Last week, the heads of ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell testified before Congress about their role in causing anthropogenic climate change. All four gave the Congress a high-tech version of the shuck and jive. By turns, the executives were hostile, combative, and unapologetic for helping turn the world into a cosmic garbage dump so laded with pollution from burning fossil fuels that the very existence of the human race is under threat.
When asked if they would stop supporting industry lobbying groups like the American Petroleum Institute that oppose efforts to reduce carbon emissions and stop opposing efforts to move the EV revolution forward, none of the four would agree to do so.
According to the New York Times, all four executives touted their support for a transition to clean energy and said they had never engaged in campaigns to mislead the public on the role of fossil fuel emissions in global warming. Which raises this question: Why are they not in prison for lying to Congress? The evidence of their deceit and deception is overwhelming. The quartet looked like the monkeys in the famous “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” cartoons.
All four acknowledged that the burning of their products was driving climate change, but also told lawmakers that fossil fuels are not about to disappear. “Oil and gas will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future,” said Exxon CEO Darren Woods, who makes $21 million a year for being the leader of the biggest polluter in the history of the world. “We currently do not have the adequate alternative energy sources.”
Republicans on the committee endeared themselves to their constituents by questioning the need for the hearings in the first place, calling it a distraction from more important problems facing the nation — like drawing voting districts that deliberately dilute the voting power of anyone who is not a white male and devising new and creative ways of telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.
They suggested that if the oil companies did in fact ever say that climate change is not happening, they were only exercising their right of free speech that they were born with as American citizens. What’s that? Corporations aren’t people? Don’t try telling Republicans that. The ones on the committee had the gall to suggest that we should all thank the oil companies for keeping our homes warm and the electricity on.
“I’ll tell you what’s frustrating, is a member of Congress telling American oil and gas companies to reduce production,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, adding that he felt those companies should instead be commended for increasing production. “God bless Chevron,” he said. Would that be the same Chevron that bought and paid for a judge who would incarcerate a lawyer who dared sue Chevron for the damage it caused to Indigenous people, congressman?
Will It Play In Peoria?
A majority of Americans want to see oil and gas companies held to account for lying about the climate crisis and contributing to global heating, according to a new YouGov poll commissioned by The Guardian, Vice News, and Covering Climate Now.
The poll surveyed 1,000 American adults and found that 70% said global warming was happening. More than 60% said oil and gas companies were “completely or mostly responsible.” But while Democrats overwhelmingly (89%) accept the scientific basis of the climate emergency, opinion is split among Republicans. Just 42% of Republicans agreed that global warming is a reality, while 36% denied it. The remainder said they didn’t know.
A majority of Americans support the central aims of the lawsuits filed by several cities and states to recover damages from oil companies after being told they knew about the impact of their products on climate change. A little more than half wanted oil and gas companies to pay for damage caused by extreme weather events driven by the climate crisis and 60% said the industry should pay to improve infrastructure to withstand the fires and floods caused by global heating.
Agreement on some aspects of the climate crisis cuts across political lines. Americans broadly agree that all industries should be held accountable for their misdeeds. Eighty percent said manufacturers should warn consumers of harmful products and 69% said they should stop selling them.
But the numbers drop when it comes to products that are harmful to the environment, with only 60% saying that companies should stop selling them. This may reflect the central economic role played by oil in fueling industry and transport, and the industry’s repeated warnings that there is no viable short term alternative to petroleum.
The division also reflects Americans’ perceptions of oil companies. The poll showed that Exxon, the US’s largest petroleum firm, and Shell have high positive ratings among Republicans but high negatives among Democrats. Nevertheless, nearly two thirds of Republicans said oil and gas firms bore some degree of responsibility for the changing climate even though fewer of them acknowledged the existence of global heating. Twenty-eight percent of Republicans said the industry bore the greatest weight of responsibility while 35% said it was somewhat responsible.
A little more than 80% of Democrats said oil and gas companies were completely or mostly responsible for causing climate change. The young and people of color leaned more heavily than the nation as a whole toward blaming the industry. But political divisions emerged again when people were asked about the specifics of the fossil fuel industry’s misdeeds.
Three times as many Democrats said oil and gas companies lied about the existence of climate change and their part in creating it than did Republicans. Just under half of Republicans said oil and gas companies had done nothing wrong.
About 45% of Americans said the companies lied about contributing to climate change. A slightly smaller percentage said the industry had deceived the public about the existence of climate change and ignored their own scientists’ findings.
One of the starkest divisions was over scientific opinion on the climate crisis. While 68% of Democrats said that most scientists think global warming is human-caused, just 22% of Republicans agreed. Half of Republicans said there is “a lot of disagreement” on the issue among scientists, a position held by less than 15% of Democrats. In fact, a recent survey of scientists showed that 99.9% of climate scientists agree the climate emergency is the result of human activity.
Skepticism and denial about climate science are higher in the US than in many other countries, The Guardian says. Americans deny the link between humans and global heating at three times the rate of the British and Japanese. That is in part the result of decades of denial and cover-up by the oil industry, including the suppression of the evidence from its own scientists about the damage being done by burning fossil fuels.
Experience of the climate crisis varied. Nearly half of those polled said it was harming their local community in varied ways from lower air quality to increased cost of living, with a higher proportion of women and Black Americans seeing those effects.
Is it too much to suggest that politicians say what the people who pay to get them elected want them to say? It has been suggested by many that the Republican Party is a captive of the fossil fuel companies. The fact that not one Republican voice was raised to suggest the oil companies bear any responsibility for its actions is telling if not conclusive.
Carolyn Maloney of New York, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, says she intends to issue subpoenas to the oil companies to see whether they are funding campaigns that fight climate policy, and if so, by how much. She said that while the companies had submitted thousands of pages of documents to the committee, many of them were of little use. One company, she said, printed 1,500 pages from its own website.
The ultimate question is, what did the industry know and when did it know it? Once that question gets answered accurately, the blizzard of lawsuits against the companies will be able to move forward quickly. It could also lead to criminal prosecution of several current and former oil company executives, a fate they appear to richly deserve.