The way fossil fuel industry campaigned to deceive the public deliberately about the climate crisis was detailed by an international group of scientists in a report on Monday along with the steps that need to be taken to undo the damage, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The oil and gas giant ExxonMobil may find the report damaging for them. Against New York State’s allegations that it defrauded shareholders by downplaying the expected climate change risks to its business, the company will appear in court on Wednesday to defend itself.
The paper, America Misled: How the fossil fuel industry deliberately misled Americans about climate change was written under the collaboration of scientist from Harvard, George Mason University and the University of Bristol in the UK. The researchers studied peer-reviewed research of more than a decade to reach their findings. The paper was issued to inform policymakers, journalists and the public about “what the fossil fuel industry knew versus what they did, the arguments they used to seed doubt in the public, the techniques they used to create those arguments, and some strategies for combating them,” according to a University of Bristol statement.
Although ExxonMobil has dismissed similar research previously as the work of anti-oil activists, however, the academic validity of this paper will not be easy to refute. As the Los Angeles Times reported, it will be a challenge for Exxon when it goes on trial on Wednesday in Manhattan.
The study pins a 2004 New York Times advertisement that read like an editorial involving ExxonMobil. The company used disinformation techniques in the advertisement, including questioning scientific consensus and calling for a scientific approach to climate change which is “balanced.” It gives undeserved credibility to skeptics of scientific consensus, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“For 60 years, the fossil fuel industry has known about the potential global warming dangers of their products,” said Geoffrey Supran, Research Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University and a study author in a statement. “But instead of warning the public or doing something about it, they turned around and orchestrated a massive campaign of denial and delay designed to protect profits. The evidence is incontrovertible: Exxon misled the public. Like all bad actors, they should be held accountable.”
The study finds that fossil fuel companies managed a disinformation campaign in several ways, including championing conspiracy theories, cherry-picking scientific evidence and promoting fake experts, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Disinformation about climate change has a straightforward purpose–to block action on climate change. In America, it has largely succeeded, with policies to mitigate climate change blocked or delayed for decades,” said Professor Stephan Lewandowsky at the University of Bristol, who is an author on the study, in a press release.
According to its press release, the paper has the following five key points:
- It is clear from the corporate’s internal documents that the fossil fuel industry has known about climate change for decades caused by humans. To discourage action, and protect its status quo business operations, it actively arranges and fund denial and disinformation.
2. With the emergence and strengthening of the scientific consensus on climate change, the industry, along with its political allies, struck the accord and exaggerated the uncertainties.
3. No consistent alternative explanation was offered by the fossil fuel industry to explain why the climate was changing — the goal was merely to undermine the supportive action.
4. To challenge the scientific evidence of climate change, several strategies, tactics, infrastructure and rhetorical arguments and techniques consisting of cherry-picking, fake experts and conspiracy theories, used by fossil fuel interests which are similar to that of the tobacco industry for deferring tobacco control.
5. Making the public aware of how these arguments are deceptive would not only initiate the correction of the misconceptions but for future campaigns, it will be harder to confuse the people using these misleading tactics.
Massachusetts announced 11 days before that it will sue ExxonMobil for violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act — “by engaging in unfair or deceptive acts.” The paper should also lend support concerning the sale and branding of fossil fuel products, according to the Los Angeles Times.
ExxonMobil accused Massachusetts of ignoring facts, siding with anti-fossil fuel groups and political motivation in a move consistent with the disinformation highlighted in the study, Los Angeles Times reported.