On Thursday, the CEO’s of some of the world’s leading oil companies faced accusations in Congress of lying to the public about the roles of their companies in climate change and paying for climate disinformation.
The executives of Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP were questioned under oath before a congressional committee about whether or not they knowingly participated in disinformation about the effects of their products on the climate.
Some of the accusations included such that the oil industry had been spending millions of dollars on a decades-long climate disinformation campaign designed to draw away attention from the impact that burning fossil fuels has on the environment.
The CEOs denied the presented accusations. In their defense, they argued they had only been following what science at the time had been saying. As science developed, they said, so did ‘their’ science.
Exxon’s CEO was confronted with a set of internal documents that clearly showed Exxon scientists acknowledging that the company’s products would cause climate change. The company’s leader at the time had called the link ‘inconclusive’.
As a way to strengthen their image of taking proactive steps towards mitigating the climate crisis, the big oil executives emphasized the measures they have already taken to curb emissions, such as regulating methane and putting a price tag on CO2.
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In attempts to win back the public’s favor, many of these efforts have been heavily publicized in recent years, such as investments in clean energy sources.
However, Democrats on the panel were far from convinced by any of these arguments and, in fact, dismissed them as ‘greenwashing’ – efforts to make their operations appear more climate-conscious than they really are.
The hearing was compared to when Big Tobacco had knowingly withheld information about the harmful effects of cigarettes and the oil executives were even accused of ‘following the same playbook’ as tobacco companies in the past.
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One of the most dramatic moments in the hearing came about when in her testimony, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif held up two jars of M&Ms to represent Shell’s investments. One was nearly empty and represented the $3 billion the company would be spending on renewables. And the other, in contrast, was nearly full and demonstrated the $17 billion that is to be invested this year in chemicals and fossil fuels.
Republicans on the panel were dismissive of the hearing, claiming it was ‘pointless’ and an ‘attempt to embarrass’ the oil companies that greatly contribute to U.S. economic security.