It’s the subject of congressional investigations, state and municipal lawsuits, a new TV documentary, as well as an upcoming Hollywood docu-drama: A Series of Lies Told by an Industry, with consequences so profound that they triggered a deep and existential crisis. crisis that every person on Earth faces.
The script may look familiar. Many companies, from tobacco companies to opioid manufacturers, lied about the harm of the products they sold and advertised. But in human history, no one holds a candle to the damage done by the oil and gas industry, which seems, at last, to face judgment for misleading the public for decades about the “catastrophic” risk of their fossil. petroleum products (their own words).
A new PBS Frontline special, “The Power of Big Oil,” and an upcoming film from Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky, “Black Gold,” focus on the role that ExxonMobil, a global leader in climate science in the 1970s and 80s, played by undermining evidence of climate change and pushing denial as a way to frustrate government intervention that could damage its outcome. “Black Gold” calls it “the cover-up of the century”.
These new briefings, featuring former Exxon employees and industry lobbyists, come as House Democrats conduct a first-ever congressional investigation into the past and present campaign of misinformation about the fossil fuel industry climate.
In a landmark hearing last October, executives from Exxon, Shell, Chevron and BP were forced to testify about their industry’s early knowledge of climate change and their subsequent efforts to undermine science and block action. climatic. Each of the companies has deceptively sought to portray themselves as partners in climate solutions – and yet every frame dodgedunder oath, the request for a lawmaker to pledge to stop lobbying against efforts to resolve the crisis.
But that’s only half. Big Oil is also a central figure in the plastic waste problem plaguing the planet, because – wait for it – they apparently lied about the recyclability of plastics as well. Last month, California Attorney General Rob Bonta launched a groundbreaking investigation into the role the fossil fuel industry has played in global plastic pollution, which has become so severe that it is now estimated that every human being human ingests about a credit card. of plastic per week, and microplastics have been discovered for the first time in human blood.
Bonta said his office targets big oil and gas companies, which are also big plastic producers, for their “historic and ongoing efforts to mislead the public” by perpetuating the “myth” that most plastics can be recycled. , while more than 90 percent is not.
Bonta’s investigation begins with ExxonMobil, which the attorney general called “one of the leaders in deception.”
If Bonta does finally sue Exxon for misleading the public, he won’t be the first. Exxon and other major fossil fuel polluters are currently facing lawsuits from seven other state attorneys general and more than a dozen city governments, for waging another ‘deception campaign’. on climate change for decades, in the words of the Minnesota Attorney General. Keith Ellison.
Despite Big Oil’s relentless efforts to derail these lawsuits, they are steadily moving towards trial, with major rulings bringing two of the cases – in Massachusetts and Hawaii – closer to presenting evidence of Big Oil’s climate deception to the state court juries.
Polls show that the public is not very happy with the oil companies right now. Nearly 90% of voters want lawmakers to take action against the industry for raking in record profits as it charges working families ever-higher prices at the gas pump as inflation rises during a global pandemic.
Once again, Big Oil’s lies are at the heart of the problem: We are addicted to fossil fuels because these companies have misled the public about the dangers of their product, waging a decades-long disinformation campaign designed to undermine all efforts to switch to cheaper products, cleaner and more reliable energy. If Exxon and other polluting companies hadn’t kept the world hooked on fossil fuels, the transition to renewable energy would be much further along, the world would be less dependent on Russian gas, and high gas prices would disrupt life much less. people.
From climate change to recycling, lying has long been the business model of big oil companies. But in the face of new investigations, lawsuits and public exposure, the days of the industry escaping responsibility for its deception are clearly numbered.
Richard Wiles is president of the Center for Climate Integrity.