Why should anyone take #ExxonKnew – or maybe it’s #ShellKnew now – seriously?
By Katie Brown, PhD, EnergyInDepth
What do wealthy activists do now that their #ExxonKnew campaign has failed? Choose another oil company to target, apparently. But the sequel is never as good as the original – and in this case, the original was never very good, either.
Last week, The Guardian – the UK “newspaper” that teamed up with 350.org’s Bill McKibben on failed divestment campaigns and credits itself with having started the Keep it in the Ground movement – reported on a video posted by a Dutch blogger, Jelmer Mommers, which reportedly shows Shell “knew” about climate change more than two decades ago.
But then – stop us if you’ve heard this before – the company lobbied against climate solutions.
The documentary, produced in 1991, addresses potential consequences of global warming and discusses what the company is doing to reduce its emissions.
Environmentalists, including those involved in the #ExxonKnew campaign, were quick to pounce on the “new” development. Bill McKibben accused Shell of “endless deceit” on climate change while Greenpeace accused the company of “empty rhetoric.”
Of course, the documentary that Shell produced was clearly meant for public consumption. It shows that, like Exxon, Shell was working with government agencies to study and address climate change.
Recall that the so-called “secret documents” Exxon produced on climate change in the 1980s were widely available in libraries and online, and much of the company’s research had been published in peer-reviewed journals.
Chip Knappenberger, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, put it well when he told the Washington Times, “I remain flummoxed by this whole #ExxonKnew, #ShellKnew campaign, because everybody knew.” Research on greenhouse gas emissions had begun decades before Shell produced its video.
This entire campaign comes down to this: if you produce research or documentaries addressing climate change – and you happen to be an oil company – you’re a climate denier.
When Shell recently put out ads promoting solar power, energy efficiency, and biomass in developing countries, activists actually pushed these as examples of climate obstruction, purely on the basis that the ads were sponsored by an energy company.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace, another avid #ExxonKnew group, has recently come under fire after Resolute, a Canadian forest-products company, sued them for defamation and false claims about the company’s operations.
When Greenpeace had to answer for its actions in court, the group wasn’t so sure it could defend its claims.
In fact, they admitted that their statements were “non-verifiable statements of subjective opinion” that should not be taken “literally” or expose them to any legal liability.
Why should anyone take #ExxonKnew – or maybe it’s #ShellKnew now – seriously? It’s not clear.
Meanwhile, companies like Exxon and Shell have done more to address climate change than anti-natural gas groups like Greenpeace and 350.org.
The United States is the only country in the world to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, thanks in large part to increased use of natural gas, of which ExxonMobil is the largest U.S. producer.
As the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explained in its Fifth Assessment Report,
“[T]he rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal-drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply…is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”
The only question now is: how long until these wealthy anti-fossil fuel organizations stop demonizing companies and actually focus on addressing the challenge they claim to be concerned about?