This Thursday, the European Parliament’s (EP) Committee on Petitions and Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety will hold a joint hearing on “Climate Change Denial,” specifically focusing on ExxonMobil and the #ExxonKnew campaign. The hearing was scheduled as a result of a petition submitted to the EP by Food & Water Watch Europe, the European arm of the international non-profit Food & Water Watch, a Rockefeller-funded organization that accuses the ExxonMobil of “concealing the link between fossil fuels and global warming” for decades.
At the public hearing, the Committee members will hear testimony from a number of Europeans as well as one of the foremost #ExxonKnew activists in the United States, Geoffrey Supran. Food and Water Watch seeks to convince the EP that it should revoke ExxonMobil’s lobbying access. This makes it essential that – before they embark upon a similar futile endeavor – Europe’s lawmakers realize that the those involved in the #ExxonKnew campaign in the United States largely abandoned their original arguments in 2016 after they were thoroughly debunked. Let’s review:
There has been widespread knowledge about climate change for decades
As EID has chronicled for years, the core of the #ExxonKnew thesis is unfounded and misleading. The information #ExxonKnew activists have claimed was hidden by ExxonMobil is publicly available in libraries and online in peer-reviewed publications. In fact, the company’s scientists have even contributed to international reports that have led to a greater understanding of climate science. For example, Haroon S. Kheshgi, a Senior Scientific Advisor at ExxonMobil, is one of the lead authors on the IPCC’s 2018 report “Mitigation Pathways Compatible with 1.5C in the Context of Sustainable Development.”
Moreover, the study published by Harvard researchers Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran which accuses ExxonMobil of misleading the public – the issue at the very heart of this hearing – omitted evidence and mischaracterized data in order to advance a pre-determined narrative. Dr. Kimberly Neuendorf, an expert in the field of content analysis whose research methods the Harvard authors used in their analysis, reviewed the paper and found “no scientific support” for their study, noting their data analysis was “unreliable, invalid, biased, not generalizable, and not replicable.”
There was widespread knowledge about climate change independent of energy producers’ own studies in the 1970s, as The New York Times Magazine pointed out last year: “A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry,” author Nathanial Rich wrote, but during the time when “everybody knew” about climate change, oil companies “including Exxon and Shell, made good-faith efforts to understand the scope of the crisis and grapple with possible solutions.”
Time magazine predicted the effects of climate change as far back as 1956, and Bell Labs released an hour long film in 1958 warning “a few degrees rise in the Earth’s temperature would melt the polar ice caps.”
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson sent a message to Congress in 1965 addressing the issue. The media, government, and scientific community were discussing the topic decades before the period during which activists claim that Exxon intentionally covered up evidence of climate change.
ExxonMobil supports efforts to address the dangers of climate change
These activists (and their allied public officials) also conveniently gloss over or omit the many examples of ExxonMobil unequivocally stating that climate change is real, and noting the company is committed to finding solutions to the problem:
“I want to use this opportunity to be 100 percent clear about where we stand on climate change. We believe the risk of climate change is real and we are committed to being part of the solution. That is why we have invested $8 billion since 2000 on energy efficiency and emissions reduction.” – Suzanne McCarron, Vice President of Public and Government Affairs, ExxonMobil
To this end, ExxonMobil has repeatedly expressed its support for the Paris Climate Agreement, and the company’s CEO, Darren Woods, made a personal plea to President Trump to keep the U.S. party to the accord. Woods even dedicated his very first blog as CEO to praise the Paris Agreement:
“At ExxonMobil, we’re encouraged that the pledges made at last year’s Paris Accord create an effective framework for all countries to address rising emissions; in fact, our company forecasts carbon reductions consistent with the results of the Paris accord commitments.” – Darren Woods, CEO
Additionally, ExxonMobil is funding research into advanced biofuels to increase energy supplies and reduce emissions.
Every investigation into the #ExxonKnew allegations has come up empty-handed
Those seeking to find a scapegoat – or a widely-recognized, high profile target – have focused their efforts on ExxonMobil, coming after the company from a myriad of angles in the hopes of placing whatever blame they seek to lay at its feet. To date, all of these efforts have failed.
In April 2018, federal Judge Keith Ellison dismissed a class-action lawsuit alleging ExxonMobil inadequately disclosed climate risk, reasoning that the public has been well-informed of climate change for decades. Additionally, a Texas District Court judge concluded that California public officials suing ExxonMobil are part of a conspiracy against the company that was launched during a 2012 conference which aimed, from its outset, to “obtain leverage over these [oil] companies,” according to that judge.
Federal judges also threw out lawsuits in San Francisco, Oakland and New York City against fossil fuel producers – including ExxonMobil – on the grounds that the courts are not the proper venue to develop a framework for dealing with climate change. Earlier in 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended the dismissal of the San Francisco and Oakland cases on the same basis.
The other outstanding lawsuits against energy companies are still pending, and no determinative rulings have been made.
In addition to a lack of success in their litigation strategies, activists have also been unsuccessful in their attempts to influence regulatory oversight. In August 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) dropped its investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate financial disclosures. This decision came after a two-year investigation, one that examined 4.2 million documents, from which the SEC failed to find enough evidence to recommend enforcement action against the company.
Activists have also targeted a network of sympathetic state attorneys general in an attempt to force further investigations targeting the company. In March 2016, a coalition of 16 state AGs announced a joint campaign to investigate and prosecute ExxonMobil for allegedly misleading the public on climate change. Three years later, this effort has now dwindled down to just two investigations. In New York, a lengthy probe, enabled by state laws that give the AG nearly unfettered investigatory access, has led ExxonMobil to produce over four million pages of documents and offer up 18 witnesses for nearly 200 hours of testimony. Despite claims from a lawyer representing the NY AG’s office, the effort failed to produce a “smoking gun”, much less any evidence of substance to bolster its case. In Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey’s investigation into ExxonMobil has been on hold since it began nearly three years ago.
And despite a big push following the midterm elections, activists have failed to convince Congress to join their effort. House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) affirmed such an investigation would be inappropriate:
“If any companies in the oil industry defrauded the public or their shareholders….then that is a matter for the state attorneys general and the courts, not the Committee on Science.” (emphasis added)
Failing to gain traction in the U.S., activists have already set their sights on Europe to find same results
This hearing is not the first time Food & Water Watch pushed the European Parliament on this issue. In 2017, the EP Committee on Petitions denied a petition to “take action against [ExxonMobil] for its climate change denial” because this would not in any way solve the pressing issue of climate change. Even after accepting Food and Water Watch’s premise, the Committee on Petitions reasoned “Misinformation about climate change, while deplorable, is not in itself a breach of EU law,” adding that “[t]he best response to climate skepticism is to pursue the current actions and ensure the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
While the venue and audience may indeed be new, the testimony set to be offered on Thursday by Mr. Supran is remarkably familiar, and as such redundantly far-fetched, and far removed from fact. Food and Water Watch, its backers at the Rockefeller Family Foundation and Mr. Supran are doing a disservice to the EP in continuing to propagate long debunked assertions (as chronicled in this short video here) in their attempt to further the #ExxonKnew movement. Even a cursory glance at the history of these assertions would go a long way in ensuring the EP does not inadvertently lend any credence to their cause.