In the 1950s, Exxon’s profits matched those of industrial titans such as IBM, General Motors and U.S. Steel. And while those companies have either disappeared or become also-rans in today’s multinational marketplace, Exxon remains at the top, regularly setting records for quarterly profits.
ExxonMobil has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to women’s education, malaria reduction and a center for alternative energy at Stanford University. So why is the company the leading culprit in speeding civilization toward ecological ruin? The charge doesn’t necessarily stem from the company’s business model: It efficiently extracts fossil fuels. The blame for a world that runs on oil can hardly be placed on one company. In fact, as Steve Coll details in his masterful book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, ever since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the Alaskan coast, the company has focused on crafting and adhering to rigorous safety protocols.
But Exxon has also been an industry leader in funding obfuscation and the promulgation of horseshit when it comes to climate change. Much of this effort has come from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, and the Global Climate Coalition, a multi-industry effort that sought to convince the public that those who favor 1997’s Kyoto Protocol—which aimed to (slightly) reduce carbon emissions—"appear to be out of touch with reality.“
Exxon didn’t stop there. After Greenpeace targeted Exxon in direct action and public-relations campaigns, the environmental group found itself under IRS scrutiny. The tax audit—which Greenpeace passed—had been instigated at the behest of a small nonprofit called Public Interest Watch. When Greenpeace investigated the group, it learned that in one year almost 97 percent of Public Interest Watch’s revenue came from a single entity. Guess who.
At the same time Exxon was attacking the notion that a scientific consensus exists on climate change, its own geologists were studying how global warming could be exploited for drilling. "Don’t believe for a minute that ExxonMobil doesn’t think climate change is real,” one anonymous ex-manager told Coll. “They were using climate change as a source of insight into exploration.”
It’s enough to make us think that “Exxon Hates Your Children"—a motto used by activists critical of the company—may not be hyperbole.