ExxonMobil’s Revisionist History

Veronica Eady

CLF is taking ExxonMobil to task for its decades-long cover-up of climate change impacts, which is leaving vulnerable Massachusetts communities directly in harm’s way. In response to pressure from public interest groups, Attorneys General, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Exxon has attempted to deflect attention away from its historic denial of climate change with a recent pivot in the corporation’s stance. However, Exxon’s recent statements are meaningless without real action to prepare its facilities for the impacts our changing climate will bring.

The Public Face: Climate Change is Real

Since the 2006 appointment of CEO Rex Tillerson, Exxon has highlighted its climate change research as “leading in the field” and emphasized the corporation’s recent efforts to combat the problem. Suzanne McCarron, Exxon’s Vice President of Public and Government Affairs, claims, “For more than three decades, we have continuously funded and participated in research to improve understanding of climate science, often in conjunction with government bodies and leading research universities. This has resulted in hundreds of publicly available documents on climate-related topics, including more than 50 peer-reviewed publications.” Additionally, McCarron writes, “…since 2000, ExxonMobil has spent approximately $7 billion to develop lower-emission energy solutions.”

The Private Face: Deny, Deny, Deny…

Yet neither a sudden admission of the reality that is human-caused climate change nor sharing of scientific research erases Exxon’s decision to fund efforts that actively deny the reality of climate change. Here are just a few of its behind-the-scenes efforts to discredit climate science:

  • 1989: Exxon contributes to the creation of the “Global Climate Coalition,” a group that works to disseminate uncertainty surrounding climate change.
  • 1996: Exxon begins to fund the “Frontiers of Freedom,” a foundation that questions the human roots of climate change.
  • 1998: Exxon assists in the establishment of the “Global Climate Science Team,” which likewise perpetuates the notion that climate change should be doubted.
  • 1998 to 2005: Exxon donates more than $2 million to the “Competitive Enterprise Institute,” an organization that challenges the scientific basis of climate change.
  • 2005: Exxon reportedly gives almost $3 million to 39 different groups touting climate change as uncertain.

Better Late than Never? Not Really.

While Exxon continued to fund efforts to mislead the public regarding climate change, the corporation’s scientists educated its leadership, as early as the 1970s, on its threat and causes. In our recently filed lawsuit, CLF cites presentation transcripts and interoffice memos that include statements such as that from ExxonMobil’s former Scientific Advisor, J.F. Black, saying in 1978, “[p]resent thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical… Atmospheric scientists generally attribute this growth in CO2 to the combustion of fossil fuel.”

Exxon effectively hopes that the public will ignore the contrast between its donation records and internal climate change research, and accept the corporation’s new position on climate change as “better late than never.” However, as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned, the impacts of climate change are irreversible. Exxon’s calculated efforts to propagate misinformation are both devastating and too little, too late. Exxon’s withholding of information has put us all decades behind in the fight.

Leaving Communities at Risk

Moreover, in the 10 years since Exxon has publicly acknowledged the threat of climate change, the corporation has failed to take any action to protect its riverfront oil and gas storage  terminal in Everett, MA, from the impacts that it knows are coming. In our lawsuit, CLF calls attention to the lack of climate preparedness at the terminal, asserting that Exxon’s failure to protect against flooding from storm surges and sea level rise violates federal law and imperils surrounding communities.

None of the $7 billion apportioned by Exxon since 2000 to invest in “lower-emission energy solutions” has benefited the Everett terminal. If Exxon is truly ready to recognize climate change, the corporation cannot ignore its most vulnerable industrial facilities and the communities it is placing at risk.

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