After an investigation found that ExxonMobil has been funding climate-denying organizations—despite the findings of its own scientists on climate change—the world’s fourth-largest oil company is now going after the journalists who revealed it.
Evidence that ExxonMobil has been deliberately leading a campaign of misinformation about climate change for decades began cropping up after InsideClimate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning publication, led an investigation into the company.
Shortly after the investigation was released, Exxon released a statement denouncing the reports, saying that the they “wrongly suggest definitive conclusions were reached decades ago by company researchers.”
Exxon also called InsideClimate News an “anti-oil and gas activist organization,” and claimed that that site and the Los Angeles Times, which also reported on the documents, “ignored evidence provided by the company” about climate change research.
Ken Cohen, ExxonMobil’s vice president of public and government affairs queued up a series of tweets and sub-tweets and proceeded to blast them out at InsideClimate, political figures, journalists, and anyone who’d listen.
.@insideclimate, your claims about what #ExxonKnew are inaccurate & deliberately misleading. #GetTheFacts here https://t.co/R0TSFr8agO
— Ken Cohen (@KenPCohen) October 23, 2015
In response to Cohen’s tweets, David Sassoon, InsideClimate’s publisher, said that it was “Odd that he has only one thing to say, over and over, like a broken record.”
“We are a news organization with a track record of excellence,” Sassoon told Motherboard. “Facing a possible Department of Justice investigation, it's not prudent for Exxon to say otherwise, and mislead its own shareholders. They might be wrongly persuaded to discount the seriousness of what we have uncovered.”
When asked about the particular journalists and activists Cohen was targeting on Twitter, Alan Jeffers, a media relations manager for Exxon, said that the company “doesn’t have any comment on their motives.”
It's not the first time Exxon has aggressively reacted to criticism.
“Regarding what InsideClimate News ‘uncovered,’ many of the documents were publicly available at our archives,” Jeffers told Motherboard. “Our point is that they have deliberately cherry-picked statements, took others out of context and ignored other readily available statements demonstrating that our researchers recognized the developing nature of climate science at the time which, mirrored global understanding.”
It's not the first time Exxon has reacted to criticism this way. In 2013, the company threatened one of the reporters that worked on the recent story with arrest after she entered an area where an Exxon pipeline had burst.
Exxon’s own research, the recent investigation reports, shows that there was once a time when Exxon was one of the world’s greatest authorities on the emerging issue of climate change.
In the 1970s and 1980s, ExxonMobil was conducting cutting-edge research on what scientists called "the greenhouse effect," and even concluded, way back in the summer of 1979, that action should be taken to stop climate change’s cataclysmic effects. A company memo on the subject read:
The potential problem is great and urgent. Too little is known at this time to recommend a major U.S. or worldwide change in energy type usage but it is very clear that immediate research is necessary.
Then, all of a sudden, Exxon’s leadership on climate change came to an abrupt end.
The investigation found that not only has Exxon known about fossil fuel’s impact on anthropogenic climate change since the 1980s, it was in fact fueling doubt about the veracity of climate change for years, despite the conclusions of its own scientists.
The same investigation found that the company had reportedly funneled at least $16 million dollars into lobbying and advertising campaigns to cast doubt on the scientific evidence about climate change, going so far as to declare that "Victory will be achieved when average citizens 'understand' (recognize) uncertainties in climate science.”