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The Deadliest Lie in History | Bad Business

Projections show that millions of lives have already been consigned to the grave by inescapable climate catastrophes which global warming will cause —  and yet, tens of millions of people still today reject the very notion that Earth is warming up at all. 

Up until around a decade ago, the majority of U.S. citizens didn’t believe climate change was man made, and the vast majority still have yet to fully comprehend an unavoidable rise in average global temperatures. 

How’d it all sneak up on us so quickly? Is humanity so foolish that for decades not one among us realized we were sowing the seeds of our own destruction? Or, instead, were we tricked? If so, who would do such a thing, and most importantly, why? 

Enter ExxonMobil, the largest non-government owned oil and gas company in the world, which as of this summer was valued at being worth $429.5 billion, making it the fourteenth largest company on the planet. 

ExxonMobil’s long storied history is inextricably linked to the Gilded Age’s most infamous titan of industry, John D. Rockefeller, as the most successful direct descendant of the massive Standard Oil monopoly. Standard Oil once propelled Rockefeller to being the wealthiest person in human history as well as the leading cause of the United State’s first anti-trust laws.

From the dawn of the industrial revolution to this very day, the burning of fossil fuels — including oil, gas and coal — has been the single largest contributor to rising atmospheric carbon levels, and 100 of the largest oil and gas companies have been responsible for more than 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions over the last three decades. 

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | Graphic Artist

If anyone was going to realize human activity was having an impact on rising global temperatures, you might suspect it would have been the most successful successor to the most ambitious oil and gas company to ever exist— and you would be exactly right. 

A groundbreaking investigation undertaken by InsideClimate News titled “Exxon: The Road Not Taken,” which I would encourage everyone to read, interviewed ExxonMobil personnel, uncovered internal documentation and revealed that Exxon discovered the deleterious effects their enterprise was having on the Earth’s atmosphere nearly half a century ago.

InsideClimate news found that as early as 1977 — 11 years before climate change became a public issue — Exxon’s senior scientist James Black informed Exxon upper management that the carbon emitted from the burning of fossil fuel would have an immense impact on the Earth’s climate. A year later he had calculated that, at current rates, it would result in a two to three degree average rise in global temperatures, a figure climate scientists still concur with decades later. 

After this, did Exxon sound the alarm and alert the global community that their business was killing the planet? No. Instead they continued to conduct private research into the matter and made adjustments to their business model — not to prevent environmental devastation or massive loss of life, but to protect their profits. 

In 1989 they created the Global Climate coalition, an international lobbyist group which opposed adopting any measure to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Which makes sense, considering as early as the 1990s Exxon was accounting for rising sea levels in the construction of offshore rigs and underwater pipelines.

Exxon published editorials in leading newspapers, such as the The New York Times, urging citizens to not succumb to climate change “alarmism.” They also collaborated with other oil and gas companies on massive public relation campaigns which were extremely successful at persuading the public to be doubtful of climate science.  

In the 70s and 80s Exxon’s research was on the cutting edge of climate science, yet they did not publicly acknowledge that climate change was even occurring until 2014 — still seven years after they first disclosed to shareholders that the effects of climate change could have an impact on profitability. 

The amount of lives which could have been saved had Exxon not made every concerted effort to mislead the public about climate change is incalculable, and why? All so they could continue to make a profit off of accelerating humanity’s impending doom.

It almost seems like a Shakespearean tragedy. The progeny of the most massive monopoly of the Gilded Age, founded by the most successful and ruthless capitalist to ever live, telling the lie which would allow them to sacrifice an unknowable number of lives and natural resources — all in the pursuit of profit.  How it so essentializes the fatal flaw of our economic system. Whether or not ExxonMobil, the fossil fuels industry or all the world’s capitalists will get their comeuppance in the final act, however, only time will tell.  

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