People around the globe are feeling betrayed by news of ExxonMobil’s 40-year costume party. Why we’re mad is a mystery.
“Whud they do now?” I wondered when a friend vented some consternation. She sent me to the news stories that broke in late September.
Two independent investigations had discovered nearly four decades of ExxonMobil’s expansive climate science cover-ups. But why their duplicity should raise fresh rancor toward the company remains a stumper to me.
It was widely known for the past decade that ExxonMobil was investing millions into think-tanks-for-hire—like the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, even the old tobacco-is-healthy Heartland Institute—happy to deny climate change.
It also funded political-influence clubs and the careers of lawmakers willing to thwart climate science in exchange for big-oil money.
When ExxonMobil shareholders expressed outrage about all this, in 2007, company officials promised they would stop feeding profits to this climate-disinformation octopus.
Now it appears they continued the practice. But so have other fossil fuel interests.
In fact, it’s a common tactic for many industries today: Donate big money to someone who wears the guise of disinterest—lawmakers, non-profits, education foundations, certain political “faith” organizations, or marketers disguised as “research institutes.”
Many will tweak your company’s promo to sound scientific, officious, constitutional or endorsed-by-God, according to the target audience. Your name is no longer on the ad, so it passes as news or a homily.
What’s actually surprising in ExxonMobil’s case is that its own top researchers, back in 1978, already knew carbon emissions were heating our atmosphere. Further years of research by the company confirmed its findings.
One internal document from 1982 reads: “The results of our research are in accord with the scientific consensus on the effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on climate.”
Company researchers expected CO2 emissions to cause an “average global temperature increase of (3.0 ± 1.5)°” along with “significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.”
The oil giant masked these conclusions and spent the next decades—plus $30 million—funding fake science and lawmakers willing to squelch climate data.
It worked great!
Even as record heat waves, iceberg thaw, floods and droughts proceeded all around us, it was more comforting for Americans to believe the assurances of big-oil and its well-disguised admen, instead of the skies and seasons, the droughts and weather extremes that would have informed our ancestors.
In sponsoring politicians who told Americans we deserved to squander oil, to drill-here-drill-now, to burn up the world within our own generations with zero thought of the next, the fossil fuel industry offered messages we wanted to hear.
Such human dupery isn’t news. It’s the oldest plot in the play, from Genesis to Shakespeare to the ongoing Gilded-Age remix.
Duplicity requires complicit dupees, and we’ve been around since the dawn of man, glad to be told we should take things, that we’re righteous and free of any obligation to the whole of mankind.
Thus deception is now a multibillion-dollar industry, pushing everything from politicians to bad ideas to millions of wants, fears and beliefs we’d never have dreamed up without these phantasms to convince us.
Fakery is a booming industry only because it works, and it works especially well in our time.
We’re the first humans on the planet, after all, to obtain our take on life less from living it than from interests who mass-package info from afar—usually complete strangers paid to persuade us. Why blame these messengers or their patrons?
Our heavy reliance on packaged info—balanced by no personal understanding of a local river, trees, wildlife, seasons or the soil underfoot—is the real mask that hinders our discernment of real from fake.
That’s why the ancient sages and saints recommended a devotion to the actual wisdom of the universe, rather than our own illusions.
What is that wisdom? That every leaf, child, river and star in the cosmos is connected to every other being, past and future. We affect the climate; the climate affects us. Our separate costumes and barricades are merely a disguise Einstein called “an optical delusion.”
This old cosmic teaching is a relief. If we could remember it, in our sophisticated times, we’d be less beguiled by charlatans, appearances and hogwash-makers—and less likely to blame them when we forget.