Photo of an Exxon Gas Station

Oil Companies Are Trying a Bold New Excuse on Climate Change

Gas companies do an obscene amount of damage to our environment, and are some of the biggest drivers of global warming. The company Exxon alone reportedly helped hold back climate change science by at least 40 years, and is now defending it with the dumbest reasons.

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According to Scientific American, the oil tycoon Exxon knew about the disastrous effects of climate change all the way back in 1977. Climate change as a major political topic did not actually hit mainstream discussions until 1988, when it received international public attention. Not only did Exxon know about the dangers of global warming, it spent the next few decades pushing anti-science propaganda.

See, Exxon was terrified of losing profits in the oil industry if the world ever found out that it was a major contributor to the destruction of the environment. That’s why it was important for them to hide the truth for as long as possible. Many people, such as climate scientists, had assumed for years that oil companies were doing this, but there was no public evidence of it until recently. As we’ve talked about before, fossil fuel companies have a major role in shaping public perception of climate change, starting with the education system.

Not only did Exxon hide these scientific conclusions, but they also put climate scientists on their payroll to research exactly this. Exxon’s own scientists compiled incredibly important data on climate change. They even developed a tanker project that could assess CO2 absorption levels in the ocean. Very few companies at the time were even doing this cutting-edge research at all.

As reported by Inside Climate News in 2015, former Exxon scientists and employees came forward about how their findings were kept behind locked doors. The reporters at Inside Climate News interviewed scores of connected people and combed through many documents to find the scoop.

James F. Black, a senior scientist of Exxon’s own climate division, tried to warn the company of the disastrous effects of global warming back in 1977, telling the company’s management committee: “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.”

This warning would go ignored, despite all of his predictions coming true. CO2 emissions did grow exponentially, and global temperatures are rising as we speak. Exxon continued to shoot down these claims during a congressional hearing back in 1988. James Hansen told Congress that warming was happening, but Exxon instead pushed fraudulent skepticism about the claims.

Exxon would go on to co-create the Global Climate Coalition in 1989. This coalition was a supercollective of many business lobbyists who were unified in one singular goal: to spread propaganda against the scientific evidence for climate change. This coalition, along with Exxon’s aggressive lobbying tactics, helped stop the United States from signing the Kyoto Protocol of 1998. The Kyoto Protocol was an international pact to collectively reduce greenhouse emissions across the planet. Other countries such as China, India, and Australia did not sign it.

Inside Climate News also discovered the Climate Deception Dossiers, which is a collection of memos by fossil fuel companies to spread anti-science propaganda claims about global warming. These plans were incredibly successful in instilling doubt within the public about climate science. Exxon itself spent more than $30 million dollars to propagate climate denialism.

A new form of climate denialism

Exxon has long dismissed these claims, but it doesn’t end there. Now, oil companies are trying a new form of climate denialism. As reported by E&E News, fossil fuel companies are trying to get lawsuits over their contributions to climate change thrown out of court completely. Federal courts have pushed climate change hearings to state courts, meaning there is far less push for accountability now on these companies. These cases need to be fought on federal grounds, as well as international ones, as climate change is not a local problem best left to local municipalities.

Currently, oil company lawyers are using a wide range of tactics to get these cases dismissed. In Maryland, one of the nation’s leading battlegrounds for climate change litigation, industry lawyers are arguing that states like Maryland cannot litigate them, as they operate beyond the state itself. This is the danger of pushing these cases down to the state level. There are far too many loopholes and too little state power to regulate anything past the borders.

Additionally, they’re arguing that they never had a responsibility to warn consumers about the dangers of burning fossil fuels in the first place.

From E&E News:

The companies argue that the federal Clean Air Act preempts the lawsuit. And although the lawsuits charge the companies with misleading consumers, the companies say they had “no duty to warn” when, they say, the “alleged impact of fossil fuel use on the global climate has been ‘open and obvious’ for decades.”

So they spent decades working to hide the devastating environmental impact of fossil fuels, only to turn around and say they can’t be held accountable because that information was always public knowledge. Incredible.

We won’t lie, the future for these lawsuits looks quite bleak. Hopefully some accountability happens, but, with the current federal court systems, it seems unlikely.

(featured image: Mike Mozart/Wikimedia Commons)


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Author
Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson (he/they) writes about media criticism, race studies, intersectional feminism, and left-wing politics. He has been working with digital media and writing about pop culture since 2014. He enjoys video games, movies, and TV, and often gets into playful arguments with friends over Shonen anime and RPGs. He has experience writing for The Mary Sue, Cracked.com, Bunny Ears, Static Media, and The Crimson White. His Twitter can be found here: https://twitter.com/8bitStereo