Calling Out Big Oil’s Climate Disinformation

The House Oversight Committee recently held a hearing to interrogate Big Oil executives about their companies’ decades of deliberate climate disinformation. A disappointing yet unsurprising outcome tells us it’s time for more climate mandates for real accountability.

We're fighting Big Oil's grasp on New England.

Shell Oil's facility in Providence, Rhode Island. Photo: EcoPhotography.

For decades, Big Oil companies have lied to the public, regulators, and elected officials about climate change. Last week, the House Oversight Committee put leaders of some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies on the stand so they can answer for their decades of deceit.

Despite what the CEOs of Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and BP claimed during the congressional hearing, these companies have known about the impacts of fossil fuels on global warming since the 1970s or earlier. And they have done everything in their power to cover up this information. Their sugared words at the hearing have not changed our reality. Climate change is imperiling us, and it’s Big Oil’s fault.

Decades of Climate Disinformation

By the late 1970s, companies like Exxon and Shell had conducted extensive research into the impacts of burning fossil fuels, like oil, coal, and gas, on global warming. Today, we know that they found a direct connection between using fossil fuels and climate change – and they knew that the effects (effects we must contend with right now) would be devastating if left unchecked.

Instead of alerting the larger scientific community, the public, and regulators, Big Oil deliberately decided to hide what they found. Why? Profits. These executives were only concerned with saving their businesses. Not our health and safety – let alone that of our planet.

A Billion-Dollar Campaign to Fuel Climate Change

If hiding what they knew wasn’t devious enough, Big Oil has conducted a destructive and dangerous campaign to spread climate disinformation proactively. The industry has funded groups like the American Petroleum Institute, which exist solely to undermine climate science and prevent any meaningful regulations or legislation from being passed.

During the congressional hearing, the oil executives even refused to disavow these groups, whose lobbying and advertising efforts directly contradict the climate views Big Oil now claims to uphold. This constant barrage of lies and greenwashing has cost us precious decades in responding to the impacts of the climate crisis and preventing them from worsening.

In the meantime, our sea levels are rising, storms like Tropical Storm Henri are becoming more extreme and frequent, droughts and wildfires are commonplace across the country, and our cities face deadly temperatures every summer.

We’ve seen communities poisoned by Big Oil. All the while, these companies raked in billions in profits and feigned ignorance about the connection between their dirty products and the climate crisis.

And What Was Big Oil’s Response?

When asked by members of Congress to respond to their deceit and denial, how did Big Oil respond? With noncommittal fluff. Each of the leaders who testified, including one from the American Petroleum Institute, waxed poetic about their vague commitments to climate change – promising a low carbon future while pledging more oil and gas development.

Worse, these leaders (and the members of Congress in denial of Big Oil’s complicity) espoused irrelevant arguments for continuing our fossil fuel addiction. Their infuriating bluster was intended to politicize climate change and distract us from the actual issue at hand.

But we all know better. 

Big Oil’s executives certainly owe the American people and the world an explanation for the deceitful and deadly campaign they’ve undertaken over the last four decades.

And they failed to offer one during the hearing.

Instead, they only proved that Big Oil is not ready to take accountability for their actions – and they are not on our side.

Moving Forward, Without Big Oil

Climate change has already profoundly damaged public health, communities, and our planet in the years it’s taken officials to wake up to this problem. We cannot afford to wait any longer for solutions.

Congressional leaders must come away from these hearings with a mandate to enact real changes to slash planet-warming emissions and prepare communities for the climate impacts we’re already experiencing. The hearing didn’t elicit the confessions it was intended to. Clearly, our leaders in Washington need to figure out their next steps in holding Big Oil accountable through urgent climate laws and policies.

But we’re not waiting for that. If we had waited on Washington, we here in New England wouldn’t already have binding climate laws on the books in five of our six states. Nor would CLF’s lawsuit against Shell Oil, holding it accountable for climate impacts in Providence, be the first of its kind to move forward.

We’re glad that Congress is finally bringing attention to Big Oil’s history of deceit and denial. But in the meantime, we’ll keep working here at home – cutting emissions, holding oil companies to account, and protecting our communities.

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.