Excerpt from: CREDO Action
“Mitigation of the greenhouse effect would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion… There is concern among some scientific groups that once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible… There are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered.”
These weren’t the recent words of an environmental group. They were the words of Exxon’s own scientists. In 1982.1
A game-changing investigation by InsideClimate News has revealed that Exxon’s own research as far back as 1978 confirmed the role of fossil fuels in climate change. This is a major revelation in light of what is obvious about Exxon: The company later spent two decades and millions of dollars defrauding the public about climate science, in an effort to slow action against climate change.2
We can’t get those years back. But there is precedent for holding ExxonMobil accountable: The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the same law that played a crucial role in taking down the tobacco companies’ misinformation campaign.
Tobacco companies were held accountable under the RICO Act with a $200 billion settlement in 1998. There is no amount of money that can make up for the damage done by more than 20 years of inaction, in large part as a result of fossil fuel companies efforts to slow climate action. But a huge settlement would be a start.
Like tobacco companies, it’s now clear that Exxon knew its misinformation campaign was fraudulent. More than simply being aware of the link between fossil fuels and climate change, between 1978 to 1986, the company was on the leading edge of research and modeling of the impact of rising atmospheric CO2 levels, working with the likes of Columbia University, Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the U.S. Department of Energy.
To bury the truth, Exxon then engaged in the same obstruction and disinformation strategy pioneered by Big Tobacco. In many cases, Exxon funded the very same front groups, PR consultants and paid junk scientists!3
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has suggested fossil fuel companies may be in violation of the RICO act,4 and now 20 scientists have signed a letter to the Obama administration and the Justice Department.5 In light of the new revelations about Exxon’s knowledge of the danger of fossil fuels, this is a crucial moment to build that call.
Exxon’s climate research wasn’t exactly selfless. But it wasn’t irresponsible either. According to former Exxon scientists, Exxon’s program was an effort to position itself as an expert in climate research, so it could have a seat at the negotiating table when governments began what Exxon recognized were inevitable fossil fuel regulations.
- The shift that occurred after Exxon discontinued the research program can only be explained by stunning, callous greed. Consider this: In 1978, senior Exxon scientist James F. Black reported “man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding change in energy strategies might become critical.”
- Twenty years later in 1998, Exxon Chairman and CEO Lee Raymond spoke against the emerging Kyoto Protocol: “We need to understand the issue better, and fortunately, we have time. It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.”
There is no excuse. ExxonMobil must pay!
- Go to CREDO Action to petition to President Obama and the Department of Justice:
“Prosecute ExxonMobil for its 20 year campaign to knowingly defraud the American public about the danger posed by fossil fuels and climate change.”
Thanks for holding climate deniers accountable.
Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
“Exxon: The Road Not Taken,” InsideClimate News, 9/21/15
“Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science,” Union of Concerned Scientists, 1/07
“Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICO,” Greg Laden’s Blog, 9/15/15
“Internal Documents Show Fossil Fuel Industry Has Been Aware of Climate Change for Decades,” Huffington Post, 7/15/15
“The denial industry,” The Guardian, 9/19/06
© 2015 CREDO. All rights reserved.