Extreme Temperature Diary- Tuesday March 5th, 2024/Main Topic: Shameful! Exxon CEO is Literally Gaslighting Us on Climate Change

Exxon CEO Darren Woods is literally gaslighting us on climate change (msnbc.com)

Exxon CEO is literally gaslighting us on climate change

The head of the largest oil and gas corporation in America says that the “people generating the emissions” need to “pay the price” of shifting from carbon.

By Hayes Brown, MSNBC Opinion Writer/Editor

Scientists around the world agree that if we’re going to avoid the worst-case scenarios from climate change, the planet needs to reach “net zero” carbon emissions no later than 2050. The odds of that actually happening don’t look great. And Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobil, thinks he knows whom to blame: you.

Saying that it’s not on Big Oil to address climate change is gaslighting at its best.

That’s right, the leader of the largest oil and gas corporation in the United States — and the biggest in the world that isn’t state-owned — thinks that “people who are generating the emissions need to be aware of [it],” according to a recent interview he gave on Fortune’s “Leadership Next” podcast. You might think that Exxon — the third-largest company on the Fortune 500, with $36 billion in profits last year alone — can and should shoulder the costs, but its CEO says that consumers should “pay the price.” Saying that it’s not on Big Oil to address climate change is gaslighting at its best.

In fairness to Woods, he didn’t place the blame solely on consumers. “The dirty secret nobody talks about is how much all this is going to cost and who’s willing to pay for it,” Woods said. “If you look at the policies [governments] are putting out, the cost is very implicit. It’s not an explicit cost.”

Instead, Woods said, there should be more transparency about what the costs of rolling back climate change will be and what the distribution of those costs will look like:

“People can’t afford it, and governments around the world rightly know that their constituents will have real concerns,” he went on. “So we’ve got to find a way to get the cost down to grow the utility of the solution, and make it more available and more affordable so that you can begin the [clean energy] transition.”

Society is not currently on that path to 2050, in Woods’ view. “The policies that are being put in place aren’t aggressive enough, and don’t incentivize the right kind of actions to be successful.”

There’s a hint of truth in his statements about consumer demand’s role in the shift to net zero emissions. Americans, in particular, will need to change their preferences, including regarding housing density and transportation, if there’s a chance of making the transition. One 2019 report from 94 of the world’s biggest cities found that their residents’ consumption fueled 10% of all global greenhouse gases. The report’s authors predicted that number would only grow without active efforts to reduce consumption.

If pressed, Woods would likely also point out that Exxon has said it will spend $17 billion between 2023 and 2027 on “lower emissions initiatives.” But though that may sound like a lot of money, it’s at most 17% of the company’s total planned investments over those years. And, again, $17 billion is less than half of the total profits that Exxon made last year alone.

Moreover, when you consider the full scope of the damage that the fossil fuel industry — and Exxon specifically — have caused, these efforts to make amends fall drastically short. For example, the company got big press last month for leaving the Independent Petroleum Association of America, an industry trade group, for not being aligned with the company’s climate values. “IPAA does not have any climate-related policy principles, nor has it supported emission-reduction policies. It has also advocated against strong methane regulations,” Exxon said in a 2022 climate lobbying review. But as the Union for Concerned Scientists’ Laura Peterson pointed out, “many of the associations ExxonMobil retains membership in are actively obstructing climate progress.”

Let’s not forget Exxon’s role in spreading climate denialism in the first place.

Woods in his interview also pooh-poohed the Inflation Reduction Act’s climate subsidies since “significant investments at a scale that even gets close to moving the needle is going to cost a lot of money,” adding that “building a business on government subsidy is not a long-term sustainable strategy — we don’t support that.” But this is the same company that lobbied heavily against provisions in the proposed Build Back Better legislation that would have raised corporate taxes to pay for a number of initiatives, including increased climate mitigation efforts. If Woods were serious, the money Exxon spends on lobbying against new climate policies each year could be redirected overnight to pressure Republicans who are busy hammering climate proposals as being anti-American.

And let’s not forget Exxon’s role in spreading climate denialism in the first place. The company knew of the dangers of climate change as far back as the 1970s. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that even after finally admitting that fossil fuels contribute to climate change in 2006, the company’s executives “attempted to push back against the notion that humans needed to curtail oil and gas use to help the planet — despite the company’s public statements that action was needed.” That was a continuation of previous policies in which Exxon “became the architect of a highly effective strategy of climate change denial that succeeded for decades in politicizing climate policy and delaying meaningful action to cut heat-trapping pollution,” as NPR put it.

I’m glad that Woods is at least mouthing the words that people clearly want to hear as far as countering climate change goes. But to say that Big Oil shouldn’t bear the brunt of those costs reduces his pledges to greenwashing at best. And for a guy whose total compensation hit $35.9 million last year, to say that there’s just not enough money in the industry to pay for development of green technology sounds awfully rich.

Hayes Brown

Hayes Brown is a writer and editor for MSNBC Daily, where he helps frame the news of the day for readers. He was previously at BuzzFeed News and holds a degree in international relations from Michigan State University.

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