Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Exxon Hoist On Its Own Petard

Petro-giant Exxon is facing a load of grief. Several US state attorneys-general are gunning for the company and a new report based on Exxon's own internal documents has produced what could be the smoking gun.

Harvard scientists Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes ...used a method known as content analysisto analyze 187 public and internal Exxon documents. The results are striking:

In Exxon’s peer-reviewed papers and internal communications, about 80% of the documents acknowledged that climate change is real and human-caused.
In Exxon’s paid, editorial-style advertisements (“advertorials”) published in the New York Times, about 80% expressed doubt that climate change is real and human-caused.

As Oreskes documented with Erik Conway in Merchants of Doubt, tobacco companies and several other industries that profited from harmful products engaged in decades-long campaigns to sow doubt about the scientific evidence of their hazards. As one R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company 1969 internal memo read:  'Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public.'

The results of this new paper show that Exxon followed this same playbook. While the company’s internal communications and peer-reviewed research were clear about human-caused global warming, its public communications focused heavily on sowing doubt about those scientific conclusions.

Exxon was sowing doubt by raising questions in its advertorials that Exxon's own scientists had answered 10 even 20-years earlier.

This study comes as ExxonMobil already faces numerous investigations by state attorneys general and class action lawsuits. One lawsuit accuses Exxon of misleading its investors and inflating its stock value by making false statements about the value of its oil reserves (much of which must be stranded if we’re to meet international climate targets), and about how climate policies will impact the company’s finances.

The attorney general of the Virgin Islands is investigating Exxon for potentially violating the territory’s anti-racketeering law. New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is also investigating whether Exxon lied to the public and its shareholders about the risks of climate change and the potential effects on the company’s finances. Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey is pursuing a similar investigation to determine whether Exxon deceived the public and investors about climate change risks.

By showing that Exxon systematically misled the public by following the tobacco industry playbook, the new Harvard study will undoubtedly bolster these cases.

Big Tobacco was convicted of racketeering in the tobacco/cancer campaign. Hard to imagine that Big Oil isn't heading for the same reckoning.

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