Exxon's Climate Coverup

Thom plus logo Star Wars fans rejoiced last night with the debut of the final trailer for the newest Star Wars movie.

It's been 38 years since George Lucas debuted the Star Wars movies and gave birth to one of the world's most recognizable franchises.

And just two months after Star Wars was released 38 years ago - the Exxon Corporation was poised to become a leader in climate change research.

Yes, you heard that right - according to Inside Climate News - in July of 1977 a scientist working for Exxon told powerful oil executives at Exxon's headquarters that the planet was warming - and that it was caused by burning fossil fuels.

James F. Black told the audience "In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels."

A year later - he put a fine point to his conclusions when he wrote "Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical."

That was a decade before Congress heard James Hansen - as Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies - testify about man-made climate change.

Exxon knew about how their entire business model threatened humanity a full decade before Congress - and what did Exxon do about it?

Well - believe it or not - they took serious action - Exxon launched new research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and how it impacts the earth.

They worked with university scientists and the Department of Energy - and they were the early leaders in the field of climate and energy research.

Based on that - you'd think that by 1988 when James Hansen gave his congressional testimony - scientists from Exxon would be next in line to testify about the realities and dangers of global warming.

But that's not what happened.

Instead - in the late 1980s - Exxon made an about-face.

Exxon fired most of its climate scientists and started doing everything it could to cast doubt on the scientific consensus about the causes and dangers of man-made climate change.

They helped to organize the "Global Climate Coalition" - which fights to block any efforts to address global climate change.

And they worked with groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council to get fossil-fuel-friendly climate deniers into every level of government.

In 1997 - Exxon chairman and CEO Lee Raymond argued against the Kyoto Protocol using the logic that we don't really know what's going to happen with the climate - so why bother?

That pattern of denial and deception has continued to this day.

Even though the company claims that it accepts climate science today - it's still supporting climate denial as a member of climate denying groups like ALEC.

Because Exxon knows - and they've known for almost 40 years - that the basis of their business model is a threat to humanity.

And so they lied - and they blew a whole lot of smoke to make the science seem less clear than it is - and to protect their bottom line.

Fortunately - our Justice system has dealt with this sort of corporate deception and corruption before.

In 1999 the Department of Justice decided to investigate and prosecute Big Tobacco for violating the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

For nearly 50 years Big Tobacco had promoted phony science and created deceptive labels to make cigarettes attractive and to make them appear "safe" - if not outright "healthy".

Twenty-one years ago - tobacco executives were still testifying that nicotine wasn't addictive.

But in 2006 - when U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler finally ruled on the case - she wrote: "In short, defendants have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted."

And that's exactly what Exxon and the other oil companies have been doing for nearly 40 years.

And that's why Sharon Eubanks - the former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who prosecuted and won the racketeering case against Big Tobacco - is calling for the Department of Justice to look into whether Exxon violated the RICO Act.

She's not alone - Representatives Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier from California urged Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Friday to launch an investigation into Exxon.

It's definitely time for this to happen - and the investigation shouldn't stop with Exxon - we need a full investigation into every part of Big Oil's decades-long disinformation campaign, particularly the role Koch Industries may be playing in it all.

When the DoJ took down Big Tobacco - it wasn't just Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds - they went after the lobbying groups and the research shills too.

Today's investigation of climate deniers should include the oil companies like Exxon and Koch Industries - but should also include the organizations that manufacture and push phony research - like the Heartland Institute - and the Heritage Foundation.

Because at the end of the day - these companies and organizations have acted with a single-minded focus on the bottom line of their fossil-fuel donors - without regard to human tragedy - social costs - or the threat to life on Earth as we know it.

And it's time they're all held accountable.


OrgDevGuy's picture
OrgDevGuy 8 years 35 weeks ago

I remember in high school (1968?) reading about the President's Scientific Advisory Council releasing a report that greenhouse gasses were building in the upper atmosphere, that this would result in a greenhouse effect, & that it would be irreversable in a only very few years. Climate Science has known about this threat for many, many years. & we still try to ignore it.

PhilipHenderson's picture
PhilipHenderson 8 years 35 weeks ago

The leaders at Exxon since 1980, each and every one of them, is a war criminal. They have acted in ways that is similar to a dictator ordering the deaths of millions of human beings. They are disgusting people who should be brought to trial for their evil actions that seem only to have been driven by profits and money. Every one of them is guilty of the crime of murder. Thirty five years of hiding behind their corporate shield. They must be brought to trial to explain themselves.

agelbert's picture
agelbert 8 years 35 weeks ago

Excellent artcle, Thom!

But we need to pay attention the fact that the fossil fuel industry is trying to avoid paying for their ( LION'S) share of the responsibility for climate damage by making all of us pay equally to ameliorate climate change. That is why they are all NOW proclaiming "support" for the coming December COP21 Paris Climate Talks. It's part and parcel of their duplicitous modus operandi.

The fossil fuel industry is just trying to get out in front of the Paris talks with disingenuous fake support for measures to ameliorate climate change. They have been at this since these talks began in the early 1990's. Nothing they say publicly is to be taken at face value. Careful attention is to be given to who they "support" with MONEY in these talks.

