In addition to their causal role in climate change the fossil fuel industry is guilty of promoting disinformation on a grand scale. Part of this propaganda effort involves attacking science. By waging war on science the fossil fuel industry had hoped to conceal their role as the leading driver of climate change. Although fossil fuels powered America’s meteoric growth, we can no longer ignore the fact that dirty energy is the primary cause of the climate crisis. Nor can we ignore the powerful influence of the industry.
To retain their social license to operate oil giants withheld what their own scientists were telling them. They knew about the relationship between fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses years before mainstream science. When scientists began to publish their own research showing the relationship between GHGs and global warming, the fossil fuel industry responded with profound skepticism.
To make matters worse the fossil fuel industry is engaged in sophisticated multi-pronged campaigns of subterfuge to undermine science and manipulate people. This malfeasance was meant to obscure their role as brokers of planetary death.
This malfeasance may have started with Exxon but it has been propagated by the whole fossil fuel industry. The ways in which ExxonMobil has attacked science are documented in this UCS article.
We have clear, documented proof of disinformation from fossil fuel companies. We also have clear articulations of the industry’s disinformation strategy from Richard Berman who heads the phony front group Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA).
In order to protect their profits from government interference, the oil industry expanded its efforts to control Washington. Over the years big oil’s influence, like that of the Koch brothers, expanded. With the help of organizations like Alec, the fossil fuel industry now owns both houses of Congress and the vast majority of state legislatures across the country.
The industry has a vested interest in deceiving the public. They could not let it be known that decades ago their own research revealed that fossil fuels are the primary drivers of climate change.
Although the science supporting anthropogenic warming is settled, many lawmakers at the federal and state levels are paid to doubt the veracity of climate science. Republicans who engage in climate denial are handsomely rewarded by the fossil fuel industry. If you want to see who is being bought by big oil all you need to do is follow the money (look at the most recent field of Republican presidential candidates).
Discrediting climate science is now a basic policy plank for most Republicans. The Trump administration is only adding to what the GOP started decades ago.
Undermining science is essential to the fossil-fuel industry. They lie about science because they know the facts are an indictment of their industry. Using front groups they have developed a number of clever techniques to disinform.
The fossil fuel-funded Heartland Institute is one of the most adept creators of misinformation in the conservative propaganda arsenal. Heartland is currently distributing deceitful booklets entitled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” to 200,000 school science teachers. The booklet simultaneously denies the scientific consensus on climate change and extols the virtues of a warming world.
“It’s not science, but it’s dressed up to look like science,” NCSE executive director Ann Reid told Frontline. “It’s clearly intended to confuse teachers.”
Collusion between the fossil fuel industry and the GOP has created far-reaching campaigns of misinformation. Through pseudo-science or outright obfuscation, the fossil fuel industry has succeeded in sowing doubt. It is now clear that this disinformation has eroded support for climate action.
To serve their profits they have created a monster. The people they have influenced eschew facts and this is a threat to more than just climate action, this is a threat to democracy and national unity.
Facts were once a common meeting point for people with disparate points of view, but this has become irrelevant for vast swaths of the American public. People with disparate views used to come together in the pursuit of the truth now they rail at each other without ever really appreciating competing points of view.
Science is a central part of America’s extraordinary economic success. It is woven into the fabric of the American experience and included in the Constitution. Science has also been the final arbiter of truth. This is what the fossil fuel industry, the GOP, and Trump are subverting on a grand scale.
The result is dramatically heightened polarization. People are being pulled into ideologically driven silos and this is tearing the social fabric of the nation.