Major oil and gas companies knew about climate change as far back as the 1960s. Yet those companies participated in climate denial and obstructionism. Some congressional members want the climate change cover-up by companies such as Shell and ExxonMobil investigated.
Twenty members of Congress signed a letter to the Department of Justice requesting an investigation into climate change cover-up by oil companies, specifically Shell and ExxonMobil. Major oil and gas companies knew burning fossil fuels “would fuel the climate crisis,” the letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland stated. The companies chose to “intentionally deceive the public for decades in order to protect their profits.” The congressional members who signed the letter urged the DOJ to investigate whether fossil fuel companies violated federal laws.
“Sierra Club supports and applauds the call for a DOJ investigation into the deception by major oil corporations,” said Sierra Club Connecticut Chapter Director Samantha Dynowski. “We thank Senator Blumenthal especially, along with the other U.S. Senators and Members of Congress, calling for this investigation. We must protect the public and hold Big Oil accountable.”
What Shell Knew About Climate Change
A study published a year earlier found that fossil fuel companies (Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell) found similar results. The four companies used words often related to climate, low-carbon, and transition, notably BP and Shell. While companies have strategies for decarbonization and clean energy, they are “dominated by pledges rather than concrete action.” Their continuing business model depends on fossil fuels, and the transition to clean energy is not happening.
DeSmog and Changerism investigated documents from Shell and released reports on their findings. Vatan Huzeir, a Dutch climate activist, compiled the 201 documents available for viewing on Climate Files. Both reports reveal that from the 1960s, the oil company knew about climate change yet pushed the narrative that the world needed more fossil fuels. As far back as 1962, Marion King Hubert, Shell’s chief geologist, released a report on energy for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences warning of global warming risks to weather and “ecological balances.”
“Although these first articles refer to only 38 of the many more documents amassed for Dirty Pearls, they tell the story of Shell having engaged in what I call climate change uncertaintism and climate change negligence,” said Vatan Hüzeir, founder and director of Changerism.
Climate Denial: Taking a Page From the Tobacco Industry
Shell’s extensive knowledge of climate change risks did not hinder its denial of those risks. The company participated in lobbying groups that promoted climate denial in the 1990s and 2000s, including the Global Climate Coalition and American Petroleum Institute. Earlier this year, Shell announced profits of $40 billion. “I fundamentally believe in the role of oil and gas for a long, long time to come,” Wael Sawan, Shell’s CEO, said to the Wall Street Journal.
Fossil fuel companies used the same denial tactics the tobacco industry used. A 2011 study found the tobacco industry knew about the presence of a radioactive substance in tobacco in 1959. The industry conducted studies to estimate the 25-year impact of lung radiation absorption emitted from cigarette smoke. Their estimations match those of other studies. Tobacco companies failed to tell their customers about the findings.
There are links between the two industries and their denial campaigns. Tobacco and fossil fuel industries hired Hill & Knowlton Inc., a New York public relations firm, as far back as 1956. Philip Morris paid over $200,000 in the 1990s to Theodor Sterling, a math professor known for smoking research, for his research. In 1962, Ethyl Corp. researched lead in gasoline.
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