Oil companies have been aware of the detrimental effects of burning fossil fuels for decades. Research reveals they have been hiding this knowledge from the public, most likely for their own financial gain. This behavior is similar to that of the tobacco companies who lied about the deadly effects of cigarettes for many years. Tobacco was finally brought to justice in 2006 when they were found guilty of lying to the public. Now we must hold oil companies accountable.
In 2015, InsideClimate News undertook an eight-month investigation of Exxon. It disclosed that in 1977 an Exxon scientist told senior officials that carbon dioxide, as the result of burning fossil fuels, would warm the planet and at some point threaten life. For the next few years the oil company took action with its own study of carbon dioxide and climate change. By the end of the ’80s however, Exxon had slowed this research and switched to climate denial, spending millions of dollars to downplay the damage to the atmosphere. It also fought efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Shell Oil was aware of climate change early on as well. An internal report from 1988 labeled “confidential,” predicted that carbon dioxide levels would double by 1930. It projected multiple examples of severe environmental damage, concluding that “changes may be the greatest in recorded history.”
In 2016, “Rockefeller Family Fund” declared it would divest all assets from fossil fuel companies, going on to describe the behavior of Exxon Mobil as “morally reprehensible.” Take note…this statement coming from the family who started Standard Oil, later to become Exxon Mobil.
In the last few years multiple lawsuits against oil companies have been filed by both cities and states across the U.S. Nearly all the litigation is based on the premise that these companies covered up the growing threat to life on Earth by continuing to spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
And there are signs that oil companies may not be as powerful as they once were. In May 2021, a Dutch court told Shell to reduce their carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030. Soon after the Keystone XL pipeline canceled their project after fighting back at environmental concerns for years. Recently news out North Ireland on 4/26/2022 reported that seven out of eleven councils (local community service groups) had committed to divesting from fossil funds within their employees’ pension funds. There are other success stories as well, but fighting the oil companies has been difficult. Those waging these battles are up against large corporations with deep pockets and unlimited resources.
One way to gain traction is through enactment of federal legislation. Last fall a bill, the “Fossil Free Finance Act,” was introduced into Congress, requiring the Federal Reserve to mandate that major banks and other important financial institutions gradually reduce and stop funding projects that emit greenhouse gasses. Yes, big oil needs to pay the price for environmental damage incurred. They were well aware of the harm, but kept the information secret in order to promote personal and corporate wealth, all the while harming Earth and all life on it.
InsideClimate News, “Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago,” Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song, David Hasemyer, 9/16/2015 The Guardian, “Big oil and gas kept a dirty secret for decades. Now they may pay the price.” By Chris McGreal, 6/30/2021
The Guardian, “Shell and Exxon’s secret 1980s climate change warnings,” by Benjamin Franta, 9/09/2018
The New York Review of Books, “The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon,” by David Kaiser, 12/08/2016
BBC.com, “Seventh NI council backs end to fossil fuel investments,” by Louise Cullen, 4/26/2022
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