Like the tobacco industry but with more devastating consequences, the fossil fuel industry not only concealed its own findings about the damage caused by its products but used its resources to undermine independent research with the same conclusions.
Had Exxon been upfront at the time about the dangers of the greenhouse gases we were spewing into the atmosphere, we might have begun decades ago to develop a less carbon-intensive energy path to avert the worst impacts of a changing climate. Amazingly, politicians are still debating the reality of this threat, thanks in no small part to industry disinformation.
Government and academic scientists alerted policy makers to the potential threat of human-driven climate change in the 1960s and ’70s, but at that time climate change was still a prediction. By the late 1980s it had become an observed fact.
Journalists and scientists have identified more than 30 different organizations funded by the company that have worked to undermine the scientific message and prevent policy action to control greenhouse gas emissions.
These efforts turned the problem from a matter of fact into a matter of opinion. When the Exxon chief executive, Lee Raymond, insisted in the late 1990s that the science was still uncertain, the media covered it, business leaders accepted it and the American people were confused.