As I pointed out last week, one of the ground-breaking developments in the lead up to the Paris climate talks later this month has been the announcement by the New York Attorney’s office that it was investigating Exxon for misleading the public and shareholders about climate change.
The investigation came on the back off research by InsideClimateNews and the Los Angeles Times.
As I also pointed out last week, this is a significant victory for the small group of activists, researchers, and academics who have been documenting the climate denial movement that has centred around Exxon and the Koch Brothers and a myriad of right wing think tanks in the US and internationally for years.
One of those activists is longterm Exxon-watcher, Cindy Baxter, who pointed out at the end of last week that in the wake of these investigations into Exxon’s climate science, “the company has been terribly busy telling the world that it stands by its scientific work.”
As Baxter points out, the person leading Exxon’s PR push is the head of, Ken Cohen, who is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the ExxonMobil Foundation, which donated a whopping $30.9 million between 1998 and 2014 to right wing think tanks in the US and internationally which were running climate denial campaigns.
Many of these think tanks were the leading proponents of the denial movement, doing more than others to sow doubt and confusion in to the climate debate.
For those who do not follow this debate it is worth naming some of these organisations: Frontiers of Freedom; the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition; the American Leglislative Exchange Council, George Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and Heartland Institute.
It is also worth remembering that the Heartland Institute has been instrumental in pushing and coordinating climate denial abroad and for using totally disingenuous tactics back home by running adverts featuring the Unabomber on a billboard that read “I still believe in Global Warming? Do you?”
It was dangerous, dirty anti-climate change propaganda.
In case you thought that Exxon had had a sudden change of heart, it is also worth remembering that the comany is still funding climate denial today.
Having also worked on climate denial for over twenty years, I am convinced that Exxon, along with the Koch Brothers, has done more than any other organisation to delay meaningful action on climate change.
Many would see this as a crime against humanity and our children and grandchildren and the New York Attorney General’s announcement a long-overdue intervention in the ongoing climate wars to make sure those who have misled the public are somehow held responsible.
So it is interesting to see who is backing Exxon in the media. Over the weekend the influential Washington Post ran a headline: “Exxon deserves criticism, but it didn’t commit a crime”.
Whilst the Post dismisses Exxon’s decades-long denial campaign as a “discouraging example of corporate irresponsibility”, it does not believe a criminal investigation is merited.
Furthermore as many people including myself (most recently in the book A Quiet Word) have accused the oil industry of using tactics straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, the Post believes the comparison may be slightly premature, and worrying argues that the New York Attorney General’s investigations may be misguided:
“Legitimate scientific inquiry depends on allowing strong, even unfair, criticism of the claims that scientists make” the Post concludes in its editorial. “As the Exxon investigations show, respecting that principle will not lead to positive outcomes in all cases. But it nevertheless demands that the government leave a sizable buffer zone between irresponsible claims and claims it believes may be criminally fraudulent.”
Whilst the Post is arguing against a criminal investigation, other media outlets have ignored the Exxon-scandal altogether.
As MediaMatters pointed out last week: “the nightly news programs of all three major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — have failed to air a single segment addressing the evidence that Exxon knowingly deceived its shareholders and the public about climate change.
It helps to have friends in high places, especially in the media.