The paper trail is damning. In 2015, a host of internal memos were leaked, subpoenaed or recovered through Freedom of Information laws. They revealed a coordinated campaign by the fossil fuel industry’s most prominent players to distort and discredit the science of climate change.
More than six years later, the United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform is trying to do something about it.
ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell Oil, American Petroleum Institute, and US Chamber of Commerce executives have again been invited to Washington’s Capitol Hill to explain their behaviour.
They face accusations of “a long-running, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming”.
Their testimony is scheduled for 28 October.
“We are deeply concerned that the fossil fuel industry has reaped massive profits for decades while contributing to climate change that is devastating American communities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and ravaging the natural world,” wrote the committee’s chair, Carolyn B Maloney, and the Subcommittee on the Environment chair Ro Khanna, in a formal statement. “We are also concerned that to protect those profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change.”
It’s about what they knew, when they knew it – and what they did.
And the US Union of Concerned Scientists is maintaining the pressure.
“Some of the richest companies in the world have invested in disinformation, organisations, they’ve invested in fake experts, they’ve invested in politicians, they’ve invested in people to basically deceive us and tell us that 200 years of science somehow isn’t true,” says UCS spokeswoman Professor Katharine Hayhoe.
That investment reportedly amounted to some $US1 billion between 2015 and 2018 alone.
Read more: The decline of truth
“Even today, industry trade groups and associations spread disinformation on climate change, while corporate lobbyists influence politicians and regulators – all with the financial backing and support of major fossil fuel companies,” the USC says.
It also warns a new tool has appeared in the fossil fuel lobby’s arsenal – greenwashing.
“Despite their advertisements touting renewable energy, none of the major oil, gas, and coal companies have meaningfully contributed to climate change solutions. They certainly haven’t updated their business plans to reflect climate realities.”