell's medical ailments could be explained, the fantastical events are less easily understood.
“We have no way to authenticate them one way or the other,” Mann said. “Like his shoes would go flying off, and they just couldn’t be kept on his feet, and he felt like he was being smacked in the night... we can’t make heads or tails of any of that.”John Bell's final days © File This log cabin near the Bell Witch Cave is a replica; the original cabin is located behind the schoolhouse in Adams, Tenn. on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2007.
In the book, Richard Bell goes into detail about his father's final days.
“One morning, they couldn’t get him up,” Mann said, adding that family members discovered a smoky-looking vial full of a dark-colored liquid after John Bell fell into the coma.
“And that could be anything. I mean, that could be coffee right,” she said.
But legend says the witch, who could speak, claimed the liquid was a poison she had given him the night before, with the intention to kill him, something she'd been threatening to do for some time.
Hearing this, the family decided to give the liquid to a cat to see if it really was a poison. The cat died after ingesting it, and the family doctor said the liquid shared a similar smell with the scent on John Bell's breath, according to Richard Williams Bell's account.
The family decided to destroy the poison by throwing it in the fire, and it ignited a blue flame.
But, a blue-colored flame isn’t all that strange, Mann argued.
Neither are the neurological symptoms John Bell faced.
“If you look at these neurological symptoms, those often times are caused by heavy metal poisoning,” she said.
Spooky stories: Ghost stories around West TennesseeThe investigation deepens
Looking back to 1817, when the haunting began, Mann discovered about 50 known elements, 10 of which could cause the blue flame the family observed.
This led her to investigate arsenic and lead as possible poisons.
Lead was quickly debunked because John Bell could quickly recover from his symptoms. The heavy metal also remains in the body for a long period of time, continually building on itself.
It didn't add up. But arsenic did.
It's a solution that can be explained in the death of the cat as well, Mann said. Cats lack a certain type of metabolism known as glucuronic acid conjugation, leading Mann to believe the chemical used to poison John was metabolized through that pathway.
Arsenic is metabolized through glucuronic acid conjugation, allowing the body to quickly recover from small doses. It can be fatal in doses as small as 0.3 grams, much less than lead’s lethal dose of 21 grams. At the time, arsenic was widely available. It could be found in nearly every barn as it was commonly used as a rodenticide to keep mice and rat populations down around farms.
Arsenic poisoning also aligned with many other details in the story, including the blue flame and John Bell's facial and muscle twitching, Mann said.
“And when you combine all those together, those details that Richard Williams Bell wrote about make sense,” she said. “The less paranormal stuff points to a very logical and common poisoning of that time and era.”Arsenic poisoning reaches its peak
Mann believes John Bell was a victim of long-term arsenic poisoning. She believes he received small doses of the poison over the course of about three years, after the symptoms first occurred, and a large, fatal dose on the night before he died.
“We know that back then arsenic poisoning became such an issue that many places in the United States and in Europe, where it was happening a lot, were actually making laws, specifically to punish people who were accused and found guilty of poisoning people with arsenic,” she said.
“It was such a big thing, they had to make a law for it.”
As for who could have done the poisoning, Mann says it would be purely speculative.
“It could have been anyone,” she said.
The Bell family was considered a wealthy family in the early 1800’s. They had a number of enslaved people on the farm, and historical records from that time show enslaved people poisoning their enslavers, Mann said.
Historical evidence also shows abused wives poisoning their husbands.
“I mean, it could have been someone that didn’t like them from church,” she said, illustrating how difficult it would be to figure out who may have actually poisoned John Bell. “Like any folklore and legend, every time it gets retold, it gets changed to be more crazy and more fantastical.”
Katie Nixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (615) 517-1285.
This article originally appeared on Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle: Bell Witch lore spins dark tale, but could science explain it all?