Suzanne Goldenberg has written a piece in The Guardian revealing and examining a newly released email from climate expert Lenny Bernstein, exposing what should have been suspected: “Exxon knew of climate change in 1981…but it funded deniers for 27 more years.”
This is something that is often neglected in discussions about corporations and their effects on the work force and the environment: They are deeply aware of what they’re doing, the damage they are causing, and the havoc they are wreaking on the lives of millions of people worldwide, even if they put on a front of confusion or innocence when in the public eye.
This is, of course, because reality, such as the reality of climate change, has the potential to impact their bottom line.
As much as they love to deceive the public — like Exxon has been doing for decades — they must have a firm grasp of the truth internally if they are to make profitable decisions.
Exxon has apparently known the truth for longer than others — although some dispute this, claiming that other organizations were well aware of the discoveries of climate science in the 1970’s — but their approach has not differed much from that of other oil giants in the face of climate change.
As Bernstein writes in his email,
Corporations are interested in environmental impacts only to the extent that they affect profits, either current or future. They may take what appears to be altruistic positions to improve their public image, but the assumption underlying those actions is that they will increase future profits. ExxonMobil is an interesting case in point.
So, Exxon decided that it would be more profitable to fund climate change deniers, with the hope of avoiding strict regulations that might slow their ability to “inject” CO2 into the atmosphere, which would, again, hurt their bottom line.
Similarly, BP, among others, has apparently decided that frequent oil spills are the cost of doing business. They fork over settlement money once in a while, but no fundamental changes are imposed, so they continue raking in the cash. Lives and the environment ruined? No problem, here’s a few billion for your losses.
Today, Exxon publicly accepts that climate change is a scientific reality, just as (this analogy is made multiple times in the Guardian piece) tobacco companies recognize the fact that cigarette smoke causes lung cancer.
But many of our politicians — indeed, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment, Jim Bridenstine — continue to deny that humans have played any role in altering the climate.
Unsurprisingly, politicians accrue lucrative funds from oil companies for their positions on climate change, including taking all-expenses-paid trips to conferences, at which they espouse their views to an audience of fellow “skeptics.”
Exxon is just another example of the business of selling doubt to the public, a tactic outlined brilliantly by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their book Merchants of Doubt. They know the science, because they have to know the science. But the public can’t know, because if they did, they would want to do something about it, as many are today.
Climate denial goes beyond doubting the realities of lung cancer as it relates to cigarette smoking.
This is about the earth on which we all depend on for survival. This is about future generations. This is about the poor who contribute the least to climate change, but who are most severely affected by it.
Yet these oil companies and politicians continue to operate as if it were all a game, all a “business calculation.”
Profit over people is indeed the “spirit of the age,” and until this spirit is forcefully turned on its head, we can’t expect diversions from business as usual.