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Fury erupts after Exxon CEO claims public is to blame for climate crisis: 'If this isn't gaslighting, I don't know what is'

"The playbook is this: Sell consumers a product that you know is dangerous while publicly denying or downplaying those dangers."

"The playbook is this: Sell consumers a product that you know is dangerous while publicly denying or downplaying those dangers."

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ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods was lambasted by climate experts after seeming to deflect responsibility for the oil industry's major role in the overheating of the planet. 

In a February interview with Fortune, Woods suggested that consumers were driving the issue by being unwilling to invest in clean-energy solutions and indicated that pollution-reduction goals would not be met by 2050. 

His comments came after Exxon raked in billions of dollars of profits in 2023.

"We're not investing nearly enough in the technology.  … And if you look at the solutions being offered — you know, the dirty secret nobody talks about is how much is all this going to cost and who's willing to pay for it," he said.

"We have tabled proposals with the U.S. governments and governments around the world … And the people who are generating the emissions need to be aware of and pay the price for … generating those emissions. That's ultimately how you solve the problem," he added

Woods also called out policies for not being "aggressive enough" to curb planet-warming pollution and wondered when people would be "willing to pay for carbon reduction." 

However, as reported by The Guardian, Woods' interview was released not long after Exxon filed a lawsuit against investor-advocates who had been pushing for the oil and gas corporation to adopt more robust environmental standards. 

What's more, the outlet pointed out that Exxon was aware of the dirty-energy industry's dangerous impact on the Earth's temperatures as early as the 1970s (as Scientific American has also reported). 

Despite this knowledge, though, the company, which has been under various leadership over the years, worked to downplay and even plant seeds of doubt regarding the science. It also questioned the viability of clean energy, which has helped many people slash the cost of their electric bills. 

"For decades, they told us that the science was too uncertain to justify action, that it was premature to act, and that we could and should wait and see how things developed," Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard historian of science, told The Guardian. "Now the CEO says: Oh, dear, we've waited too long. If this isn't gaslighting, I don't know what is."

Oreskes co-authored a 2021 paper examining how Exxon's public-facing campaign used rhetoric similar to the deceptive tactics of the tobacco industry, shifting accountability "to diminish its own responsibility (and culpability) by casting itself as a kind of neutral innocent, buffeted by the forces of consumer demand." 

The paper also noted Exxon had worked to falsely position the dirty-energy industry as an important leader on climate issues.

"The playbook is this: Sell consumers a product that you know is dangerous while publicly denying or downplaying those dangers. Then, when the dangers are no longer deniable, deny responsibility and blame the consumer," Oreskes explained to The Guardian. 

"It's like a drug lord blaming everyone but himself for drug problems," said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School. "... Exxon are at the mercy of markets, but they are also shaping them, they are shaping policy. So no, you can't blame the public for the failure to fix climate change."

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