A story that’s been brewing for the last few months has been the extend to which Exxon Mobil’s position on climate change may not be entirely honest. Evidence is surfacing that Exxon funded its own private research into climate change starting in the late 70’s (i.e. before climate change even became a public issue). The research revealed much of what we now know regarding climate change. However rather than take action, the company instead buried the data and threw millions the way of the climate change deniers.
The story has been circulating on the blogs for several weeks now, but as more and more evidence emerges, its starting to break through to the mainstream media. Suffice to say this is pretty serious stuff. To be clear we are not talking about some minor paper study, we are talking about a major survey involving a large number of scientists, a budget in the millions (back when that was a lot of money) going out in the field and taking measurements. They even modified an oil tanker and rigged it with instrumentation because the scientists wanted to get an accurate measurement of carbon dioxide levels over the oceans.
And this program of research lasted for several years, perhaps until the 1980’s. Obviously there’s no way that level of funding could not have been allocated without some sort of nod from the very top. Which means this scandal likely goes all the way to the top.
It should be remembered that Exxon, like many oil companies, has lot’s of the world’s top geologists on the pay roll. These geologists often have to walk the tightrope of getting the goods for their employer (i.e. go out and find oil) and remaining true to the science (some of the best evidence for global warming comes from geology). So it has always been a bit difficult to believe that the oil companies didn’t know about climate change, that this was something that popped out of the blue. Its a bit like a firearms salesman not being aware that guns shoot out dangerous chucks of hot lead.
Crucially, this scandal is reminiscent of a similar controversy regarding cigarettes. The tobacco companies had conducted much research into cigarettes, their health effects, their addictive nature, the link between cancer and second hand smoking. Yet rather than try and use this information to reduce the harm their products caused (e.g. those smokeless cigarettes we see going around), instead they did the opposite (as this piece from the 60 minutes archive reveals). They actually went out of their way to make smoking more addictive, fully aware of the consequences to their loyal customers. And they responded to increasingly government scrutiny by funding bogus research to cast doubt on research that showed the harm smoking could do, even thought they knew the government backed research to be true and they knew their products were killing their customers.
You literally cannot get any worse than what we are seeing. For of all the oil companies Exxon stands out for its single minded opposition to any sort of action on climate change. They have consistently been one of the most prominent funders of climate change deniers and of lobbyists in the US congress to block any action. Exxon could have easily started research into alternative energy sources, or carbon capture and storage, which given that renewables is now a $300 billion a year industry won’t have been a bad investment. But instead, they took the same route as the tobacco lobby, to lie, mislead and deceive the public.
And of course we all remember how it worked out for the tobacco companies. Once word leaked out the extend to which they knew about the dangers of cigarette smoke was exposed, they were promptly rendered liable for the damages and sued for it…..$368 billion worth of damages! Unfortunately, the tobacco lobby were let off lightly, after they agreed to pay a fine and never do it again….when we ignore the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat them…..
An urgent investigation is needed to get to the bottom of these allegations. And I don’t mean a couple of lawyers in suits. I mean FBI agents with a badge and a gun. If these rumours are true, then I say that the oil companies should be made financially liable (and hint, even a fraction of the costs of climate change are enough to bankrupt the oil companies several times over!).
And given that the fate of the tobacco lobby didn’t seem to scare them, I say no out of court settlement, no going easy on them, take them for every penny, then go after the major shareholders one by one. Furthermore, any executives found responsible for it should be made criminally liable for the death and serious injury climate change has and will be responsible for. After a couple of retired oil chief’s get prep walked into court in handcuff’s that should serve to scare the rest straight pretty quickly.