The state of California has joined several other states and municipalities in suing five major oil companies, charging that they had known for a long time from their internal science that the burning of fossil fuels was harming the environment and driving climate change but lying about it to the public.
California is suing five of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, alleging that they engaged in a “decades-long campaign of deception” about climate change and the risks posed by fossil fuels that has forced the state to spend tens of billions of dollars to address environmental-related damages.
State Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta filed the lawsuit Friday in San Francisco County Superior Court alleging that Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and the American Petroleum Institute have known since the 1950s that the burning of fossil fuels would warm the planet but instead of alerting the public about the dangers posed to the environment they chose to deny or downplay the effects.
“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades — that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change,” Bonta said in a statement, “but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record breaking profits at the expense of our environment. Enough is enough.”
Back in 2017, I wrote about the paper by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes that internal ExxonMobil documents and research supported and done by ExxonMobil largely supported the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change while their public stance was largely at odds with it. You can follow that link to read their expose. There is a new study showing that their knowledge went back 50 years.
In 2015, investigative journalists discovered internal company memos indicating that Exxon oil company has known since the late 1970s that its fossil fuel products could lead to global warming with “dramatic environmental effects before the year 2050.” Additional documents then emerged showing that the US oil and gas industry’s largest trade association had likewise known since at least the 1950s, as had the coal industry since at least the 1960s, and electric utilities, Total oil company, and GM and Ford motor companies since at least the 1970s. Scholars and journalists have analyzed the texts contained in these documents, providing qualitative accounts of fossil fuel interests’ knowledge of climate science and its implications. In 2017, for instance, we demonstrated that Exxon’s internal documents, as well as peer-reviewed studies published by Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists, overwhelmingly acknowledged that climate change is real and human-caused. By contrast, the majority of Mobil and ExxonMobil Corp’s public communications promoted doubt on the matter.
This new lawsuit builds upon that and new information.
California’s complaint includes several examples of evidence demonstrating that the defendants have long known about the environmental threat posed by the use of fossil fuels.
For instance, in 1968, API [American Petroleum Institute] and its members received a report from the Stanford Research Institute, which it had hired to assess the state of research on environmental pollutants, including carbon dioxide, according to the lawsuit. The report stated: “Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000, and . . . there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”
In 1978, an internal Exxon memo stated that present “thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”
Although other states had taken the lead in such lawsuits, California is the biggest state and the first oil producing state to do so and thus its presence in the lawsuit adds greater weight.
The oil companies know the harm they are causing but lie in public and flood the media with supposed ‘research’ (that they fund) that seem to suggest that there is doubt about causality and that hence it is premature to take any action until ‘the science is settled’. This fig leaf is used by policy makers who get funded by these companies to argue that we should hold off on any action. In fact, the science has long been settled, and the delays caused by these companies may have caused irreversible damage to the planet.
The oil companies are using the same strategy used by the tobacco companies when their products were accused of causing cancer. The tobacco companies kept denying that there was any link between their product and cancer but lawsuits brought out into the open internal research by the companies that showed that they knew there was a causal relationship but denied it in public. The tobacco companies tried to shift the blame for cancers onto others, when they knew that their product caused cancers and that second-hand smoke could also be lethal.
The oil companies are saying that this is not an issue for courts to decide but for congress, which they know will never take serious action. They argue that climate change is some sad consequence of actions taken by all of us and for which we all should work to solve, and that they have no special responsibility in finding a solution. They also do a lot of ‘greenwashing’, doing things that are trumpeted as environmentally friendly but do not come anywhere close to offsetting the damage they are causing.