A post on this blog several weeks ago noted that greed was the likely reason why fossil fuel companies support pseudo-science that fosters doubt about the causes and serious implications of climate change. A recent report and investigation go further. They show that large fossil fuel companies have actively supported disinformation and propaganda campaigns, including fraudulent letters supposedly from the NAACP, the American Legion, the American Association of University Women, and other respected organizations, all aiming to weaken regulations related to emissions; and, in addition, funded phony “grassroots groups” to counter regulations. Yet since the 1970s the leaders of these same companies were aware that burning fossil fuels causes climate change because their own investigations (as well as research by independent scientists) reached those conclusions. The only sensible explanation for such mendacity aimed at deceiving policymakers and the public is greed.
In 1995 an industry-sponsored group called the Global Climate Coalition concluded that “the impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.” The author was a chemical engineer and climate expert at Mobil. Earlier, in 1977, Exxon’s managers learned from their internal experts that “there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing climate change is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.” Exxon then commissioned millions of dollars of new scientific research, conducted by Exxon itself, which documented the growing problem of CO2 emissions. (This web page includes more information about the investigation of Exxon by Inside Climate News, as well as a short video from PBS’s Frontline.)
Will it be possible to litigate and recover hundreds of billions of dollars in monetary damages from fossil fuel companies, similar to what happened decades ago when the tobacco companies were shown to have covered up the truth about the harm caused by smoking? That possibility seems remote, but perhaps will happen.