Okay, we admit that Exxon fails the Really? test. Little about them shocks us at this point. We have highlighted examples of passing that test with flying colors, looking no further than our living room and even in our favored reading materials. But thanks to one of the best investigative journalists out there, a writer at The New Yorker and author of Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, we find we still have a bit of shockability. Steve Coll, interviewed for a Front Line series on Climate Change (caveat emptor: that documentary film series is exhaustively full of Really? revelations; for a smaller dose, click the image above for the transcript of the Coll interview, or here for a podcast of an interview he gave about the book on Fresh Air):
In some ways, it’s kind of a no-brainer that Exxon would go after climate science on a very superficial level. It’s sort of in their self-interest to keep government away from fossil fuels, right? Is that how it began?
Well, there were a lot of corporations, including oil companies, that objected to the Kyoto accords in 1997. But most of them lobbied against the treaty on economic and fairness grounds that would cost the economy of the United States too much for the benefits promised, and also that it wasn’t fair that developing societies would be left out of the bargain.
But Exxon did something that I think was fairly radical, which was that they chose to go after the science. And I think that was more the results of the personal conviction of the chief executive, Lee Raymond, than it really was an expression of their rational business needs.
After all, ExxonMobil was an oil and gas company. Gas was not problematic under climate change regulation. Oil was not as problematic as coal. They were an enormous corporation with rich profits. They could have survived Kyoto. They could have survived a price cap on carbon. They could survive on that. But they chose not only to oppose the treaty, but to attack the science.