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Exxon to sue public bodies over climate denial

Image: Joe Gratz

Last year saw public authorities and environmental groups heading for the courts in an attempt to hold oil companies accountable for climate change.  The law suits allege that – like big tobacco and big sugar – before it, big oil deliberately hid research that pointed to the impact of its activities on the global environment.

The trouble is that the oil companies were far from unusual in this.  According to Jake Novac at CNBC:

“ExxonMobil’s attorneys did some legwork and found something interesting in municipal bond offerings of many of the same cities and counties suing them. Those offerings include several examples of climate change threats being downplayed or even completely ignored.”

It turns out that several of the public authorities that are suing Exxon over climate change denial appear to have engaged in their own climate change denial:

“San Francisco has twice made bond offerings for its Municipal Transportation Agency since 2014 that do not contain the words ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’.  San Mateo County is suing the oil companies because it says in its complaint that it is ‘particularly vulnerable to sea level rise’ and that there is a 93 percent chance the county experiences a ‘devastating’ flood before 2050. But San Mateo noted in bond offerings in 2014 and 2016 that the county ‘is unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur’.  Imperial Beach, California claims in the lawsuit that it faces a very high danger from sea level rise and its economic vulnerability from climate change is valued at more than $106 million. But the city has never warned investors that such disasters await them.”

Novac argues that these Californian authorities are far from unusual in saying one thing about climate change in public and something quite different when it comes to attracting bond investors:

“There’s also a more widespread problem of dozens of cities and counties not being entirely truthful in all aspects of their municipal bond offerings. The SEC began a major crackdown on that in recent years that continues today.

“But the climate change hypocrisy is especially egregious, considering the hyperbole and public shaming the politicians engage in when discussing the environment. It’s one thing for climate alarmists and global warming skeptics to fight it out in the political or scientific arena. But politicians warning us about global warming and higher sea level dangers can’t keep pretending that reality is something else when they go to the banks and big investors.”

This, of course, is merely another manifestation of the problem that has beset environmental campaigners from day one – how to convince people that climate change requires urgent action while we are all behaving as if it either isn’t real or, at best, that it isn’t serious.

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