C: Jamie Henn via Twitter

If one oil company is synonymous with funding decades of climate denial, it is Exxon. For decades, the oil giant copied the deadly playbook of Big Tobacco of sowing doubt about the evidence and delaying action.

The company funded a covert network of foot soldiers to deny evidence, delay action and divert away from the industry. Between the late nineties and 2005, the oil giant donated USD 16 million to numerous right-wing and libertarian think tanks to manufacture uncertainty about climate change.

The oil company spread such confusion and obfuscation despite knowing for decades that fossil fuels would cause global warming. The company knew by the sixties that climate change could have catastrophic consequences. For example, a report for the American Petroleum Institute, on which Exxon is a prominent member, warned of the dangers of climate change and the risks to sea level rise if Antarctic glaciers melted.

Nine years later, in 1977, Exxon’s leaders were told directly by a senior company scientist, James F. Black, about the looming climate crisis. “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,” he told Exxon’s Management Committee.

Decades after the company was first warned about climate change, in October 1997, the head of Exxon at the time, Lee “iron ass” Raymond, delivered a speech to the Fifteenth World Petroleum Congress in China.

As Steve Coll recalls in his book Private Empire, Raymond “devoted thirty-three paragraphs of his seventy-eight-paragraph speech to the argument that evidence about manmade climate change was an illusion.”

Months later, Exxon helped create a task force working with the American Petroleum Institute: “Victory will be achieved when average citizens understand (recognize) uncertainties in climate science” and when public “recognition of uncertainty becomes part of “unconventional wisdom.” Where Big Tobacco led, Exxon followed with devastating consequences.

In 2006, nearly three decades after Exxon was first warned about climate change, the British Royal Society wrote to Exxon asking the company to stop funding organizations that feature information “on their websites that misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge or by conveying a misleading impression of the potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change.”

When Raymond retired, the Independent newspaper ran a front-page headline the following year: “The man who sold the planet.” The paper called Exxon the “Darth Vader of global warming” for its “denial that carbon emissions cause climate change.”

Some eight years later, the world celebrated the signing of the Paris Agreement, which aimed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

Like the other oil majors, Exxon ignored Paris and carried on drilling. A report by Oil Change International (OCI) and others, entitled Big Oil Reality Check, published in 2020, examined the current climate commitments of eight of the largest integrated oil and fossil gas companies, including Exxon. It revealed that “none come close to aligning their actions with the urgent 1.5°C global warming limit as outlined by the Paris Agreement.”

An updated report, published in 2022, re-evaluated those plans and found that all eight of these companies’ climate pledges and plans are grossly insufficient.” The report added that  “Chevron and ExxonMobil are assessed as grossly insufficient on all criteria.”

It is really simple: we just have to keep the oil in the ground. Earlier this month, a new Sky’s Limit analysis by OCI found that “the majority of the fossil fuel reserves within active fields and mines must now stay in the ground.”

Meanwhile, Exxon is investing more money to increase oil and gas production than any other company in the U.S. The bottom line is that Exxon has never taken climate change seriously. The only line that matters is its bottom line: Money and value to its shareholders. Earlier this summer, Exxon and its shareholders dismissed more than a dozen climate-related proposals at the company’s AGM.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported, under the headline, that “Exxon predicts the world will miss climate-change targets”. The paper added, “Exxon Mobil says the global effort to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions isn’t on track to keep the planet’s temperature from rising beyond an increase of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.”

Grist put it much more boldly: “Exxon Mobil projected that greenhouse-gas emissions and the efforts to keep the planet’s temperature from rising beyond an increase of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 is destined to fail.”

My colleague, David Tong, added on X:

Exxon has been pressing the fossil fuel accelerator for decades as our climate emergency worsens every year.

It still remains in denial. In its report released that day, Exxon yet again doubled down on fossil fuels despite the nearly daily climate disasters, from record floods, fires, heat bombs and record temperatures on land and at sea. “Fossil fuels remain the most effective way to produce the massive amounts of energy needed to create and support the manufacturing, commercial transportation, and industrial sectors that drive modern economies,” Exxon said.

The company has said it would invest $17 billion in false solutions such as carbon capture and storage.

If, and it is still an if, collectively, we do not keep the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees or even 2 degrees, it will be significantly due to Exxon and its decades-long denial campaign and refusal to give up fossil fuels.

We must keep trying to hold the companies to account for their failure to act, for their failure to future generations. To this end, colleagues at Fossil Free Media have started putting up billboards in areas affected by the recent extreme weather, such as Phoenix, Arizona and Austin in Texas, amongst others.

Featuring pictures of maps showing broken temperature records, the message is simple: “Brought to you by Big Oil.”

As the campaign says on its website, “The fossil fuel industry has known for decades that their products are fueling climate change and extreme weather, yet they have failed to act. Instead, major oil and gas companies continue to invest billions into new projects that lock in decades more fossil fuel extraction while our communities take the heat… literally.”

And this is what is happening. Exxon remains in denial. As I blogged last week, the GOP remains in denial. Much of the US media remains in denial, too.

As Jamie Henn, ex-350.org and now Fossil Free Media, told the Guardian: “I think the most important thing that we can do right now is to try and connect the dots between the extreme weather that people are seeing and the fossil fuel industry that’s driving it.”

Maybe it’s time to name Hurricane Idalia, which is sweeping into Florida right now with “catastrophic force” driven by the high temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Darren Woods, named after the current CEO of Exxon.

One Comment

  • I think your last comment of naming all future Hurricanes has great merit, and as such should be greatly expanded to include their children and grandchildren’s names . Since these companies have exposed us (THE PEOPLE) and our children and grandchildren and in my case great grandchildren to the horrors we now face, I see no reason to do otherwise. And if some of you out there, feel squeamish about connecting this exposee with children, think again. The Fossil Fuel Industry has been polluting the air we all breath, including our CHILDREN for multiple decades and with dire consequences. The old adage. “we must always fight fire with fire” seems most appropriate in this case.
    Just the unprejudiced opinion of a retired, educated, well traveled, successful businessman of 85. Allan Weiss
    CC: Wew Asl, Dy

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