New documents reveal that the Canadian oil company Imperial Oil knew in the 1970s or earlier that burning fossil fuels caused climate change. Similar documents in the U.S. have put Imperial’s parent company, Exxon Mobil, on the defensive, with multiple government investigations launched against the multi-national oil and gas cartel. These latest revelations add to the controversy, as well as giving it a Canadian dimension.
As told in the U.S., this story has been largely about fraud – and fair enough: Exxon has been an active player in spreading climate disinformation. But even more fundamental than the question of knowingly misleading shareholders or the public is the question of whether it’s OK (whether you mislead anyone or not) to sell a product (and to make billions doing so) that you know will harm communities and destroy property. If Exxon has known since the 1970s that its product will (for example) contribute to flooding coastal communities and worsen droughts, shouldn’t it have been hard at work helping us find alternatives? Can they pocket their hundreds of billions of dollars of profits without paying their fair share in preparing for and dealing with climate change impacts? How would the world be different if fossil fuel companies had been paying their fair share since the 1970s?