Climate activists expressed enthusiasm after Congressman Ted W. Lieu and Senator Richard Blumenthal led a group of 20 members of Congress in sending a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging the agency to investigate oil and gas companies’ decades-long climate disinformation campaigns.
Cities across the United States have borne enormous and escalating climate costs, including millions of dollars of damage from floods and expensive infrastructure upgrades to address dangerous heat waves and rising seas.
The recent, record-breaking heat waves that have scorched the United States, Mexico, China, and Europe were made dramatically more likely due to human-caused climate change, researchers report July 25 in a study from the World Weather Attribution network.
In January, a peer-reviewed study in the journal Science demonstrated that between 1977 and 2003, Exxon and ExxonMobil scientists “predicted global warming correctly and skillfully.”
But while scientists in government and academia communicated their findings, there is strong evidence that “ExxonMobil worked to deny it—including overemphasizing uncertainties, denigrating climate models, mythologizing global cooling, feigning ignorance about the discernibility of human-caused warming, and staying silent about the possibility of stranded fossil fuel assets in a carbon-constrained world.”
By denying or casting doubt on what they knew to be true, fossil fuel companies defrauded those victims of climate-related damage.
“I am very pleased to see that Congress is calling for an investigation into Shell, ExxonMobil, and other fossil fuel companies to determine whether their coordinated campaigns of climate change deception violated federal law,” said Lisa McCormick.
“For decades, the fossil fuel industry tried to convince the public that fossil fuel use was unrelated to global warming while at least one of those fossil fuel companies, ExxonMobil, had evidence that was consistent with forecasts by independent academic and government scientists,” said McCormick. “In other words, what they knew about climate change since the late 1970s and early 1980s, contradicted what they led the public to believe.”
The DOJ investigation would build on the one conducted last year by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Among the most alarming revelations to date are acknowledgments by oil industry executives, in private emails, that their companies’ climate pledges and professed solutions cannot deliver swift and deep cuts in global warming emissions—and will further delay the transition from fossil fuels.
“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has funded and carried out deliberate disinformation campaigns designed to delay and block climate action, with devastating impacts on the environment and people around the world—and disproportionate harm to people of color and other marginalized groups,” said Kathy Mulvey, accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
“Now ExxonMobil, Shell, and other major oil and gas corporations are profiting massively from continued fossil fuel expansion while using PR and greenwashing to try to convince the public that the climate crisis can’t be solved without them.”
“It’s encouraging to see elected leaders call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Big Oil’s climate deception. An investigation and subsequent lawsuit against the tobacco industry made it clear that the Department of Justice can protect people and help save lives by holding corporations accountable for egregious misconduct.”
“I think individual action is important, but it can’t be all that we do,” said Kristina Dahl, a UCS climate scientist. “To really make a difference, we need to be voting, we need to be protesting, we need to be writing letters to our elected officials. We need to be raising our voices in demanding that our policymakers take the kinds of actions that will bring the fossil fuel industry into check and will advance our climate goals around the world.”
Today, dozens of cities, counties, and states are suing oil and gas companies for their “longstanding internal scientific knowledge of the causes and consequences of climate change and public deception campaigns.”