What Did Exxon Know and When Did It Know It?

For younger readers, the title of this post is a riff on the late Senator Sam Ervin‘s (D.,North Carolina) repeated question as chair of the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices, also known as the Senate Watergate Committee. Senator Ervin was asking the question about President Nixon. As it turned out, President Nixon knew about the whole sordid mess from the start. Which makes the paraphrased quote pretty apt for Exxon and climate change.

For years, Exxon has been a primary sponsor of Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a lobbying partnership of leading oil and automobile companies dedicated to defeating any controls on CO2 emissions. Some very nice investigative reporting by Inside Climate News has shown the disinformation program adopted and implemented by Exxon.

Source: Exxon Records. Credit: Inside Climate News.

Source: Exxon Records. Credit: Inside Climate News.

In fact, it was Dr. A. G. Randol of ExxonMobil who in 2000 sent a facsimile to the new Bush/Cheney Administration urging four federal individuals involved in climate change research activities be fired. And they were. Exxon complained that the evidence for climate change from CO2 emissions was uncertain.

Yet it was Exxon’s own scientists who, as far back as 1968, had shown that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere would have catastrophic consequences, including climate change and ocean acidification. Exxon knew in 1968, and certainly no later than 1971, that climate change was as real as a heart attack and even more serious. Which makes its disinformation campaign in the 1990s a cold, deliberate lie, an intentional deception. Not only was there no ambiguity in the science; Exxon knew from its own research there was no uncertainty, no ambiguity, no doubt. Here’s a nice infographic from Inside Climate News showing just how duplicitous Exxon was.


Credit: Paul Horn, Inside CLimate News

Credit: Paul Horn, Inside Climate News

Like the tobacco industry, Exxon knew by its own science that its public policy statements were a lie. Exxon, like the tobacco industry, told those lies purely and simply to maximize profits. But Exxon’s lies were far more consequential than the selfish, criminal lies of Big Tobacco.

The tobacco industry inflicted cancer and heart disease on millions of smokers. Exxon and Big Oil have jeopardized billions of lives. Their strategy was to make as much profit as possible, even if it meant they might make the planet uninhabitable.

So to answer Senator Ervin’s question, Exxon knew just how dangerous the CO2 byproducts of its industry were a full decade before the rest of us. And yet it cynically, cold-bloodedly and criminally claimed the opposite. President Nixon was disgraced and thrown out of office for hiding the truth about Watergate.

What’s a sufficient punishment for Exxon’s conduct?


2 thoughts on “What Did Exxon Know and When Did It Know It?

  1. WC
    Pay attention. You must read your writings more carefully.

    I refer you to your own August 9, 2015 posting with the same caption. You begin by explaining the origin of the now-famous query:
    “The phrase, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” was popularized by the late Senator Howard Baker (R, Tennessee) during the Senate Watergate Committee’s investigation of the burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters. Oddly enough, it was intended to be a defensive question, to insulate President Richard Nixon from the growing scandal. As Presidential Counsel John Dean’s testimony and the White House tapes made clear that Nixon had orchestrated the burglary and the coverup, it became clear the President had known quite a lot very early.
    “It turns out that Exxon, like Nixon, knew quite a lot quite early about CO2 and its impact on climate, Exxon knew about the hazards of CO2 as much as five years before James Hansen raised the issue to a Senate Committee.”

    Apart from that small nit that has been thoroughly picked, quite good. Carry on.


Comments are closed.