Exxon’s decades-old dirty secret

The company not only knew about climate change, but also attempted to refute the science

The author, a Paradise resident, is a former part-time community college instructor and overseas teacher.

Twenty-four years ago, I wrote an article on alternative electric vehicles and fuels ignored by the auto and oil industry for the Earth Island Journal. It was selected as one of the top 25 underreported news stories of 1992 by Project Censored. Back then, I figured Exxon just ignored the facts. I was wrong.

Turns out, Exxon knew about climate change decades ago, then turned around and actively supported and funded climate-change denial. The story first came out due to an investigation by students at Columbia University. Recent findings reported by multiple news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, reveal that Exxon’s goal was to “turn a substantial portion of the public against their own government,” as the Huffington Post put it. Now, Exxon is demanding that Columbia investigate the students who first broke the story.

Exxon’s scientists did cutting-edge work on global warming and climate change in the late 1970s. But instead of warning the public about CO2 emissions and climate change, Exxon launched disinformation campaigns.

And that means Exxon has committed the crime of the century.

Automakers have built and showcased hundreds of low-emission vehicles over the years, such as the electric GM Impact in the 1990s, or the nonpolluting 1969 Stirling Electric hybrid. Congress heard testimony throughout the 1980s on alternative vehicles, fuels and plant-based oils. The Department of Energy even built a car with a Stirling engine. The auto industry wasn’t interested. No one tells them what to build. Since taxpayers bailed out GM, maybe we should have a say?

Over a hundred climate-denial organizations, such as the Global Climate Coalition, have been formed over the years by the auto, oil and other industries. But it all began with Exxon. Bernie Sanders and other senators have called for a federal investigation of Exxon by the Justice Department. Groups like 350.org are waging a huge fossil fuel divestment campaign. It’s time for action. After all, as Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers, wrote, “[I]n the years to come, this issue [climate change] will dwarf all the others combined. It will become the only issue.”