Acknowledging the reality of a situation is one of the first steps to developing relevant solutions, and by all appearances, executives at oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil seemed to be supportive of taking action to reduce the long-term effects of harmful pollution.
A report by The Wall Street Journal in mid-September, however, revealed leaked files that paint a different picture.
ExxonMobil, which was under the leadership of Rex Tillerson from 2006 to 2016, issued a statement in 2008, as reported by the Guardian, saying the company would remove funding from groups that questioned the need for energy alternatives to reduce negative environmental impact.
Then Exxon displayed public support for the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international treaty aimed at taking meaningful action to decrease pollution.
Despite the display of support, though, Tillerson and other key leaders, including some board directors, were reportedly worried about how their business would be affected and tried to create doubt in the science highlighting the dangerous long-term effects of pollution.
Notably, in 2008, Exxon leadership advocated for a scientist to help an oil and gas lobbying group question whether it was important to measure toxic gas emissions, per the Guardian.
Tillerson also reportedly discounted the findings from the United Nations’ climate body when speaking to one of his top researchers, saying the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s call in 2011 to reduce polluting gasses was “not credible.”
Why is this concerning?
ExxonMobil has a net worth that, as of mid-October, was hovering around $450 billion, and it does business in more than 60 countries, meaning it has not only the resources but also the influence to effect change, for better or for worse.
Fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and gas, are considered dirty energy in part because of the toxic pollution they release into the air.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, this type of energy is responsible for about 75% of harmful carbon pollution, which can lead to an increased risk of extreme weather events like wildfires.
What is being done about it?
The Journal noted that dozens of lawsuits, including one from Hawai’i’s Maui County in 2020, had already been filed claiming Exxon and other oil companies have tried to obscure the harmful impact their businesses have on the environment. The newly leaked documents are being requested by some prosecutors in those lawsuits, as reported by the Guardian.
“I know how this information looks — when taken out of context, it seems bad,” Woods said in response to The Journal’s inquiry about the documents.
There are other reasons to take heart, too.
The United States alone has roughly 330 million people — that’s potential for large-scale positive impact.
Taking public transportation, carpooling, walking, or biking when possible are some actions that can collectively help improve the environment.
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