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BREAKING: New docs reveal Exxon “policy” to put profits above the climate
The Wall Street Journal uncovered damning new evidence of Exxon executives’ ploy to protect fossil fuel profits at all costs.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
New Wall Street Journal reporting has unearthed additional proof of Exxon’s longstanding efforts to undermine climate science in order to continue profiting from oil and gas for as long as humanly possible.
The documents shed light on how Exxon’s board members and executives worked to promote scientific uncertainty — all while the oil giant promised to stop funding climate denial and turn over a new leaf. The revelations, published this morning, include internal documents from the era of former CEO Rex Tillerson, who publicly claimed to support climate policies like the Paris Agreement while he and other executives worked behind the scenes to undermine them.
According to the Journal, the documents — which were obtained during a previous investigation by the New York attorney general’s office and never reported on before — have already been requested by some attorneys representing states and municipalities suing Exxon for its climate deception.
Just a few of the most egregious highlights:
After James Hansen gave his congressional testimony on the reality of dangerous anthropogenic climate change in 1988, Frank Sprow, then Exxon’s head of corporate research, sent a memo to colleagues warning that “If a worldwide consensus emerges that action is needed to mitigate against Greenhouse gas effects, substantial negative impacts on Exxon could occur.”
“Any additional R&D efforts within Corporate Research on Greenhouse should have two primary purposes: 1. Protect the value of our resources (oil, gas, coal). 2. Preserve Exxon’s business options,” the memo said. In an interview, Sprow, now retired, told the Journal that the plan laid out in his memo became company policy, and Exxon’s corporate research division was instructed to pivot from internal climate research to funding “science to support our business.”
In 2012, following a major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlining the worst-case scenario for climate change if carbon emissions continued to rise unchecked, then-CEO Rex Tillerson told a top Exxon researcher that company scientists should work to “to influence [the group], in addition to gathering info.”
Four years prior, while Exxon was publicly pledging to stop funding climate denial through think tanks and front groups, a manager of global regulatory affairs and research planning wrote in an email that Exxon should send a scientist to help the American Petroleum Institute (the world’s largest oil and gas trade association) write a paper undermining the certainty of climate science.
“I support [Exxon] co-authoring a paper on uncertainty in measuring GHGs,” wrote the manager, Gene Tunison.
In 2015, Tillerson also told Exxon’s board of directors that keeping global warming within 2 degrees was “something magical” (scientists have made clear that crossing the threshold of 1.5 degrees will bring about catastrophic climate impacts).
“Who is to say 2.5 is not good enough,” said Tillerson, adding that it would be “very expensive” to reach a 2 degree target, according to a summary of the meeting reviewed by the Journal. In August of this year, Exxon “predicted” the world would not meet that goal by 2050.
“I know how this information looks — when taken out of context, it seems bad,” Exxon CEO Darren Woods told the Journal. (Looks a lot worse in context, if you ask me.) “None of these old emails and notes matter though,” he continued.
Quite the opposite: These most recent revelations will no doubt play an important role in the growing number of climate liability lawsuits against Exxon now moving through the courts and toward trial. The new documents are just the latest in a growing mountain of evidence that Exxon deceived the public about its commitment to reducing emissions, muddied the science, and played a central role in delaying society’s response to the crisis. A year ago today, a massive trove of internal documents was released following an investigation by the House Oversight and Reform committee.
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