Several years ago, a dreadful, though not wholly unexpected secret began to be revealed all across the internet. It was a secret more than half a century in the making. The gist was this: Exxon knew about climate change and its effects far sooner than it let on.
Perhaps more important than the deception itself was the fact that Exxon’s ensuing campaign to cast doubt, shift responsibility, defraud investors, and mislead the public would cost subsequent generations decades of lost time in the uphill battle against climate change. The question is, what, if anything, can be done about it?
The #ExxonKnew movement is fairly recent in terms of recognition, but its core beliefs harken back to a secret that’s more than four decades old. The theory is that for the past 50-plus years, Exxon has known about the effects that its petroleum products would have on the climate and has worked to keep that knowledge secret.
According to the official ExxonKnew campaign website, Exxon has achieved this by contributing millions of dollars to politicians and think tanks so that this information could be suppressed. If that weren’t enough, those same bribed officials were tasked with promoting doubt and spreading misinformation about the cause of the problem, the scope, and the reality of how much danger we are actually in because of our continued use of fossil fuels.
In many ways, this type of behavior is to be expected. After all, gas companies have been misleading us and passing the buck in terms of environmental responsibility ever since they coined the term “carbon footprint” back in 2005. According to Mashable, BP first used the term in one of its ad campaigns as a way to push the blame for the climate crisis onto the consumer, rather than the on the corporations who provided the oil itself. It worked so well that many people still use the term colloquially today.
According to Inside Climate News, the oil industry has been discussing the risks associated with climate change and the scientific proof behind them for decades. Oil company researchers have allegedly known about the impact of burning fossil fuels as far back as the 1960s, and there is talk that these concerns were brought to the attention of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration in 1965.
Within 10 years of that revelation, however, Exxon had its own scientists working to understand the risks of CO2 emissions. The company changed tack rather quickly after that, though, and decided instead to challenge the science behind the theories. This, according to ExxonKnew's website, has been Exxon's policy ever since, and Exxon has done everything in its power to bury the information and change the narrative to suit its fiscal interests, including influencing policymakers.
If these accusations are true and Exxon willingly and knowingly deceived the public, ExxonKnew believes that the company should be held liable. To that end, the movement has a petition on its website calling for an immediate investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and State Attorneys General. Signing this petition would go a long way in bringing these potential crimes to light.
The most important thing you can do right now to get involved is to spread the word. While ExxonKnew's movement has trended on Twitter and Reddit in the past, we have already seen this important information fade into the background. An article posted about this information by Scientific American detailed all of this in 2016, but like so many important scientific revelations, the story simply slipped from peoples’ radar.
We cannot let that happen again, not with the approaching 2030 goal of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. And while it’s not yet too late to stop climate change, millions of lives still hang in the balance. Exxon’s potential deception could very well mean the difference between success and failure.
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