ExxonMobil is an American oil and gas company. For the longest time, the company has been involved in controversies about climate change, notably its denial of its impact as an oil company on climate change. This can be considered deliberate as ExxonMobil is alleged to have been actively involved in climate research since the 1970s. The company later began advertising, lobbying, and giving grants to deny the evidence of the human factor in global warming to delay acceptance of and action against global warming. Curry asserts that Exxon collaborated with universities and has been a significant player in the denial of climate change between the 1980s and the mid-2000s when it worked to fight global warming regulations. The goal was to influence public opinion against scientific claims that the burning of fossil fuels was directly linked to climate change. In this letter, I argue that ExxonMobil intentionally denied oil companies’ contributions to global warming, which impacted passing policies aiming for alternative fuel sources.
Climate Change Research
Before the merge, Exxon had pursued research to understand whether its products were causing global warming from the late 70s through the 80s. Exxon funded research to counter scientific evidence that supported the impact of continuous use of fossil fuel products and advanced a view for carbon dioxide expertise. This did not stop even after the merging of Exxon and Mobil into ExxonMobil as academic collaborators and researchers, with dozens of articles backing its denial of climate change (Hall). As early as the 70s, there was a consensus among scientists that human actions were a leading cause of increased carbon dioxide in the air, thus driving global warming. One of its research projects aimed to assess the rate at which the ocean was absorbing carbon dioxide. The company designed a laboratory and installed sensors on one of its largest supertankers, the Esso Atlantic, to undertake this research. Its findings showed that carbon dioxide was increasing in the atmosphere, which would directly cause a rise in the global temperature due to the trapping of heat.
This knowledge did not stop the company from spending decades counteracting the publicly agreed evidence of global warming and even misrepresenting climate change information. Hall notes that the company was aware that accepting that its products were causing a problem would affect its profits. As a result, they endeavored to spread misinformation that contradicted the consensus that global warming was occurring. However, ExxonMobil has claimed that all of its early statements were too ambiguous to be considered conclusive. The company intentionally aimed to counter any argument supporting global warming as a measure to ensure its investments remained profitable. ExxonMobil even designed a Global Climate Coalition to assess whether concerns about global warming were viable, although it was dismantled later (Goldenberg). Every action that the company took against global warming had a detrimental impact around the globe. For instance, the US and other countries, such as India and China, failed to sign climate change treaties since it was not clear whether fossil fuels were a significant contributor.
Funding Climate Change Denial
ExxonMobil stands as the most active oil company in the debate concerning climate change. For instance, while other companies were looking for ways to adopt renewable energies such as solar and wind to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, ExxonMobil stood its ground. It even looked for ways to increase its production. Curry adds that the company employed most of the tactics and approaches used by the tobacco industry to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer. The company played a central role in advancing climate change denial in the US and globally. For instance, the Kyoto protocol was created, which aimed to convince states parties to lessen their greenhouse gas emissions based on evidence that human actions such as burning fossil fuels were a significant contributor to global warming. ExxonMobil financed organizations against the Kyoto Protocol and worked to disrupt any consensus on the link between fossil fuels and global warming. Goldenberg adds that ExxonMobil, in general, sent about 33 million dollars to support lobbyists and advocacy groups that dispute the human impact of global warming to create doubts. Most of these advocacy groups misrepresented the climate change scientific evidence by outright denying the evidence that human actions were causing global warming, which they did not believe.
The company also directed some of its investments to think tanks to create doubt and influence public opinions on the need for the government to take action that targeted the use of fossil fuels. Such actions were seen as dangerous to the economy. In 2008, the company agreed to reduce its funding to various public policy research groups that supported its endeavors to discredit the impacts of fossil fuel claims by diverting attention from the recommendations to adopt alternative energy sources to lessen reliance on fossil fuels. Despite its pledge to cut support to such organizations, ExxonMobil has continued being a leader in funding denying climate change. Goldenberg demonstrates that ExxonMobil is still active in its efforts to combat climate change. It has granted more than 2.3 million dollars to congress members and corporate advocacy groups that deny climate change claims and stymied climate change efforts. However, covert support for climate change skeptics appears hypocritical, given that ExxonMobil spent a lot of money on advertising that portrays it as an environmentally responsible company.
