Exxon knew the dangers of climate change decades ago but chose to mislead investors and the general public by firing up doubts about climate science, a pair of Harvard University researchers confirmed this week, in a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters.
Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran took on the study after Exxon tried to second-guess the Pulitzer-nominated investigative research by InsideClimate News, claiming the exposé two years ago consisted of “deliberately cherry-picked statements” and challenging researchers to “read all of these documents and make up your own mind.”
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
So Oreskes and Supran did just that. After analysing 187 of Exxon’s internal and external communications from 1977 to 2014, “we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public,” they write. “We stress that the question is not whether ExxonMobil ‘suppressed climate change research,’ but rather how they communicated about it,” based on discrepancies between the company’s paid “advertorials” and all its other internal and external communications.
“While 83% of its peer-reviewed papers and 80% of internal documents acknowledged humans’ role in climate change, only 12% of its advertorials did, and 81% of them expressed doubt,” The Hill reports.
Exxon responded to the study much as it did to the original investigative pieces—by attacking the source, in this case a research team funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund.
“The study was paid for, written, and published by activists leading a five-year campaign against the company,” Exxon said. “Rather than pursuing solutions to address the risk of climate change, these activists, along with trial lawyers, have acknowledged a goal of extracting money from our shareholders and attacking the company’s reputation.”
But The Hill notes the findings “add to charges from environmentalists, Democratic attorneys general, and others that Exxon knew decades ago that its fossil fuels harmed the planet but chose to sow doubt about the science to the public and investors.”
“Exxon has officially run out of excuses,” said Greenpeace climate liability campaigner Naomi Ages. “This peer-reviewed study from Harvard is just the latest piece of evidence indicating that the largest oil company in the world knew about the risks of climate change, but concealed them from the public and shareholders. State attorneys general dedicated to protecting people and the environment from recent assaults should act now to hold polluters accountable for the biggest crisis facing humanity.”
Leave a Reply