Exxon and Climate Misinformation

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Recently, it seems that every month or so there is a new story that shows another way that ExxonMobil has worked to hide the truth behind the highly destructive effects of climate change. This past month was no different, as the Guardian released a report that links Exxon to the elimination of an important congressional lecture series on climate science in 2001, just days after the inauguration of George W. Bush.
While this story is troubling, as it prevented members of Congress from hearing about the emerging science of climate change at a very important time, it is just one incident that has come to light in recent months showing how Exxon has sheltered the truth behind climate change decades earlier. According to an investigation by InsideClimate News, the oil company has known that the burning of fossil fuels results in a rise in the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere as early as 1977, which is over a decade before climate change ever became a public issue. The company actually played active role in discovering the phenomenon by employing top scientists to develop climate models based off of original research. Exxon’s top scientist even delivered a speech to executives introducing the science and warning that “present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.” Yet, almost 40 years later, humans are beginning to experience the effects of climate change and still very little has been done, thanks to Exxon’s sheltering of the truth.
Not only has Exxon prevented the public from discovering the potentially catastrophic future that climate change poses, but they have also contributed to spreading of skepticism of climate science among the general public. Much like the tobacco industry promoted misinformation regarding the health risks of smoking, Exxon has spent more than $30 million on organizations promoting climate denial. They have even utilized the same consultants that worked with the tobacco industry decades earlier to develop a communications strategy. A memo from the fossil fuel industry, found by the Union of Concerned Scientists, sums up the intentions of their campaign perfectly when it stated, “Victory will be achieved when the average person is uncertain about climate science.”
It is sad that Exxon could not act on the troubling evidence provided to them by its own scientists in the 1970s. We would’ve had a chance to get ahead of climate change and start taking the steps necessary to mitigate catastrophic levels of temperature rise. But, it is easy to see why Exxon would hide the truth and promote skepticism of climate science, as any logical response to widespread acceptance of the science by the public and our policymakers would involve major government intervention to slow the burning of fossil fuels, which would most certainly hurt Exxon’s profit. Now that it is clear that Exxon prevented action on mitigating climate change, it is time that they pay their share of the costs that climate change is already inflicting across the world.

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