Oil giants under fire for ‘lying’ to the public over green goals
Rage intensifies as 'explosive' files reveal that the world's largest oil giants contradicted their official pronouncements.
The oil industry is facing criticism in the US after internal documents showed that companies attempted to distance themselves from common climate goals and admitted to "gaslighting" the public over efforts to go green, wishing critical activists to be infested by bedbugs.
The conversations were released as part of a congressional hearing in Washington, DC, when documents taken from oil companies ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP were revealed as part of an examination into the role of fossil fuels in fueling the climate problem.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they wish bedbugs on you, then you win,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise. The organization accused Shell of a “legacy of violence and of ignoring the wellbeing of communities across the globe."
The discoveries are part of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform's third hearing on how the fossil-fuel sector attempted to hinder efforts aimed at addressing the climate problem. Last year, Democrats, who chair the committee, asked key executives from oil firms to appear, and they all denied misleading the public.
The new documents are “the latest evidence that oil giants keep lying about their commitments to help solve the climate crisis and should never be trusted by policymakers," said Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity.
“If there is one thing consistent about the oil and gas majors’ position on climate, it’s their utter inability, to tell the truth,” Wiles added.
The co-chair of the committee, Ro Khanna, said the new documents are “explosive” and show a “culture of intense disrespect” to climate activists. The oil giants’ “climate pledges rely on unproven technology, accounting gimmicks, and misleading language to hide the reality,” he added. “Big oil executives are laughing at the people trying to protect our planet while they knowingly work to destroy it.”
What did the documents reveal?
The collection of emails and memos within the released trove of documents revealed different executives, staffers, and lobbyists internally contradicting public pronouncements by their companies to act on lowering planet-heating emissions.
Exxon, which just posted profits of $17.9 billion for the three months ending June, more than three times what it earned in the same quarter the previous year, has publicly stated that it is "committed" to the Paris climate pact to reduce global warming.
However, among the documents revealed by the Democratic-led House committee is an August 2019 memo from an executive to Exxon CEO Darren Woods about the need to "remove reference to Paris agreement" from an announcement by an industry advocacy group to which Exxon belongs.
Such a statement “could create a potential commitment to advocate on the Paris agreement goals," the executive warned. A further note in an Exxon presentation from 2018 conceded that biofuels derived from algae were still "decades away from the scale we need," despite the company's long promotion of it as a solution to reduce emissions.
Meanwhile, Shell has pledged to become a "net zero" emissions company by 2050, but records show a secret 2020 letter in which employees are told not to "imply, suggest, or leave it open to possible misinterpretation that (net zero) is a Shell goal or target."
It has “no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio” over the next 10 to 20 years, it added.
They know; oil sectors are aware
Previous disclosures of internal documents have revealed that the oil sector was aware of the disastrous effects of climate change but decided to minimize, if not deny, these results publicly in order to preserve their economic model.
Republicans have claimed that the hearings are a way to "wage war on America's energy providers," while the oil corporations participating have protested that the records do not provide a complete picture of their views on the climate catastrophe.
Exxon supports the 2015 Paris climate deal, a spokesperson said, claiming that the “selective publication of dated emails, without context, is a deliberate attempt to generate a narrative that does not reflect the commitment of ExxonMobil and its employees, to address climate change and play a leading role in the transition to a net-zero future.”
Meanwhile, a Shell spokesperson claimed that the committee decided to highlight only a small portion of the almost half-million pages it offered the body on its "extensive efforts" to participate in the energy transition.
“Within that pursuit is challenging internal and external discussions that signal Shell’s intent to form partnerships and share pathways we deem critical to becoming a net-zero energy business,” he said.