Here is a snippet from part three of an article on our responsibility to future generations. I provide it so you can understand what the PLAN of the fossil fuel industry is in regard to who, EXACTLY, will be saddled with the bill for ameliorating climate change.

Agelbert NOTE: The mens rea of the fossil fuel industry and almost half of the world’s 100 largest companies, including Procter & Gamble and Duke Energy, has been recently exposed. They all funded lobbyists and propagandists in order to obstruct climate change legislation.

I use the Latin legal expression, "mens rea", because the above obstructionists of climate change legislation were knowledgeable over 40 years ago of the damage that burning fossil fuels causes to the biosphere in general and humans in particular.

As Theresa Morris made quite clear in her essay, these corporations made the wrong choice. And they made that choice because they refused to think things through.

Theresa Morris said,

"This task, however, is difficult, not only because of the extent of effects in time and space, fragmentation of agency, and the difficulty of predicting harms, but also because in many cases we may benefit now from actions that result in harms to future generations.

Ethical considerations aside for a moment, the people in these powerful corporations are not stupid. They love their own children.

So, if they knew, because over 40 years ago ExxonMobil scientists laid out the facts to oil executives, who then secretly joined with several other corporations to fund denial of climate change and obstruct climate change legislation, why did they, with malice and aforethought, engage in disguising the fact that they were, and are, getting an F in viable biosphere math?

Some will say that it's a no brainer that they did it for profit. While that is partially true, it ignores the fact that big oil corporations DO believe their own scientists. It also ignores the fact that fossil fuel corporations DO NOT believe the happy talk propaganda that they fund.

They plan ahead. They plan to take advantage of the 'Fragmentation of Agency' mentioned by Stephen Gardiner. The corporations did not get limited liability laws passed because they wanted to be socially responsible. I believe they will use the 'Fragmentation of Agency', in regard to biosphere damage claims, to unjustly limit their liability in a typically unethical "damage control" exercise.

One of the themes about human history that I have tried to communicate to readers over and over is that predatory capitalist corporations, while deliberately profiting from knowingly doing something that causes pollution damage to the populace, always plan AHEAD to socialize the costs of that damage when they can no longer deny SOME liability for it. Their conscience free lackey lawyers will always work the system to limit even PROVEN 100% liability.

While the profits are rolling in, they will claim they are "just loyal public servants, selflessly providing a service that the public is demanding", while they laugh all the way to the bank. When the damage is exposed, they will claim we are "all equally to blame" (i.e. DISTORTED Fragmentation of Agency).

This is clearly false because polluting corporations, in virtually all cases, AREN'T non-profit organizations. If they were NOT PROFITING, THEN, and only then, could they make the claim that "we all benefited equally so we all are equally responsible to pay equally for the cost."

Those who presently benefit economically from the burning of fossil fuels, despite the scientific certainty that this is ushering in a Permian level mass extinction, will probably be quick to grab on to a severely distorted and duplicitous version of the 'Fragmentation of Agency' meme, in regard to assigning the proportionate blame for the existential threat our species is visiting on future generations.

Privatizing the profits and socializing the costs is what they have done for over a century in the USA. They have always gotten away with it. That is why, despite having prior knowledge that their children would be negatively impacted by their decisions, they decided to dispense with ethical considerations.

They assumed that, with all the profits they would accumulate over the last 40 years (or as long as the populace can be blinded to the truth of the existential threat), they could protect their offspring when things got "difficult".

They know that millions to billions of people, in all probability, will die. But they think their wealth can enable them to survive and thrive.

As for the rest of us, who obtained a pittance in benefits in comparison to the giant profits the polluters raked (and still continue to rake) in, we can expect an army of corporate lawyers descending on our government(s) demanding that all humans, in equal portions, foot the bill for ameliorating climate change.

The lawyer speak will probably take the form of crocodile tears about the "injustice of punitive measures" or, some double talk legalese limiting "punitive damage claims" based on Environmental LAW fun and games (see: "punitive" versus "compensatory" damage claims).

This grossly unjust application of the 'Fragmentation of Agency' is happening as we speak. The poorest humans are paying the most with their health for the damage done by the richest. The richest have avoided most, or all, of the deleterious effects of climate change.

When the governments of the world finally get serious about the funding needed to try to clean this mess up (present incremental measures ARE NOT sufficient), the fossil fuel industry oligarchs (and other corporate polluting crooks) plan to continue literally getting away with ecocide, and making sure they don't pay their share of the damages for it.

Our Responsibility to Future Generations


w1ders's picture
w1ders 8 years 35 weeks ago

Since Exxon and oil industry is being compared to the tobacco industry why not do to them what happened to the tobacco companies and the Americans who used tobacco. Tax all fuel to the point no one can afford to use it and say the proceeds will go to clean energy when in fact it will go to anything else those in charge can think of. Bottom line, the air will get cleaner. And those that can least afford it will pay. Home run.

jkh6148's picture
jkh6148 8 years 35 weeks ago

WHY not go full force on them - crimes against humanity.

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