US oil industry’s internal documents showed companies attempted to distance themselves from agreed climate goals, admitted “gaslighting” the public over purported efforts to go green. A congressional hearing produced documents obtained from the oil giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP.
The revelations are part of the third hearing held by the House committee on oversight and reform on how the fossil-fuel industry sought to hamper the effort to address the climate crisis.
New documents are “the latest evidence that oil giants keep lying about their commitments to help solve the climate crisis and should never be trusted by policymakers”, said Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity.
Ro Khanna, co-chair of the committee, said the new documents are “explosive” and show a “culture of intense disrespect” to climate activists. The oil giants’ “climate pledges rely on unproven technology, accounting gimmicks and misleading language to hide the reality,” he added. “Big oil executives are laughing at the people trying to protect our planet while they knowingly work to destroy it.”
Several emails and memos show executives, staffers and lobbyists internally contradicting public pronouncements by their companies to act on lowering planet-heating emissions.
The documents include an August 2019 memo by an executive to Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, on the need to “remove reference to Paris agreement” from an announcement by an industry lobby group that Exxon is a member of. Such a statement “could create a potential commitment to advocate on the Paris agreement goals”, the executive warned.
A separate note on a 2018 Exxon presentation also admitted that biofuels derived from algae was still “decades away from the scale we need”, despite the company long promoting it as a way to lower emissions.
Shell documents show a private 2020 communication in which employees are urged to never “imply, suggest, or leave it open for possible misinterpretation that (net zero) is a Shell goal or target”. Shell has “no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio” over the next 10 to 20 years, it added. A Shell tweet posted in 2020 asking others what they could do to reduce emissions resulted in a torrent of ridicule from Twitter users. A communications executive for the company wrote privately that criticism that the tweet was “gaslighting” the public was “not totally without merit” and that the tweet was “pretty tone deaf”. He added: “We are, after all, in a tweet like this implying others need to sacrifice without focusing on ourselves.”
The UK-headquartered oil company, which in July announced a record $11.5bn quarterly profit, also poured scorn on climate activists, with a communications specialist at the company emailing in 2019 that he wished “bedbugs” upon the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led US climate group.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they wish bedbugs on you, then you win,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise. The organization accused Shell of a “legacy of violence and of ignoring the wellbeing of communities across the globe”.
Previous releases of internal documents have shown that the oil industry knew of the devastating impact of climate change but chose instead to downplay and even deny these findings publicly in order to maintain their business model.