Exxon is a corporate devil but it is not alone in its demonic subterfuge. Exxon is being investigated for criminal wrongdoings and some other fossil fuel companies are also coming under legal scrutiny.
In November, a criminal investigation was launched into Exxon and a month later, many other fossil fuel industry CEO's were formally asked to clarify what they knew about the relationship between fossil fuels and climate. Almost four dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the CEOs of BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Royal Dutch Shell asking them to share what they knew about the climate risks associated with their core business activities.
How low can you go
The extent to which these oil giants will go to protect their interests should not be underestimated. In recent months, Exxon has embarked on a campaign of bullying. They have attempted to intimidate scientists, journalists and most recently, Columbia University. The school is being targeted in retaliation for the investigative work done by Columbia graduate students who contributed to the Exxon expose. This prompted David Turnbull, campaign director for Oil Change International, to share the following:
“Exxon’s outrageous move to intimidate journalists and academics from doing their jobs is more of the same from a company that has been bullying the public and our elected officials for decades. We’ve often wondered if Exxon actually hates our children because they so consistently stand in the way of safeguarding their future; it turns out they apparently hate good journalism as well. What’s worse is that our government is still handing billions of dollars each year to the oil industry by way of subsidies. This is an industry that is out of control, wreaking havoc on our climate and public discourse and it’s time for our public support of them to end.”
Their efforts to control the message and misinform the public is hardly new. On the same day that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report in 2014, Exxon issued its own report touting the importance of oil and gas to the economy and smugly predicting that governments would not dare to impose limits on fossil fuel emissions.
This is the kind of condescending self-importance we are dealing with. They bring their immense resources to bear as they are flush with cash after decades of raping and pillaging the earth.
Modern day lepers
In 2012, the fossil fuel industry was already the most hated industry in the US. Recent revelations are not likely to improve their standing. The shift in the public's perception of fossil fuels is fundamentally irretrievable, nonetheless, ExxonMobil is doing what it can to crush the controversy.
As asked by Bill McKibben, the question is: "Why on God’s-not-so-green-Earth-anymore would anyone want to be Exxon’s partner?"
Fossil fuel companies are modern day lepers that no one in their right mind would want to be associated with. Even the architects of these clever misinformation campaigns are realizing that such associations are an existential threat. As reported by The Guardian, last summer, Edelman, the world’s biggest public relations company, divorced itself from coal producers the American Petroleum Institute (API), Alec, the Keystone XL pipeline, fake front groups and climate change deniers. This has nothing to do with conscience, as the firm explained, such clients pose a direct threat to their bottom line.
Its not just Exxon
Although Exxon has received the lion's share of bad press, there are a host of other fossil fuel companies that are complicit in the subterfuge. Shell also knew that their core business activities were the leading cause of climate change and there is evidence to support this contention. As reviewed by Fuel Fix, in 1989, Shell was talking about designing oil drilling platforms that can deal with rising seas and increasingly virulent storms. This was among the messages delivered to Attorney General Loretta Lynch in February by three Democratic Congressmen (Ted Lieu, Matt Cartwright and Peter Welch). Together they are calling for an investigation into Shell.
“The apparent tactics employed by Shell and Exxon are reminiscent of the actions employed by big tobacco companies to deceive the American people about the known risks of tobacco,” the letter read.
BP’s own reports predict that we will see warming that is far worse than the 1.5 - 2 degrees Celsius upper threshold limit agreed upon at the recent COP21 meeting. BP's annual Energy Outlook report predicts that fossil fuel use will increase and cause warming that is between 2.5 and 6 degrees Celsius.
As reviewed in a Daily Kos article, the API ran a task force for fossil fuel companies to monitor and share climate research between 1979 and 1983. They also indicate that new investigative reporting by Neela Banerjee with Inside Climate News suggests that the whole fossil fuel industry has known about the impacts of carbon emissions on the climate for decades. Together they successfully conspired to kill the Kyoto Protocol and their deceitful climate denying lobbying efforts continue to this day.
This is about today
As explained by Bill McKibben, the horrible malfeasance of the fossil fuel industry is not just about what they have done in the past, it is about what they continue to do today:
"As bad as Exxon has been in the past, what it’s doing now -- entirely legally -- is helping push the planet over the edge and into the biggest crisis in the entire span of the human story. It’s wildly irresponsible for a company to be leading the world in oil exploration when, as scientists have carefully explained, we already have access to four or five times as much carbon in the earth as we can safely burn."
Despite the fact that they know their industry is responsible for the climate crisis, the fossil fuel industry continues to deny the veracity of climate science and invest massive sums of money to find and exploit new reserves. As reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a recent study indicates that the world’s 42 largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies (including ExxonMobil, BP and Shell) continue to spend $700 billion per year to identify and develop new fossil fuel reserves.
The authors explain that there is no hope of keeping temperature increases within acceptable limits if the ongoing exploitation of new fossil fuels are allowed to continue.
No punishment will ever be equal the crimes committed by Big Oil. If fossil fuel companies are charged and found guilty of fraud it will earn them little more than a slap on the wrist. Even if all the senior executives were to get their due and be hanged in a public square it would not offset the disastrous reality they have caused. The only thing that comes close to any semblance of justice is the death of the industry as a whole.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.
Image credit: Wheats, courtesy flickr