An expert in climate and weather phenomena says “criminal” is the best word for the lies fossil fuel companies have used to mislead the public as they propelled global emissions.
“With all the resources at their disposal, these companies have systematically, cynically misrepresented and suppressed the facts,” writes Adam Sobel in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
Sobel, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Engineering School, acknowledges that, for some, the word may seem extreme, as “Exxon and the others were just working within our legal, economic, and political systems to provide a commodity we all use every day.” But, he argues, the fossil giants crossed those legal boundaries when they lied to the public.
“Their jobs didn’t require them to do this,” he says. “But they did, and in such a way as to hide the fact that they were doing it: sponsoring outside groups to spread doubt and confusion, and even supporting bogus research to create the appearance of dissent among scientists.” As evidence for these lies, Sobel points to a recent sting video from Greenpeace UK’s investigative news arm, Unearthed, in which a top Exxon lobbyist is heard openly discussing the company’s efforts to undermine climate regulation.
With their actions, Sobel believes, these Big Oil executives have instigated a spread of misinformation that now threatens our very social fabric. “What’s scarier now is how the denial agenda has outgrown the climate problem, morphing into a full-scale attack on any sense of shared reality, and thus on our democracy,” he writes.
And while they erode the understanding of trust that empowers citizens in democratic government, the lies from fossil executives have also driven irreversible global environmental changes.
“I know that many good people work at fossil fuel companies; I know some of them personally,” says Sobel. “But I can’t forgive those at the top who made the decisions that first created the climate crisis, and who now are working to disable whatever capability our political system might have to deal with it.”