In September 2015, InsideClimate News published a groundbreaking series detailing a decades long scheme by oil giant ExxonMobil regarding the company’s knowledge of climate change and overt plans to cover up this knowledge while misleading the public. Among other tactics, this included collaborating with the Bush-Cheney White House to paint settled science as hypotheses that were up for debate in an effort to sow additional confusion among the public.
Recent disclosures show that ExxonMobil has given more than $33 million to organizations perpetuating climate denial. In the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, the oil giant spent more than $2.3 million on Congressional races, and so far this year it has spent $567,000 to elect climate deniers to office. Right now, that investment is paying off. Democratic attorney generals are taking Exxon to court for keeping climate science hidden, and the oil giant’s friends in Congress are going to bat for them once again. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is defending the company by threatening his own subpoenas of any state attorney general who would challenge Exxon.
This is not the first time Exxon was publicly outed for keeping climate science hidden. A 2011 analysis of hundreds of climate skeptic papers showed that 9 of the top 10 authors could be linked to Exxon. What is different now is that public concern over the impacts of climate change has never been higher, there is concerted global effort to curb pollution and act on climate change, and yet Exxon and its polluting allies continue to use their position as the most profitable companies in the world to silence those seeking to expose the truth and protect the public.
Decades ago, concerned lawmakers stood up to hold tobacco companies accountable for their blatant disregard for public health and efforts to hide research showing the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Their denial was so bad, top executives were investigated for perjury in their testimony before Congress. In a settlement agreement reached in 1998 with the attorneys general of 46 states, five territories and the District of Columbia, the five largest tobacco companies are required to pay out $10 billion per year for the indefinite future. Now Big Oil is the new Big Tobacco, and the fight continues this week as senators take to the floor this evening. They’re seeking accountability of a company who for decades has known the threat posed by climate change and not only done nothing, but also deliberately funded organizations and elected officials willing to do their dirty work and attack scientists, leaving communities impacted by climate change as simply collateral damage of their record profits.