Lobbying groups and state-level Republicans are a significant hindrance to enacting climate change policies. State and federal regulation’s effectiveness in advocating for alternative energy sources and planning for future catastrophes due to extreme weather are practically halted by the actions of these groups. According to a series of reports by Inside Climate News based on years of investigation, the company was at the forefront of climate research and, without disclosing what it learned, worked to deny climate impact, casting doubt on the scientific consensus that scientists had confirmed. However, the company has publicly denied this, noting that these reports were based on biased remarks from its workers and refuted assertions that it disagreed and fought scientific research in favor of climate change denial. According to Schwartz, Mobil subscribed to the regular Thursday advertorials that gave public information on climate change as an unresolved issue between 1989 and 2010.
Lobbying Against Emissions
Global oil giants are identified as leaders lobbying against policies that focus on climate change. Social media has effectively pushed their agenda to the masses by weakening and opposing meaningful policies targeting the reliance on fossil fuels. For instance, it spent about 2 million dollars on targeted Instagram and Facebook ads during the 2018 US midterm election to promote the economic importance of fossil fuels. Although they have publicly backed climate action, they are known to lobby against binding policy. ExxonMobil has been actively influencing public opinion on the climate change issue. Schwartz notes that Lee Raymond, who headed the company between 1993 and 2006, actively advocated against policies that supported climate change. The company’s effectiveness can be attributed mainly to its financial strength. ExxonMobil has a lot of influence on the government and climate change policies, making it hard to protect the environment.
Climate Change’s Impact
The environmental impact of fossil fuels cannot be denied. The greenhouse gases produced are directly linked to increased global temperature due to their ability to trap more heat in the atmosphere. Scientific evidence shows that the average global temperature has risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. A change of two degrees in the average temperature of the world can have potentially dangerous changes in the world’s climatic pattern. For instance, many regions have experienced changes in their rainfall patterns, leading to heavier rain, floods, or drought. The impact on the ozone layer, which greenhouse gases can easily damage, results in severe and more frequent heatwaves. Nunez highlights that climate change impacts every living organism due to changes in their habitats. The oceans and glaciers have changed. Seas are rising due to ice caps melting and warming and becoming more acidic. This shows that actions need to be taken to prevent more changes from beginning to surface from becoming more pronounced in the coming decades. If nothing is done, the continuous use of fossil fuels will present challenges to the environment and society.
Climate Change Acknowledgment
ExxonMobil’s acknowledgment of the impact of fossil fuels on global warming and its decision to cut back its support and funding has been a significant step in driving legislation that supports alternative energy sources. This move revealed the need to back climate change policies to the company’s stakeholders. Currently, ExxonMobil is devoted to offering affordable energy solutions to address the impact of fossil fuels on the environment. Its risk management strategy entails four components: reducing emissions, offering products that help consumers reduce their carbon footprint, developing scalable technologies to decarbonize most emitting sectors, and proactively backing climate-related policies. The company’s scientists are now at the forefront of climate research to understand ways that it can work to mitigate climate change.
Companies have a corporate social responsibility to ensure their activities do not affect the environment but rather conserve it. ExxonMobil had previously violated its environmental conservation duties by funding against it. Oil companies have to take responsibility for their activities, such as contributing proportionally to their actions. Currently, the precise impact of global warming will remain undetermined since fossil fuel is continuously being burned. Scholars warn that ongoing climate disasters are expected to intensify, given that greenhouse gases already unleashed by industrialization continue to impact the environment. It is everyone’s responsibility to take care of the environment to make it sustainable for future generations. In the next few years, things like supporting alternative energy sources or cutting back on our dependence on oil should be encouraged.
Curry, Rex. “Exxon’s Climate Denial History: A Timeline”. Greenpeace USA, (2019), https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/fighting-climate-chaos/exxon-and-the-oil-industry-knew-about-climate-crisis/exxons-climate-denial-history-a-timeline/.
Goldenberg, Suzanne. “ExxonMobil gave millions to climate-denying lawmakers despite pledge.” Guardian. (2015). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/15/exxon-mobil-gave-millions-climate-denying-lawmakers
Hall, Shannon. “Exxon knew about climate change almost 40 years ago.” Scientific American 26 (2015).
Nunez, Christina. “Causes and effects of climate change.” National Geographic. (2019). https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/global-warming-overview
Schwartz, John. “Exxon misled the public on climate change, study says.” New York Times, (2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/23/climate/exxon-global-warming-science-study.html.