Home Analysis Big Oil Knew All Along

Big Oil Knew All Along

Stockholm (Ekonamik) – According to a new report from the Centre for Climate Change Communication, the fossil fuel industry has known about the dangers of man-made climate change since the 1950s.

The report was authored by John Cook from George Mason University, Geoffrey Supran from Harvard University, Stephan Lewandowsky from the University of Bristol, Naomi Oreskes from Harvard University and Ed Maibach from George Mason University.

The Centre for Climate Change Communication develops and applies social science insights to help society make informed decisions about climate change. It engages in three types of activities, including research, communication consulting, and training about climate change.

Selectively Obfuscating Climate Change Evidence

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The report surveys 35 different sources, including peer-reviewed articles and industry documents describing how the giants of the energy industry have spent the last 50 years devising strategies to obfuscate the evidence of man-made climate change.

“Disinformation about climate change has a straightforward purpose—to block action on climate change,” the report explains. “In America, it has largely succeeded, with policies to mitigate climate change stymied or delayed for decades.”

One of the studies cited by the authors uses advanced analytical methods to review the arguments and patterns of communication used in 187 climate change documents from ExxonMobil. What emerges would be schizophrenic if it wasn’t deceitful.

The study finds a stark contrast between peer-reviewed articles – which are broadly in line with the rest of the scientific consensus on global warming –  and the rest of its publications. Paid-for editorial adverts, known as advertorials, are particularly controversial. According to this study, “accounting for expressions of reasonable doubt, 83% of peer-reviewed papers and 80% of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, yet only 12% of advertorials do so, with 81% instead expressing doubt.”

Learning from Big Tobacco

Asides from presenting fascinating examples of Exxon’s climate change denial dating as far back as the 1950s, perhaps the most interesting contribution of the study is its ability to synthesise the strategies that the industry has pursued to undermine the evidence. The report describes how the industry supports the use of fallacies, “both sides” approach, undermine the authority of actual experts, pseudo-experts, data cherry-picking and conspiracy theories to undermine reforms. These antics are reminiscent of those used by big tobacco decades ago.

“This is not the first time that corporations prioritising profits over people have caused great harm,” the report reminds us. “The tobacco industry spent hundreds of millions of dollars, disinforming the public about the health impacts of smoking in order to undermine tobacco control.”

“Drawing on the tobacco industry’s playbook, fossil fuel companies have done the same on climate change, spending hundreds of millions of dollars confusing the public and delaying life-saving action,” the report concludes. “Their legacy is the death, destruction, and injustices of irreversible global warming. Big Oil is the new Big Tobacco,” the report concludes.”

Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

Filipe Wallin Albuquerque
Filipe Wallin Albuquerque
Filipe is an economist with 8 years of experience in macroeconomic and financial analysis for the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UN World Institute for Development Economic Research, the Stockholm School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Filipe holds a MSc in European Political Economy from the LSE and a MSc in Economics from the University of London, where he currently is a PhD candidate.

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