For twenty five years there has been one company that beyond all others has tried to undermine the UN Climate talks.
For those twenty five years it has obfuscated the truth about climate by pouring millions into the funding of a network of climate sceptic and denial think tanks and politicians.
It has funded lobbyists to crawl all over the COP talks to try and water down proposed agreements and delay robust action.
And that company is Exxon.
Exxon and the rest of the oil industry have “literally delayed any meaningful action by decades” argues one of the world’s best known climate scientists, Michael Mann.
Exxon’s climate-denial campaign is now subject to an inquiry by the New York Attorney General’s office which is investigating the company for misleading the public and shareholders about climate change.
The scandal has earnt its own Twitter hastag: “Exxon knew.”
Part of Exxon’s response has been that it has been mis-represented by the media reporting the #Exxonknew scandal.
But as long-term Exxon-watcher Cindy Baxter, notes this response is “bizarre”. She adds “ExxonMobil did know about the science. So the question now is how can the company explain its role in funding, to the tune of $31m 1998-2014, the think tanks running climate denial campaigns specifically aimed at undermining the very science that Exxon’s own scientists were studying?”
The New York Attorney General’s investigation came on the back off research by InsideClimateNews and the Los Angeles Times, the latter which was assisted in their research by graduate students from Colombia University.
In response to that the company is now been accused of “launching a full-throttled ‘bully’ campaign against Colombia and threatening to pull funds from the University”.
In a letter addressed to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, Ken Cohen, the oil giant’s vice president of Public and Government Affairs accuses the students of “manipulating” information to produce “deliberately misleading reports”.
The irony of Exxon attacking others for issuing deliberately misleading reports on climate change is beyond anyone who has witnessed the damage and doubt the company has been able to sow over the last twenty five years.
This irony was not lost on my colleague, David Turnbull who argues that “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.”
U.S. Senator and White House challenger Bernie Sanders tweeted two days ago: “It’s absurd that massive corporations can legally intimidate journalists who dare question them.”
On Tuesday Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism strongly refuted Exxon’s accusations. Steve Coll, the Dean of the Journalism School, said simply: “I have concluded that your allegations are unsupported by evidence.”
And with even more irony, Exxon’s chief-spinner Ken Cohen has now said that after twenty five years of doing otherwise, the company now supports “meaningful action to address the risks of climate change” but then adds the caviat that this is as long as it preserved access to “reliable and affordable” energy.
“The long-term objective of climate-change policy should be to reduce the risks of serious harm to humanity and ecosystems at minimum societal cost, while recognizing shared humanitarian necessities,” Cohen argues.
Maybe the first “meaningful action” Exxon could take is to apologise for its 25 year denial campaign.