Lee Wasserman*, Did Exxon Deceive Its Investors on Climate Change? NYTimes, Oct. 21, 2019.
But in internal memos dating back to the 1970s, Exxon predicted that the effects of fossil fuel emissions could “indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the world’s population).” In 1982 it estimated with stunning accuracy that the atmosphere would contain 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide this year and what that would mean for increased global temperatures. The parade of horribles foreseen by the company — sea level rise, more intense rain and snow, inundation, hotter temperatures, desertification, agricultural disruption — are now regular features of the nightly news. And it will only get worse.
But rather than warn the public, Exxon spent over $30 million on climate-denying think tanks and researchers to confuse the public about climate science — a confusion that persists to this day — while doubling down on its destructive business model. More than half of all industrial carbon dioxide emissions were produced after Exxon heard the clarion call from its own scientists to change direction.
Various municipalities, including New York City and Baltimore, and one other state in addition to New York, Rhode Island, are suing the oil companies.
These lawsuits are an important step for society to free itself from the grasp of this lethal industry. Most directly, the suits can provide the billions necessary for communities to repair climate damages and fortify their infrastructure for the storms ahead. And if these cases are successful, Big Oil will finally be forced to assume a greater portion of the costs they have foisted on taxpayers. Their business, which significantly lagged the S & P 500 over the past five years, will take another deserved financial hit.*Wasserman is the director of the Rockefeller Family Fund. John D. Rockefeller, of course, made his fortune in the oil business, where he founded Standard Oil (1870), which became Esso (1912), which became ExxonMobile (1999). At the end of the article the Times notes that one of the Funds's "goals is to accelerate the transformation away from fossil fuels by opposing additional fossil fuel infrastructure, drilling, mining and exporting." His history the mother and father of irony?
These cases are also teachable moments. We’re not in this mess because we heat our homes or drive our children to school, which is what the fossil fuel companies want us to think. We’re victims of a small group of gargantuan companies that recklessly and deliberately ignored the implications of their own science and unabashedly worked to deceive the public. [...] The industry is based on a deceit. The companies know the planet is headed toward a climate catastrophe, but they keep drilling away, trying to squeeze the last nickel from their deadly product.