ExxonMobil has long known that burning fossil fuels causes climate change, yet has continued to fund groups that deny its existence. According to The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli, Exxon's actions parallel how the tobacco industry deliberately deceived the public about the health risks of smoking.
In a September 29 Guardian article, Dana Nuccitelli reported on a recently concluded eight-month investigation by InsideClimate News that found that Exxon's own scientific research confirmed human-caused global warming as far back as the late 1970s. According to InsideClimate, the obtained documents show that Exxon scientists confirmed that carbon dioxide emissions impact the climate and that these findings were in accordance with expert consensus. The investigation further found that after “a decade of frank internal discussions on global warming and conducting unbiased studies on it, Exxon changed direction in 1989 and spent more than 20 years discrediting the research its own scientists had once confirmed.”
In the Guardian article, headlined, “Is the fossil fuel industry, like the tobacco industry, guilty of racketeering?” Nuccitelli reported that a group of climate scientists is calling for an investigation “of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change” under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). He noted that a similar lawsuit was brought against the tobacco industry in 2006, and resulted in a district court judge ruling that tobacco companies worked to “maximize industry profits by preserving and expanding the market for cigarettes through a scheme to deceive the public.”
The connection between the tobacco industry and climate denial has been made before by those who have noted that many of the people and organizations working against climate action previously worked on behalf of the tobacco industry, and that both industries have used similar deceptive tactics to cast doubt on settled science. The Heartland Institute, for one, has received over $700,000 in funding from ExxonMobil and has previously denied the health dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.
From The Guardian:
Is the fossil fuel industry, like the tobacco industry, guilty of racketeering?
ExxonMobil has become infamous for its secretive anti-climate science campaign, having spent $30 million funding groups denying the scientific evidence and consensus on human-caused global warming.
Last week, after an eight-month investigation, InsideClimate News revealed that from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s, scientists at Exxon were in fact at the cutting edge of climate science research.
It's ironic that 33 years ago, the world's largest oil company accepted and concurred with the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming that many people continue to deny to this day.
In another internal company document in November 1982, Exxon scientists illustrated the rapid global warming they expected to occur over the following century due to rising carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels. A year earlier, Exxon scientists were discussing the distinct possibility that the consequences of climate change could become catastrophic in the near future.
Coinciding with the InsideClimate News revelations, a group of climate scientists sent a letter to President Obama, his science advisor John Holdren, and Attorney General Lynch, calling for an investigation “of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America's response to climate change.”
In 1999, the Justice Department filed a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit against the major tobacco companies and their associated industry groups. In 2006, US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the tobacco industry's campaign to “maximize industry profits by preserving and expanding the market for cigarettes through a scheme to deceive the public” about the health hazards of smoking amounted to a racketeering enterprise.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has noted that the fossil fuel industry's efforts to cast doubt on climate science closely mirror those by the tobacco industry. As Senator Whitehouse said in May 2015, “Imagine what a little discovery into the beast would reveal about the schemes and mischief of the climate denial apparatus--about what they're telling each other in private while they scheme to deceive the public. The truth will eventually come to light. It always does.”
Indeed, as the InsideClimate News investigation subsequently revealed, Exxon's own scientists were warning of the dangers of human-caused climate change nearly 40 years ago. The parallels to the tobacco industry's public deception are striking. It appears that many climate scientists have become fed up, and are encouraging the government to embark on a similar RICO investigation into fossil fuel industry efforts to mislead the public.