Scandalous dishonesty – Exxon and climate change

Scandal! Exxon knew about climate change, boosted denialism, misled shareholders, went carbon heavy, Ecologist Bill McKibben 9th March 2016  One of the world’s biggest energy companies has been caught out in what may be the biggest ever climate scandal, writes Bill McKibben. Way back in the 1980s ExxonMobil knew of the ‘potentially catastrophic’ and ‘irreversible’ effects of increasing fossil fuel consumption, but chose to cover up the findings, spread misinformation on climate change, and go for high carbon energy sources……….

Exxon twisted the facts to further its own agenda

So here’s what happened. Exxon used its knowledge of climate change to plan its own future. The company, for instance, leased large tracts of the Arctic for oil exploration, territory where, as a company scientist pointed out in 1990, “potential global warming can only help lower exploration and development costs.”

Not only that but, “from the North Sea to the Canadian Arctic,” Exxon and its affiliates set about “raising the decks of offshore platforms, protecting pipelines from increasing coastal erosion, and designing helipads, pipelines, and roads in a warming and buckling Arctic.”In other words, the company started climate-proofing its facilities to head off a future its own scientists knew was inevitable.

But in public? There, Exxon didn’t own up to any of this. In fact, it did precisely the opposite. In the 1990s, it started to put money and muscle into obscuring the science around climate change. It funded think tanks that spread climate denial and even recruited lobbying talent from the tobacco industry.

It also followed the tobacco playbook when it came to the defence of cigarettes by highlighting ‘uncertainty’ about the science of global warming. And it spent lavishly to back political candidates who were ready to downplay global warming.

Its CEO, Lee Raymond, even travelled to China in 1997 and urged government leaders there to go full steam ahead in developing a fossil fuel economy. The globe was cooling, not warming, he insisted, while his engineers were raising drilling platforms to compensate for rising seas.

“It is highly unlikely”, he said“that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.” This wasn’t just wrong, but completely and overwhelmingly wrong – as wrong as a man could be.

Sins of omission

In fact, Exxon’s deceit – its ability to discourage regulations for 20 years – may turn out to be absolutely crucial in the planet’s geological history. It’s in those two decades that greenhouse gas emissions soared; as did global temperatures until, in the twenty-first century, ‘hottest year ever recorded’ has become a tired cliché.

And here’s the bottom line: had Exxon told the truth about what it knew back in 1990, we might not have wasted a quarter of a century in a phony debate about the science of climate change, nor would anyone have accused Exxon of being ‘alarmist.’ We would simply have gotten to work.

But Exxon didn’t tell the truth. A Yale study published last fall in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that money from Exxon and the Koch Brothers played a key role in polarizing the climate debate in this country.

The company’s sins – of omission and commission – may even turn out to be criminal. Whether the company ‘lied to the public’ is the question that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman decided to investigate last fall in a case that could make him the great lawman of our era if his investigation doesn’t languish.

There are various consumer fraud statutes that Exxon might have violated and it might have failed to disclose relevant information to investors, which is the main kind of lying that’s illegal in this country of ours. Now, Schneiderman’s got back up from California Attorney General Kamala Harris, and maybe – if activists continue to apply pressure – from the Department of Justice as well, though it’s highly publicized unwillingness to go after the big banks does not inspire confidence.

Here’s the thing: all that was bad back then, but Exxon and many of its Big Energy peers are behaving at least as badly now when the pace of warming is accelerating. And it’s all legal – dangerous, stupid, and immoral, but legal.

Exxon finally admits global warming is occurring – but there’s no big problem………

The carbon tax and the political stonewall

In other words, we’re no longer talking about outright denial, just a denial that much really needs to be done. And even when the company has proposed doing something, its proposals have been strikingly ethereal. Exxon’s PR team, for instance, has discussedsupporting a price on carbon, which is only what economists left, right, and centre have been recommending since the 1980s.

But the minimal price they recommend – somewhere in the range of $40 to $60 a ton – wouldn’t do much to slow down their business. After all, they insist that all their reserves are still recoverable in the context of such a price increase, which would serve mainly to make life harder for the already terminal coal industry.

But say you think it’s a great idea to put a price on carbon – which, in fact, it is, since every signal helps sway investment decisions. In that case, Exxon’s done its best to make sure that what they pretend to support in theory will never happen in practice…….

Now the cover ups are being investigated – could Exxon be liable?

As with the tobacco companies in the decades when they were covering up the dangers of cigarettes, there’s a good chance that the Big Energy companies were in this together through their trade associations and other front groups.

In fact, just before Christmas, Inside Climate News published some revealing new documents about the role that Texaco, Shell, and other majors played in an American Petroleum Institute study of climate change back in the early 1980s. A trial would be a transformative event – a reckoning for the crime of the millennium.

But while we’re waiting for the various investigations to play out, there’s lots of organizing going at the state and local level when it comes to Exxon, climate change, and fossil fuels – everything from politely asking more states to join the legal process to politely shutting down gas stations for a few hours to pointing out to New York and California that they might not want to hold millions of dollars of stock in a company they’re investigating. It may even be starting to work.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, for instance, singled Exxon out in his state of the state address last month. He called on the legislature to divest the state of its holdings in the company because of its deceptions:

“This is a page right out of Big Tobacco, which for decades denied the health risks of their product as they were killing people. Owning ExxonMobil stock is not a business Vermont should be in.”

The question is: Why on God’s not so green Earth any more would anyone want to be Exxon’s partner?

Action: BreakFree2016, May 4-15 – a global wave of mass actions will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects, in order tokeep coal, oil and gas in the ground and accelerate the just transition to 100% renewable energy. Across the world, people are showing the courage toconfront polluters where they are most powerful – from the halls of power to the wells and mines themselves. http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987359/epic_scandal_how_exxon_boosted_climate_change_denial_infiltrated_politics_misled_shareholders.html

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One Response to “Scandalous dishonesty – Exxon and climate change”

  1. A Green Road Project Says:

    Reblogged this on A Green Road Daily News.

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