Big Oil, Big Cover-Up – A Guest Column by Lyndsey Algee
Since the late 1970’s Exxon and other big oil industry players have worked to extensively research, and cover-up, their knowledge of the effects of fossil fuel emissions on global climate change. Previously considered industry leaders in climate study and innovation for sustainable industry, Exxon executives used money and power to hide unfavorable research findings and began fostering belief in climate denial across the nation. These encouragements took place via big think tanks, lobbying and ideological organizations to help create confusion and division regarding the legitimacy of the existence, and consequences, of climate change. Exxon officials knew that if the public understood the dire and irrevocable effects of fossil fuel emissions on the planet that a call for more regulation and control of those industries would be made and Congress would be forced to act. Furthermore, they knew that the fossil fuel industry would be made obsolete as more technologies surfaced. Knowing that such a dominating industry in America’s foundation could cease to hold such power and prominence led Exxon and other big oil to hide their dirty secrets. Rules do not apply when Congress and the Nation take your money and bend with cowardice at every beck and call. This is a world where the truth is often for sale, even at the expense of an entire planet’s well-being. Though some believe businesses should not be regulated by the government, the importance climate change and Exxon’s illegal and unethical activity should be addressed by government officials.
As scientists began studying global climate more, the consensus that climate change is real and caused by human activity grows. The public outcry has become a mumbled rage, as those who believe and understand try desperately to show others the obvious facts of modern scientific work. Though money, efforts and awareness is raised, not enough people individually participate to affect large enough impacts, make necessary changes and reverse the damage done. This perpetuates the problem because of the concept of the tragedy of the commons; in this case the tragedy is the idea that if what one does has effectively no impact, then why do it at all? Strides such as recycling, littering, buying “green,” and other helpful micro-actions have all the appeal of a grassroots movement, but not enough buy-in or momentum to achieve the next level of success. These advances in being environmentally friendly are sometimes seen as the next generation of hippies, or pretentious hipsters, especially as the perception of the cost of helping the environment is seen as more expensive or too expensive. The price of common household cleaners, makeup or food that has the label of “Green” or “Environmentally Friendly” are about one and a half times the cost. This price extortion also extends to solar panels, electric cars, and architectural design.
Companies equipped with extensive, cutting-edge knowledge like Exxon could have been working to help combat negative connotations, and reduce the costs of alternative sourcing for energy and other consumer-driven industries. Further, there should have been a well-thought out, earnest initiative working to educate the public instead of turning people against each other.
The revelation of scientific truths has been complicated by a hostile environment for amicable conversation as Big Money’s rather successful attempts at squashing facts by pitting science and religion against each other. For what was once a middle-of-the-line topic, we now see a sharper, more dangerous divide as climate change believers are often painted as scientific atheists and climate deniers as religious enthusiasts. This polarization of fact and dangerous generalizing is disturbing and leaves many moderates forced to pick between fact and ideological beliefs. Such extremism leads to dangerous rhetoric, and leaves no room for solutions-based dialogue.
The distasteful, immoral behavior by Exxon has infiltrated our people at every level, and damage may be irreversible. Even if by miracle we are able to correct life’s likely annihilation, the impact on the thought process of the general public may be considerably more difficult to change, especially as the “dumbing down” of Americans continues to be the brunt of current popular culture. Reversing the framework for underdeveloped thought processes of generations will be no easy task.
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns raised by Exxon’s maneuvers is this: Exxon was allowed to become the chief innovator and industry leader while conducting their own research internally, which while respected at the time, ultimately led to a complete lack of accountability of disclosure of findings, some important to the future of life’s survival. This was the breeding ground for the massive cover-ups, and is ethically repugnant.
Legally, this case is a law or ethics teacher’s play day, especially if charges are filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which I fully believe charges could and should be filed. I previously was taught by a biology professor, whom I very much respect, that would speak of his days as a biologist in Big Oil, and why his conscience forced him to leave the large salary behind. His story is not unique, but to hear him tell it in person was an experience a young student will not forget. It will be interesting to watch the Exxon’s Climate Change Story unfold in the coming months, especially as more congressional leaders and presidential candidates begin to chime in on the topic, which thrusts it to the forefront of the average citizen’s mind.
Despite the potential for new and breaking news coverage, the Department of Justice will have its work cut out, if an investigation is approved. Other government agencies that have been struggling with climate change validation include the Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Weather Service among other branches and sub-branches. These government organizations collect data, work to find ways to adapt human life, raise awareness, and incentivize the public for change though programs such as ENERGY STAR or tax rebates. Each agency has a stake in correcting misinformation and raising awareness. Each agency spends our tax dollars to help combat what a major corporation and industry did to continue their profitable business despite turning their backs against their fellow Americans and their fellow human beings across the world. We spend our tax money to help correct these atrocities while we remain dependent on these outdated, outmoded energy sources as corporations like Exxon continue to participate in tax breaks and are incentivized and subsidized by government programs created by our publicly paid, publicly elected officials during deal makings that are not in the best interests of constituents. These type of merry-go-round antics are why America needs more pressure from world organizations. If we wanted to make our country great again, as one presidential candidate urges, we should consider becoming a leader in climate issues and sustainable technologies.
As government agencies form and begin working together, more conferences are held nationally and internationally to help bring ideas and people together. Social media and alternative news sources are gaining influence, so perhaps legislative and societal change will follow the shrieks of the people over the money of Big Industry. Exxon’s cover-up has been exposed. This summer the Pope spoke all over the world, including in the United States’ Congress, about the importance of climate change. Right now the 5th annual World Climate Summit is being held in France. Weather authorities say that the most intense El Niño ever is sweeping the globe. These types of changes extends beyond what Exxon can control, buy or otherwise cover-up. These are the actions of the dawn of a new era. Now it is do or die.