Climate change denial: ExxonMobil may face trial

Massachusetts High Court case accuses fossil fuel major of decieving investors, breaking laws

By Avantika Goswami
Published: Wednesday 01 June 2022

ExxonMobil, once the world’s most valuable public company, must face trial over efforts to deny climate change, the Massachusetts High Court in the United States recently ruled.   

The Massachesetts attorney general has accused the largest US oil company of breaking the state’s consumer protection laws and of deceiving “investors about the risks to its business posed by global heating”, reported the Guardian daily. 

This is the latest in a string of court cases that fossil fuel companies face for their large role in the current climate crisis. A movement has been gathering in the US over the past decade in whcih cities and states sue such companies, claiming hey have “made areas less livable for people, often forcing the government to use public funds to fix the problem”, the Guardian had reported last year.

Complaints include global-warming induced sea level rise that is forcing cities to build sea walls and lies told by the companies about the carbon impact of their products.

The third instalment of the latest report by Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), published in April, also called out the role of fossil fuel companies, in diluting climate action, especially in countries like the US.

Particularly, it highlights that these companies “have attempted to derail climate change mitigation by targeted lobbying and doubt-inducing media strategies”, attempted to “deflect corporate responsibility to individuals”, and lobbied to “maintain producer subsidies”.  

ExxonMobil’s leaders have known about carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions released from the use of oil since the 1970s. A presentation by company scientist named James F Black outlined this, and the fact that CO2 levels in the atmosphere were causing global heating.

“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed”, he wrote as reported by InsideClimate News. the company responded by spending the following decades “at the forefront of climate denial”, it claimed, which included lobbying to block government efforts to control emissions and spreading misinformation about climate change.

In the 1990s, it interfered with the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and IPCC, pushing for the involvement of scientists who disagreed with the findings of climate science.

It also funded climate denial groups who helped fight climate action within the US government. Even today, ExxonMobil influences politicians to block US President Joe Biden’s decarbonisation agenda.

Their recent strategy has been to deflect attention to individual consumers. A study published in the journal One Earth in 2021 by Harvard researchers found that the oil behemoth’s advertisements “worked to shift responsibility for global warming away from the fossil fuel industry and onto consumers”. In doing so, it is downplaying its role in the climate crisis, and continues to “undermine climate litigation, regulation, and activism”. 

Since 1965, only 20 companies have been responsible for one-third of the world’s CO2 emissions, and ExxonMobil is fourth on this list – responsible for 41.90 billion tones of CO2 equivalent in emissions.

It was also named in an inquiry by a human rights commission in the Philippines this year as one of the entities that “engaged in wilful obfuscation of climate science”. The report found that their actions may form the basis for liability, and provision of climate reparations.

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