It wasn’t just Exxon that said one thing on global warming and did something else


The story broke last year, and it quickly became the environmental scandal of the decade: Evidence that the world’s largest oil company knew for decades that climate change — driven largely by fossil-fuel pollution — would cause catastrophic damage to Planet Earth if left unchecked. It seemed almost too cynical to believe that Exxon Corp., the massive forerunner to today’s ExxonMobil, would chose a dishonest policy of lying about its own global warming research rather than seek a solution that would benefit the world that awaited their own children and grandchildren. But Exxon clearly valued profits over people — and now numerous governmental agencies are looking to see if top executives are criminally liable for this cover-up.

But what is now becoming increasingly clear is that Exxon wasn’t just “one bad apple” in an otherwise altruistic world of Big Oil. Quite the contrary, dishonesty and duplicity are clearly a systemic cancer within the energy industry in America. Further investigation is showing that actually most major oil companies understood and accepted the science of climate change — even as their public relations shops were seeding uncertainty and preaching inaction.

Here’s what a joint investigation involving the Los Angeles Times and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Energy and Environmental Reporting Project discovered:

As many of the world’s major oil companies — including Exxon, Mobil and Shell — joined a multimillion-dollar industry effort to stave off new regulations to address climate change, they were quietly safeguarding billion-dollar infrastructure projects from rising sea levels, warming temperatures and increasing storm severity.

From the North Sea to the Canadian Arctic, the companies were raising the decks of offshore platforms, protecting pipelines from increasing coastal erosion, and designing helipads, pipelines and roads in a warming and buckling Arctic.

The industry contends that the difference between its public relations effort and its internal decision-making was not a contradiction, but a strategy to protect its business from misguided federal regulations while taking into account the possibility that the climate change predictions were valid.

“During planning and construction of major engineering and infrastructure projects, it is standard practice to take into account many types of risks both short-term and long-term, likely and unlikely,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, which merged in 1999. “These risks would naturally include a range of environmental conditions, some of which could be associated with climate change.”

As the reporting project revealed, many oil production facilities built by the likes of Mobil, Shell, and other oil giants were designed with accommodations for rising sea levels — the result of their own calculations of the likelihood of serious global warming impacts from burning the very fossil fuels that they produced. In one case, a massive $3 billion  drilling platform for the North Sea was raised by one or two feet to deal with the rising sea level projections.

The article notes that Shell’s “then-chief offshore engineer, Chris Graham, said rising sea levels and increasing wave heights were ‘really showing’ during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the company was taking them seriously. A rash of storms and monster waves that had battered the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico during those years was particularly concerning, and engineers wondered whether climate change might be behind it.”

At the same time, Shell and its biggest rivals in the oil business were spending millions of dollars on slick public-relations campaigns to convince both the general public and the politicians that the science on climate change was uncertain at best. These efforts convinced the United States to spurn earlier attempts at addressing greenhouse-gas pollution, such as the 1997 Kyoto treaty, that would have given the planet more of a fighting chance against droughts, floods, stronger hurricanes, and the other catastrophic impacts of global warming. What these oil executives and their in-house scientists did was a form of treason — treason against a planet. That’s why this cover-up needs to be investigated to the fullest extent.

Read more about the massive climate-change cover-up from the Los Angeles Times:

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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