Deceit is the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth.
In an “Opinion” item which appeared in the New York Times on October 21, 2019, the author, Lee Wasserman, the Director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, asserts that Exxon did deceive its investors relative to climate change.
So does the New York Attorney General of New York who is taking Exxon to court next week to determine whether or not Exxon misled its investors regarding climate change. At the heart of the allegation is the accusation that Exxon knew how the burning of fossil fuels would impact the planet and global warning and instead of telling its investors this, Exxon instead took steps to generate mis-information and cause doubt in the science of global warming.
To quote from the NY Times story, for example, “in internal memos dating back to the 1970s, Exxon predicted that the effects of fossil fuel emissions could “indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the world’s population).” In 1982 it estimated with stunning accuracy that the atmosphere would contain 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide this year and what that would mean for increased global temperatures.”
Continuing, “(b)ut rather than warn the public, Exxon spent over $30 million on climate-denying think tanks and researchers to confuse the public about climate science — a confusion that persists to this day — while doubling down on its destructive business model. More than half of all industrial carbon dioxide emissions were produced after Exxon heard the clarion call from its own scientists to change direction.”
The New York lawsuit argues that Exxon created an illusion that it had considered the impacts of future climate change regulation but in reality “Exxon knew that its representations were not supported by the facts and were contrary to its internal business practices.”
The case in New York is one of several that Exxon is facing, some by states and municipalities that have had to deal with the costs of climate change. These cases will determine whether Exxon, as well as other oil and gas companies, will be responsible for damages attributed to climate change and if so, to what degree.
In a procedural opinion in the Rhode Island’s climate case against Exxon and other major oil and gas companies, Judge Smith, a George W. Bush appointee and Chief Justice of the United States Court in Rhode Island, wrote in July that those companies have “extracted, advertised, and sold a substantial percentage of the fossil fuels burned globally since the 1960s.” He continued:
“This activity has released an immense amount of greenhouse gas into the Earth’s atmosphere, changing its climate and leading to all kinds of displacement, death (extinctions, even), and destruction. What is more, defendants understood the consequences of their activity decades ago, when transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy would have saved a world of trouble. But instead of sounding the alarm, defendants went out of their way to becloud the emerging scientific consensus and further delay changes — however existentially necessary — that would in any way interfere with their multibillion-dollar profits. All while quietly readying their capital for the coming fallout.”
As is documented in a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist in Public Service, the evidence against Exxon is well documented. But we should expect this New York lawsuit, and other cases, to remain contested for years if not decades. And regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit – specifically whether Exxon violated New York’s security laws – the conduct of Exxon and others to deceive investors and the public might one day be considered, due to the damage to the earth and its inhabitants, as the greatest crime ever in the history of humanity.