Previously unreported documents published on the front page of The Wall Street Journal Thursday show that ExxonMobil continued to work behind closed doors to cast doubt on climate science, even after the company publicly acknowledged the link between fossil fuel-driven greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in 2006.
The documents—which detail email exchanges between executives, board meeting conversations, and other company proceedings—reveal that during his tenure as CEO, Rex Tillerson joined other Exxon leaders in questioning “the severity of climate change’s impacts,” the Journalreported.
The company’s scientists, meanwhile, “supported research that questioned the findings of mainstream climate science” despite Exxon’s pledge to stop bankrolling think tanks and other groups peddling climate denial.
After scientists with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounded the alarm in 2011 about the potentially devastating global impacts of runaway warming, Tillerson told a leading Exxon researcher that the IPCC’s warning was “not credible” and complained about the media’s coverage of the potentially dire scenario, according to documents reviewed by the Journal.
“Tillerson wanted to engage with IPCC ‘to influence [the group], in addition to gathering info,'” the newspaper reported.
Tillerson also dismissed the Paris Climate Agreement’s 2°C warming target as “something magical” shortly before Exxon endorsed the accord.
“As communities pay an ever-greater price for our worsening climate crisis, it’s more clear than ever that Exxon must be held accountable to pay for the harm it has caused.”
Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, said in a statement that “this damning new evidence of Exxon’s climate lies shows that for decades it has been official company policy for executives to undermine climate science, minimize the dangers of their oil and gas business, and protect company profits at all costs—with no concern for the catastrophic impact their actions would have on humanity.”
Wiles argued that the documents reported by the Journal provide more evidence for the dozens of states, cities, and counties that are currently suing Exxon and other fossil fuel giants over their decades-long effort to deceive the public about climate change.
“As communities pay an ever-greater price for our worsening climate crisis,” said Wiles, “it’s more clear than ever that Exxon must be held accountable to pay for the harm it has caused.”
The new reporting could also heighten pressure on the Biden Justice Department to join the legal fight against Big Oil.
In late July, a group of progressive U.S. senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged the DOJ to sue fossil fuel giants for violating “federal racketeering laws, truth in advertising laws, consumer protection laws, and potentially other laws.”
It has long been public knowledge that Exxon, the largest oil and gas company in the United States, was aware of the climate impacts of its business model well before it admitted the link between fossil fuels and climate change.
A peer-reviewed study published earlier this year in the journal Science shows that Exxon’s own internal data between 1977 and 2003 contradicted the company’s public statements downplaying and questioning the veracity of climate science.
The Journal‘s reporting confirms that Exxon did not stop working to sow doubt about climate change after it conceded for the first time in 2006 that “the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere poses risks that may prove significant for society and ecosystems.”
“In 2008, Exxon announced it would stop funding think tanks and other groups that questioned climate science, saying their positions ‘could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner,'” the Journal noted.
But internal company documents show that “Exxon researchers continued to support scientific research that cast doubt on climate science and its impacts,” the newspaper reported.
The same year the company vowed to stop funding climate-denial organizations, Exxon’s manager of global regulatory affairs said that “Exxon should direct a scientist to help the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s influential lobbying group, write a paper about climate science uncertainty.”
Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media, called the Journal‘s reporting “another massive exposé of Exxon’s strategy to attack climate science and block action.”
“Climate change isn’t just a tragedy,” Henn added, “it’s a crime.”